Start seeing your strengths in veterinary practice


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Photo courtesy Dr. Steve Noonan

It's July 1965, and my brother Mike and I are happily stationed outside our army surplus tent. I'm 7 and he's 4. We'd just completed another amazing adventures led by yours truly. They always involved some form of danger for Mike and an impressive rescue by me. This time we were caught up so completely that time seemed to stand still and we were scarcely aware of our surroundings.

Positive psychologist Mihaly Csiszentmihalyi would call what we were feeling the “flow,” a mental state of total immersion and total lack of self-consciousness associated with well-being and happiness. Mike and I didn't know the happiness we experienced was a direct result of flow and two other positive psychology strategies that have been studied extensively by researchers. We also experienced gratitude, a powerful inducer of well-being as we were very grateful for the few toys, the safe backyard and the old tent we had to incorporate into our adventures.

But the most powerful element of positive psychology we brought wasn't flow or gratitude: It was our strengths.

Positive psychologists have classified 24 character strengths in people, and they've shown that people using their top five feel a sense of well-being and find it easier to enter into a state of flow. These top five character strengths are called our “signature strengths.” Psychologists, educators and authors Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson conducted research on character strengths for many years. Martin Seligman's website with the University of Pennsylvania offers 20 different psychological surveys, including the VIA Survey of Character Strengths.

I believe understanding your signature strengths is a powerful tool in maintaining your own well-being. Take the hour or so required to take the survey. Look very carefully at your top 10 and top five strengths. Do you possess these strengths? Does expressing them give you a sense of happiness? If you're not sure, ask a few people close to you. Once you settle on your top five strengths, make a conscious effort every day to incorporate activities or strategies to express these strengths as often as you can.

Efforts to live your character strengths more often will reward you with more positivity, more happiness and more fulfilment. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, “This above-to thine own self be true.” The Steve Noonan of that 1965 photograph seemed to know this implicitly. Along the way he seemed to forget for a while. The Steve Noonan of 2015 knows this to be an ironclad truth. Let it be so for all of you. Learn your signature strengths. Incorporate them into your life as often as you can. Let this-and every other conscious effort to improve your well-being-be a testament to the new understanding you're developing. To paraphrase the immortal poem “Invictus”: You are the master of your fate. You are the captain of your soul.

24 character strengths

Which are your top five strengths from the two dozen discussed by psychologists Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson? Find out at this website.


1. Appreciation of beauty and excellence

2. Spirituality

3. Gratitude

4. Hope

5. Humor


6. Forgiveness and mercy

7. Humility and modesty

8. Prudence

9. Self-regulation


10. Citizenship

11. Fairness

12. Leadership


13. Love

14. Kindness

15. Social intelligence


16. Bravery

17. Persistence

18. Integrity

19. Vitality


20. Creativity

21. Curiosity

22. Open-mindedness

23. Love of learning

24. Perspective

Dr. Steve Noonan, CPCC, is a veterinarian, management consultant, counsellor, mindfulness instructor, and professional life coach living in Guelph.

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