by Megha Nancy Buttenheim

This is the second in a three-part series on practicing authenticity in daily life. Today’s post looks at authenticity through the lens of VIA character strengths. Part 1 explores authenticity through the chakra practice of Let Your Yoga Dance. Part 3 brings inSPIRED Let Your Yoga Dance into the mix.

When I began studying positive psychology almost five years ago, I learned about the VIA (Values in Action) Institute on Character and the VIA Classification of Character Strengths. With the support of Dr. Neal Mayerson, VIA was created by Martin Seligman and the late Chris Peterson, based on their extensive study of which positive qualities were most powerful across cultures, ages, genders, social stratum, etc. They came up with 24 character strengths, and their model is now used throughout the world—by individuals, schools, businesses, and corporations. (To get a free report on your top strengths, take the 15-minute test.

I have learned that drawing on our signature strengths can bring us closer to our authentic self. My colleague, Maria Sirois, sometimes teaches about VIA by telling the story of her beloved brother, who passed away a few years ago. She used one of her top strengths, tenacity, to help her stand on solid ground during the arduous time leading up to—and after—his death.

In my own world, Susan, my lifelong best friend, my “twin,” born 10 days before me, died on April 29, 2015. She had been diagnosed two years earlier with brain cancer—glioblastoma, the same type of cancer that killed Brittney Maynard, the young newlywed who moved to Oregon so she could die with dignity when she chose. Along with cancer, Susan had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and her body deteriorated so rapidly that, by the end, she could not move or speak.

Her son James and his fiancé, Amanda, had set a date for their wedding 18 months in the future, but when they realized that Susan’s cancer was going to take her very soon, they chose to move up the wedding so that she could be there. I was invited to this large gathering in Milwaukee, and I knew full well that this would be the last time I would see my oldest, dearest friend.

Before traveling, I realized I could piggyback on Maria’s VIA story to help me bear the unbearable throughout the wedding. I looked at my top 10 strengths, hoping to find one that would help me get through the weekend as authentically as possible.

  • Gratitude
  • Humor
  • Love
  • Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
  • Curiosity
  • Honesty
  • Kindness
  • Social Intelligence
  • Zest
  • Spirituality

I landed on love, and asked myself, “How can I love Susan, her family, her siblings, her kids, her husband, as best as I can?” During my time with them, I kept returning to that strength every step of the way. It was indeed a difficult weekend, even though the ceremony and festivities were beautiful. I kept love tucked in my heart. I massaged Susan’s feet. I helped her sisters dress her for the wedding, even though I secretly thought she should stay home and rest. During the reception, I watched with tears streaming down my face as her son—the groom—pushed her wheelchair into the center of the dance floor; he danced with his mom by simply holding her hands and swaying while the DJ played “Stand By Me.” It was heartrending.

Throughout the wedding and reception, I repeatedly asked myself the questions that I use in my signature Let Your Yoga Dance Prayer, called the “Grace Garden of Hearts and Souls”: Where am I needed? How can I serve? How can I use my VIA strength of love right now in this moment?

During the reception, I suddenly remembered the camera on my new iPhone. I rarely take pictures, but I did that night. I just snapped away, thinking that this was one way I could love my dear friend. VIA helped. Love helped.

Megha Nancy Buttenheim Megha Nancy Buttenheim, MA, E-RYT 500, is founding director of Let Your Yoga Dance® LLC, and author of Expanding Joy: Let Your Yoga Dance, Embodying Positive Psychology. A lifelong singer, dancer, and actor, she is a long-time teacher trainer at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. She has led her own signature training, Let Your Yoga Dance Teacher Training, since 1997, in different parts of the world. Megha is the director of movement and meditation at the Wholebeing Institute, teaching in the Certificate in Positive Psychology program. Megha’s passion is to bring the dance of yoga to everyone, including special populations who feel marginalized due to age, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS, and other health conditions. To that end, Megha directs Let Your Yoga Dance Teacher Training for Special Populations..