We are all different, in many wonderful ways. And one difference is in the unique set of strengths or gifts that we each hold. Do you know what makes you unique? As a positive psychologist and coach, I embraced the notion of strengths in my work – how to identify them, how to make the most of them, and how not to overuse or underuse them. This also reflects my work on happiness and wellbeing as in my experience (and certainly research suggests it), if we are able to use our strengths in our work and in everyday life we are more likely to flourish.

As a Quaker, I am also encouraged to think carefully about gifts – those of family and friends, those within our community including children and young people, and my own.  For example, from (the British) Quaker faith & practice Advices and queries:

No. 26 includes ‘Do you recognise the needs and gifts of each member of your family and household, not forgetting your own?’ 

Advice and query No. 27 starts ‘Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community?’

Within a community, there is a diversity of gifts, of heart and of mind, and knowing your own strengths or gifts means that you may be able to serve more fully, and more happily.

So how might you discover your gifts or strengths?

There are many ways of identifying strengths, such as by completing a questionnaire that has been scientifically validated. If you haven’t already, you may like to take a look at the free Values in Action (VIA) survey which can help you to identify your ‘character strengths’. Out of 24 strengths, my ‘top 3’ were:

  • Love – Valuing close relations with others, in particular, those in which sharing & caring are reciprocated; being close to people.
  • Social Intelligence – Being aware of the motives/feelings of others and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick.
  • Honesty – Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretence; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions.

These ‘top strengths’ are said to reflect the ‘real me’ and the ones lower down, although still strengths, come less naturally. What this seems to confirm is that I am essentially a ‘people-person’. My energy, happiness, and life satisfaction come primarily through contact and connections with others – and indeed all of my work roles have reflected this.

Recently I was pointed towards a very different type of survey, the free ‘Spiritual Gifts Test’.  I would not normally have considered this website as the Christian language used and assumptions it rests on are less familiar to me. However I completed the questionnaire as honestly as I could and to summarise from the report emailed to me, my ‘top three gifts’ are:

  • Mercy – ‘ to love and assist those who are suffering…’ which according to the report requires compassion, an ability to discern needs quickly, empathy, and being ‘able to come alongside people over extended periods of time and see them through their healing process.’
  • Serving – covers a wide range of activities for the church community. Those with this gift are said to ‘love to help out’ and to ‘free up others to use their gifts to the fullest’.
  • Administration – which is goal and task oriented and concerned with organisation, and to some extent, leadership.

Although, as I said, I found the second survey rather challenging, the results do actually feel pretty ‘real’ and reflect what I think of as important and also where much of my energy goes. The results of the spiritual gifts survey also seem to sit pretty well with, and complement, the VIA findings – which is just as well!

So perhaps you would like to have a go yourself? As a starting point you might like to:

  • Take a survey such as the VIA or Spiritual Gifts Test
  • Reflect on the results, first one test and then the other. You may want to ask yourself ‘Does this really feel like me? Does this feel like the real me? Are these my ‘top strengths/gifts’ as I see them, or would others fit better? Do any surprise me? Am I disappointed or encouraged by the result? And so on …
  • Compare and combine the two tests. What have you learned?
  • Think about whether you are using these strengths and gifts in your work or personal life. Are there more opportunities to do so?
  • Ask someone you trust and who cares about your wellbeing to give you feedback on your results. How do they see you?

You may find that you are already aware of your gifts and strengths, and are using them. However, I certainly find it helpful to learn from others. One way of doing this is to read a relevant blog, for example, the one on the VIA website.  Here you can find ways of applying your strengths in different ways and in various parts of your life.

So, having looked at my profile, what will I try? I think I will end this post with some words I find inspirational, though at times difficult to do:

Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life. (Advices and Queries, No.1)