by Nicole Stottlemyer

A few years ago, I was rat-racing with the best of them. I was miserable, working hard and getting promoted, hoping that happiness would show up with my next paycheck. I knew I was in the wrong field, but I had commitments, a mortgage. You know the story!

Then my best friend was killed in an auto accident. The only good thing about death is that it reminds you to live. And, although I was alive, I wasn’t living.

When I stumbled on the field of positive psychology, I felt as if I had discovered the Holy Grail. I knew that I wanted to be happier, and that I wanted my job to be teaching other people to be happier. Since then, I’ve graduated from the Certificate in Positive Psychology, organized more than 30 CiPP alumni meetups in cities across the Northeast, became a teaching assistant for WBI, and started my own business as a coach.

During one of the alumni meetups, I met CiPP1 graduate Fiona Trembath. She lives in Australia, and has created a set of Strength to Strength Cards, illustrating each of the 24 character strengths in the VIA Institute classification. I had just opened up my very first pack and laid them across my bed when my nephew, age six at the time, came barging into my room and exclaimed, “I’m here to play!” Then, looking at the cards, he asked, “What’s that?!” That day, we invented the first Strengths Cards game; there are now more than a dozen games.

In my coaching practice, I often focus on character strengths. With adults, I have them take the VIA Survey of character strengths, and give them a list of 10 benefits of using their strengths every day. With kids, we play games with the Strengths Cards. I simplify the list a bit and tell them that there are three benefits: Using your strengths makes you happier, helps you achieve your goals, and helps you deal with hardships—for example, being bullied in school.

Here’s a conversation I had recently with eight-year-old Alex:

Alex: A kid at school laughed at me today, and it really hurt my feelings.
Me: Oh no, really?
Alex: Yeah, and I wanted to call him names, to hurt him back. But I didn’t.
Me: Wow, Alex, I’m really sorry he laughed at you and it hurt your feelings. I feel sad that that happened to you today. But you know what? I heard one of your strengths!
Alex: You did?
Me: Yes, your strength of self-control. You wanted to call him names, but you didn’t.

Just like that, Alex’s demeanor changed. He seemed to shift from feeling like a victim to feeling empowered. “You know what else?” he said, as we looked at the cards together. “I used my strength of forgiveness. I forgave him for being mean.” Wow. I was blown away.

When we understand and employ our strengths—no matter our age—we can use them to facilitate change, try new responses to difficult situations, and increase our resilience and sense of well-being. I wonder what would happen if the bullies understood their character strengths? Fewer bullies, maybe?


Nicole Stottlemyer is a coach, facilitator, and senior teaching assistant with Wholebeing Institute, and holds Wholebeing certificates in Positive Psychology and Positive Psychology Coaching.