The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Residence Life Division in the Department of Student Affairs will be launching the Character Strengths and Virtues self-reflective programme for students during the December vacation.
Character Strengths and Virtues is a classification system for widely valued, positive traits in human beings across all cultures – and which allow them to thrive.
Given the myriad challenges students face, the programme uses positive psychology as a tool for student well-being, said Residence Life’s Sean Abrahams, a specialist in learning and innovation. Abrahams and his colleague Dr Anita Campbell have arranged to offer the Character Strengths and Virtues short online daily programme during the summer vacation when students are not knee-deep in their academic commitments.
In a nutshell, the Character Strengths and Virtues programme is a free online, daily reflective, and self-engaging space where students learn to identify their main character strengths with the help of the Values in Action Institute by exploring the cross culturally researched, 24-character strengths, such as creativity, kindness, persistence, gratitude, fairness and forgiveness. These are grouped in six classes of virtues:
The character strengths have emerged from a study of world cultures and religions over three millennia and are a ‘distillation’ of the six human virtues shared by almost all cultures across three millennia.
Positive psychology in higher education
Abrahams is a second-year PhD candidate in the School of Education and Dr Campbell is based in the Academic Support Programme for Engineering and is affiliated with the Centre for Research in Engineering Education in the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment.
They share a professional interest in the application of positive psychology within higher education contexts.
A cohort of 200-plus new 2022/2023 Residence Life house committee members recently completed the Values in Action Character Strengths survey, a short empirically validated questionnaire to identify their top character strengths.
Introducing the framework to them, Abrahams cited Seligman’s tenet, “When well-being comes from engaging our strengths and virtues, our lives are imbued with authenticity.”
“In recent years the discipline has seen positive psychology emerge as an added branch,” said Abrahams. “Positive psychology focuses on what makes individuals, communities and institutions flourish.”
This year, Abrahams and Campbell collaborated to launch the first annual, hybrid positive psychology colloquium to students and staff at UCT’s Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB). The colloquium introduced three core areas: the psychology of gratitude, the psychology of grit, and growth mindset.
“Positive psychology focuses on what makes individuals, communities and institutions flourish.”
Abrahams also engaged in a critical reflection of the Character Strengths and Virtues model at the first annual African positive psychology conference at the North-West University in 2018 where the theme was embracing well-being in diverse contexts.
“Empirically, we’re yet to really realise the potency of strengths in a much wider variety of contexts, particularly on our continent,” he said.
Abrahams and Campbell aim to introduce more empirically tested well-being strategies to the higher education context, particularly where these support UCT’s Vision 2030 and its massive transformative purpose of unleashing human potential to create a fair and just society.
“Unleashing human potential requires us to continue to research and test and evaluate and, most importantly, offer our students ever increasing and better (empirical) ways to tap into their potential, now, always and even during the vacation!”
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