Love: A Strength of Character | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Love: A Strength of Character

Photo by Trip Burns.

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Viewing love as a character trait in many areas of your life can improve more than just significant relationships.

What comes to mind when someone asks you about your strengths? Typically, people think of the skills they developed at school and work such as teamwork, budgeting or using social media. But do you think about your character traits as strengths?

A character trait is a distinctive feature influencing how you relate to the world and is expressed in thoughts, actions and feelings. Research by psychologists including Martin Seligman, Chris Peterson and others shows that people share the same 24 character traits—each of us has our own mix of top, middle and lower traits that make us individuals. These traits include love, fairness, perseverance, leadership, 
kindness and more.

I work with people to leverage their character traits in their professional lives. Often, my clients think of love as only an intense feeling of deep, passionate, tender affection for someone, such as parent to child or between dear friends, or as a romantic or sexual attachment to someone such as a spouse. Drawing on love in their work gives them pause—it's unexpected and complicated.

As a character trait, Seligman and Peterson define love as the ability to give and receive love. Love's hallmark is a mutual sharing of comfort, acceptance and warmth. A crush, hero worship or unrequited affection—no matter how powerful—is not love in this regard.

The VIA Institute on Character reports that love is one of the top five traits for the more than one-third of people who value close relationships with others in all areas of their lives, family, friends, community, and work, above and beyond other qualities. Top-level traits are the three to five innate traits you use so effortlessly that you may take them for granted as personality traits, not the high-level character strengths they truly are.

When a person is at her or his best at expressing love, there's a flow of positive emotions to and from others that cultivates closeness and emotional support. The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology includes these benefits of love as a strength: Increased life satisfaction Secure loving relationships are strongly linked to good health and longevity Facilitating empathy, forgiveness and tolerance in relationships A sense of meaning and purpose in life

You may believe that love has no role in some places such as work, but love is not just romance. Love is affection for those you depend on and who depend on you, like colleagues. A 2013 Gallup poll showed that people who regularly use their strengths at work are six times more like to be engaged with work. If love is a top trait for some, it makes sense to find appropriate ways to express that strength through their work.

You can use love as a character trait in the workplace by helping others. Consider the strengths of the person or people you want to help, and then design your 
help accordingly.

You may find it hard to offer love to yourself, but it is vital. Cultivating love for oneself is linked to increased feelings of social connection, optimism and mindfulness in general. Another one of my clients over-extended love to others and squirmed at the idea of people reciprocating because it was "greedy." By doing things like calmly saying no to an employee's unreasonable request and not acquiescing to do it herself, she supported her staff and herself. It was easier for her to let other staff members take on one project while she worked on a second project, showing trust in her staff and not over-extending herself. She focused on what most needed her time and attention, and her staff was further invested in what they do, too.

If loving yourself is difficult, try this: Three times this week, reflect on what you can give yourself credit for, and what value that has for you.

Like any character trait, love is a wonderful attribute that can be over or underused—but when used well, love is a tremendous asset.

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