The different paths to satisfaction in work and life

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We want a lot of things in life: love, economic security, happiness. We want to be respected in our career, and we want meaningful relationships.

The challenge is that achieving career success and maintaining a satisfying life outside of work both depend on limited resources, such as time and energy.

Rather than choose one and sacrifice the other, is there a way to have it all?

Perhaps. By paying more attention to your character strengths, you may find that it�s easier to be satisfied and successful, both at work and in your personal life.

Character strengths are positive qualities that allow you to be your best self. In one popular classification scheme, there are 24 different character strengths, ranging from bravery to zest, and we each have them in different proportions[1].

Research shows that when we use our top character strengths at work, we are more likely to be engaged and find meaning in our jobs[2,3].

Of course, this is easier to do when our core strengths are aligned with what our field requires[4].

  • Academic achievement takes perseverance, gratitude, and perspective[5].
  • Successful CEOs and business leaders tend to exhibit high levels of integrity, bravery, and social intelligence[6].
  • Good teachers often have high levels of humility, kindness, and social intelligence[5].
  • Respected military officials show leadership, integrity, persistence, and bravery[7].
  • Trusted doctors exhibit higher than usual levels of honesty, teamwork, kindness, and leadership[8].

When you find ways to develop and use strengths that are valued in your field, you can advance your career while enjoying it more[9].

But, for a well-balanced life, developing your career strengths isn�t enough.

That�s because the character strengths that most predict life satisfaction are different from the ones that predict career success. The strengths most related to life satisfaction and well-being are[1]:

  • Hope, or optimism for the future
  • Zest, or engagement with life
  • Gratitude, or appreciation for what you have

On one level, this is restating something that everyone should already know: job satisfaction doesn�t equal life satisfaction. But it also explains one of the reasons why this is the case: it takes different strengths to be good at your career and at life.

Most critically, it also suggests that, for whole-life satisfaction, it�s important to nurture different parts of your character[4]. For instance, a business leader should try to cultivate their bravery, and boldly take on challenging new projects. But, at the same time, they should cultivate gratitude, so that they don�t lose sight of what they already have.


1. Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603-619.
2. Kristof, A.L. (1996). Person-organization fit: an integrative review of its conceptualizations, measurement, and implications. Personnel Psychology, 49, 1-49.
3. Littman-Ovadia, H., & Steger, M. (2010). Character strengths and well-being among volunteers and employees: Toward an integrative model. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 419-430.
4. Seligman, M.E., Parks, A.C., & Steen, T. (2004). A balanced psychology and a full life. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 359, 1379.
5. Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E. (2006). Character strengths in fifty-four nations and the fifty US states. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 118-129.
6. Sosik, J.J., Gentry, W.A., & Chun, J.U. (2012). The value of virtue in the upper echelons: A multisource examination of executive character strengths and performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 23, 367-382.
7. Boe, O., Bang, H., & Nilsen, F.A. (2015). Selecting the most relevant character strengths for Norwegian Army officers: An educational tool. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 197, 801-809.
8. Jones, D. (2013). What are the character strengths of a good doctor? Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues: Insight Series.
9. Kosine, N., Steger, M., & Duncan, S. (2008). Purpose-centered career development: A strengths-based approach to finding meaning and purpose in careers. Professional School Counseling, 12, 133-136.