Three Fathoms Observatory
Stewart Yeung








                                                                                                                                                                                              Life Contemplation

Life Achievement Priority No. 1: Character Building (25 November 2012)






Life Achievement Priority No. 1: Character Building

Character building is a process of becoming one’s own self with noble human traits – integrity, confidence, optimism, endurance, perseverance, fortitude, honesty, loving others…

Successfully building a good character is the most important and distinguishing achievement in our life, much more important than building our wealth, fame, career …for the latter will rapidly fade into oblivion after we die, while our character will be remembered forever.

One favorite book I used to read is “Healthy, Wealth and Happiness” by Sidney Bremer, in which he introduces one self-motivating essay for our inspiration and guidance every day, up to 366 for a whole year. Naturally, many of his recommendations for living a successful life are on building our good character.

Although Bremer’s guidebook on living a healthy, successful and happy life is based on his study on the experiences of successful people, many of his recommendations are normative in nature, involving personal value judgments. Sharing the same quest of nurturing and promoting a more fulfilling life, but with a more scientific approach to the subject of human character, “positive psychology” studies positive human functioning (rather than dysfunction), analyzes states of pleasure, values, strengths, virtues, talents and their promotion in society. The main concerns of positive psychology are positive experiences, enduring traits, positive relationships and positive institutions.

One contribution to positive psychology is the “Handbook on Character Strengths and Virtues” in which 6 virtues and 24 character strengths are classified and listed (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) :

1. Wisdom and knowledge (Congnitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge)

Creativity : Thinking of novel and productive ways to do things.
Curiosity : Taking an interest in all of ongoing experience.
Open-mindedness : Thinking things through and examining them from all sides.
Love of learning : Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge.
Perspective : Being able to provide wise counsel to others.

2. Courage : (Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal)

Authenticity : Speaking the truth and presenting oneself in a genuine way.
Bravery : Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain.
Persistence : Finishing what ones starts.
Zest : Approaching life with excitement and energy.

3. Humanity (Interpersonal strengths that involve “tending and befriending” others)

Kindness : Doing favors and good deeds for others.
Love : Valuing close relations with others.
Social intelligence : Being aware of the motives and feelings of self and others.

4. Justice (Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life)

Fairness : Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice.
Leadership : Organizing group activities and seeing that they happen.
Teamwork : Working well as member of a group or team.

5. Temperance (Strengths that protect against excess)

Forgiveness : Forgiving those who have done wrong.
Modesty : Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves.
Prudence : Being careful about one’s choices; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.
Self-regulation : Regulating what one feels and does.

6. Transcendence (Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning)

Appreciation of beauty and excellence : Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life.
Gratitude : Being aware of the thankful for the good things that happen.
Hope : Expecting the best and working to achieve it.
Humor : Like to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people.
Religiousness : Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of life.

With a view to enhancing our self-fulfillment, I consider building these virtues and character strengths to be the first priority in our life achievement. At the same time, nurturing positive characters in our children should also be the first priority in our education system.