CSV identifies six classes of virtue (i.e. “core virtues”) comprising 26 measurable “character strengths”. The organization of the six virtues and 26 strengths is as follows:
- Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation
- Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality, zest
- Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
- Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
- Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self control
- Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality
CSV in its opening chapter defined character strengths as satisfying most of the ten following criteria:
- contributes to individual fulfillment “for oneself and others”;
- intrinsically valuable, in an ethical sense (gifts, skills, aptitudes, and expertise can be squandered, but character strengths and virtues cannot);
- not the opposite of a desirable trait (a counterexample is steadfast and flexible, which are opposites but are both commonly seen as desirable);
- trait-like (habitual patterns that are relatively stable over time);
- not a combination of the other character strengths in the CSV;
- personified (at least in the popular imagination) by people made famous through story, song, etc.;
- observable in child prodigies (though this criterion is not applicable to all character strengths);
- absent in some individuals;
- and nurtured by societal norms and institutions.
The introduction of CSV suggests that these six virtues are considered good by the vast majority of cultures and throughout history and that practicing these traits leads to increased happiness. Notwithstanding numerous cautions and caveats, this suggestion of universality hints that in addition to trying to broaden the scope of psychological research to include mental wellness, the leaders of the positive psychology movement are challenging moral relativism and suggesting that virtue has a biological basis. These arguments are in line with the science of morality.
Each of the 28 character traits is defined behaviorally, with psychometric evidence demonstrating that it can be reliably measured. The book shows that “empirically minded humanists can measure character strengths and virtues in a rigorous scientific manner.”
Practical applications of positive psychology include helping individuals and organizations correctly identify their strengths and use them to increase and sustain their respective levels of well-being. Each trait “provides one of many alternative paths to virtue and well-being.” Therapists, counselors, coaches, and various other psychological professionals can use the new methods and techniques to build and broaden the lives of individuals who are not necessarily suffering from mental illness or disorder.
Finally, other researchers have advocated grouping the 28 identified character traits into just four classes of strength (Intellectual, Social, Temperance, Transcendent) or even just three classes (without Transcendence). Not only is this easier to remember, but additionally there is evidence that these adequately capture the components of the 28 original traits.
Perspective and wisdom (personified for example by Ann Landers): the coordination of “knowledge and experience” and “its deliberate use to improve wellbeing.” Many, but not all, studies find that adults’ self-ratings of perspective/wisdom do not depend on age. This stands in contrast to the popular notion that wisdom increases with age.