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The 5 Mental Strengths People Most Wish For

2. Bravery.

Key points

  • In an unpublished study, 9,000 people were asked which character strength they wished for to help with their mental health.
  • Five character strengths people wished they had more of for their mental well-being include bravery, self-regulation, and perseverance.
  • Strategies for boosting these strengths include being mindful of the effort put into specific tasks and the outcomes.

I asked 9,000 people which character strength they wished for to help with their mental health. In other words, to have better mental well-being.

The question was open for any of the thousands of people to personally interpret. Some people were already mentally strong and picked the strength that would help maintain their mental wellness.

Others felt overwhelmed in life or had a psychological problem and named a strength to help get them through dark times.

The results surprised me.

One might expect strengths such as love or kindness because helping others or taking time to care for oneself are ways to feel better. Or, one might expect spirituality as connecting with something greater or transcendent can impact mental health. Or maybe hope—to have more positivity and optimism, or curiosity to use the mind to explore the world.

Nope. None of those strengths cracked the top five for people’s wishes.

Here are the top five strengths, starting with the fifth highest. Participants chose out of 24 universal strengths found across human beings (they could also choose “none of the above”).

5. Forgiveness.

People wish they could be more forgiving. This makes perfect sense. The mental burden of holding onto resentment, anger, and hurt feelings can be overwhelming. Science informs us that forgiveness takes time. It is rarely “one and done.” This means we need to be patient with our forgiveness. We need to make it a practice of letting go, over and over.

  • Science-based strategy (all taken from my Character Strengths Interventions book): After someone offends you, think about how the offender is a complex human being who needs to experience positive growth and transformation, rather than seeing them as "all bad."

4. Creativity.

People want to be more creative. They want to come up with more ideas. Their minds are often obstacles: “What will people think of what I created?” “What if I fail?” “How much will I lose?” I like that this strength was nominated so high because it reminds us that there is great value for our mental well-being if we can open ourselves to new ways of doing things, think of new solutions to our problems, and take novel action.

  • Science-based strategy: Develop divergent thinking. This means that when you have a problem, come up with multiple alternate solutions instead of searching for one “correct” solution. After you name a problem, brainstorm a list of ideas for potential solutions.

3. Perseverance.

People wish they did not give up so easily. The truth is - it is challenging to be perseverant. When we are trying to reach a goal, life happens: we feel mental fatigue, we feel physical fatigue, we have negative judgments, people trying to stop us, and daily life getting in the way. But, perseverance can overcome those obstacles. It is that inner voice that says, “keep going… keep swimming… don’t give up.”

  • Science-based strategy: As you work on a project, pay attention to how you have put forth good focus, effort, and energy with the task/project. Reward yourself when you “try your best,” instead of what most people do, which is to reward yourself when the goal is reached.

2. Bravery.

People want to be braver. I hear this and see this almost constantly in my work as I interact with people across the globe. It is challenging to be brave enough to move out of one’s comfort zone, challenge the system or the status quo, speak an unpopular opinion, and face your fears. No one said bravery is easy. But we say that it is a pathway to being more authentic and helping your neighbor.

  • Science-based strategy: As you consider using your bravery strength, focus on the outcome of the courageous act. For example, think of the person you would be helping or remind yourself of the goodness of the action you’d be taking.

1. Self-Regulation.

The most significant percentage of people said the character strength they wished they had more of to help with their mental health is self-regulation; in other words, people want more self-control. This takes many forms, such as more control of your feelings, impulses, bad habits, and words. People want more discipline in their life, but vices, old habits, and problem behaviors are ingrained, amorphous, hidden, confusing, and often victorious.

  • Science-based strategy: Start a daily self-monitoring log, using your smart device or computer. Keep track of how you are feeling mentally each day. Track your food and drink intake, your activities, and the people you interact with. Make note of patterns that show up before you feel a certain way.

These findings come from new research I conducted in preparation for a scientific paper I’ll be publishing later this year. I wanted you to have a sneak peek at a few of the many fascinating findings. Lots more to come.

Facebook image: Pheelings media/Shutterstock

LinkedIn image: Kurhaniuk Dmitrii/Shutterstock


The 5 character strengths identified in this post are part of the 24 universal human strengths found in the scientific VIA Classification.

Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field-guide for practitioners. Boston: Hogrefe.

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