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The Journal of Positive Psychology
Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice
ISSN: (Print) (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rpos20
Pathways to peace: Character strengths for
personal, relational, intragroup, and intergroup
Ryan M. Niemiec
To cite this article: Ryan M. Niemiec (2021): Pathways to peace: Character strengths for
personal, relational, intragroup, and intergroup peace, The Journal of Positive Psychology, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2021.2016909
Published online: 19 Dec 2021.
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Pathways to peace: Character strengths for personal, relational, intragroup, and
Ryan M. Niemiec
VIA Institute on Character, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Positive psychology has been largely distant from the substantial science of peace studies. This is
unfortunate as the mutual synergy between these elds holds vast opportunity. Misconceptions
and obstacles underlying this gap are highlighted, alongside counterpoints for each. The purpose
is to lay a foundation for the integration of the science of character strengths and peace psychol-
ogy, across levels of peace, namely personal/inner peace and relational peace with ramications for
intragroup and intergroup peace. To enhance the understanding of this integration, a convenience
sample of 25,302 people was examined. Percentages of the participants’ perceived highest
strengths used for building inner peace and relational peace and for managing political/religious
conict were calculated. Examples of respondents’ strategies for using strengths across levels of
peace are oered. Among the various ndings, perspective, kindness, and honesty were in the top
10 across all three levels. Limitations and future directions for this integration are discussed.
Received 4 November 2021
Accepted 17 November 2021
Peace psychology; character
strengths; peace studies; VIA
classiﬁcation; VIA survey;
positive peace; negative
peace; inner peace; relational
When I think of Dr. Marty Seligman, I think of someone
with big ideas – not just any interesting ideas – but ideas
that have strong scientic grounding, are original, and
are applicable and impactful. In fact, this is what the
character strength of creativity is – oering something
that is both original and adaptive, inventive yet practical
(Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Inspired by Marty’s genius
creativity, for this special issue dedicated to him,
I humbly propose a new area of study for positive psy-
chology. I call for the scientic and practical integration
of peace psychology and character strengths.
The science of character strengths, catalyzed by the
VIA Classication of 24 ubiquitous strengths found
across human beings (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) has
blossomed over the years amounting to well over 800
peer-reviewed publications on the VIA Classication and
its measurement tools – VIA Survey and VIA Youth
Survey – by the time of this paper (VIA Institute, 2021).
The 24 character strengths, nesting under six virtues,
include creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning,
perspective (wisdom or cognitive oriented strengths);
bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest (courage or emo-
tional/gut oriented strengths); love, kindness, social
intelligence (humanity or interpersonal strengths); team-
work, fairness, leadership (justice or community oriented
strengths); forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-
regulation (temperance or protective-type strengths);
appreciation of beauty/excellence, hope, gratitude,
humor, spirituality (transcendence strengths) (Peterson
& Seligman, 2004).
The progress of character strengths research has been
tracked across domains/topics and based on the quality
and quantity of publications, Niemiec and Pearce (2021)
labeled some research areas as ‘soaring’ (e.g., business,
education, measurement), ‘emerging’ (e.g., health/med-
icine, mindfulness, military, positive psychotherapy,
positive parenting, intellectual/developmental disability,
workplace/team roles, strengths overuse/underuse/opti-
mal-use, stress management, and positive relationships),
or as ‘ripe with potential’ (e.g., peace, spirituality, envir-
onmental behaviors/nature connectedness, social/racial
justice, positive leadership, addictions and psycho-
pathology, and sport/performance psychology). The
area of peace and conict studies is indeed an area
that has been largely untapped in the eld of character
Cohrs et al. (2013) oer a broad perspective of how
peace psychology and positive psychology can inform
each other. They, and other peace scientists, discuss
a number of levels of peace, including personal/inner
peace, relational/interpersonal peace, intragroup peace,
intergroup peace, community peace, and national and
international peace. Each peace level has its own
research ndings, enablers, inhibitors, and practices.
CONTACT Ryan M. Niemiec email@example.com
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This paper builds upon this to oer a foundation for
integration and specically turns to the mutual synergy
(and on some occasions, the collision) of character
strengths and peace psychology. I suggest character
strengths are the sine qua non of peace psychology
and the inimitable domain within positive psychology
to take on ‘peace’ and have a positive impact for the eld
and the world.
Where is peace in positive psychology?
Peace – and its two major framings of negative peace
(i.e., the reduction of violence, conict, tension) and
positive peace (i.e., the building of harmony, equity, bal-
ance) – is not a popular area of study in positive psychol-
ogy. Peace receives at best, passive mention (e.g.,
creating peace with a meditation), although there are
a handful of exceptions (e.g., Cohrs et al., 2013; Neto &
Marujo, 2017). In positive psychology’s longstanding
agship journal, The Journal of Positive Psychology, the
terms ‘peace psychology’ or ‘peace studies’ appeared 0
times in abstracts/titles to date since its founding in
2006, at the time of this writing. In positive psychology’s
agship conference, the International Positive
Psychology Association conference, at the most
attended and arguably most prolic conference in
IPPA’s 13-year history in 2019, the term ‘peace’ was
almost nonexistent among over 850 didactic/presenta-
tion experiences; it appeared in zero of the titles of major
presentations (i.e., keynotes, plenaries, invited talks, or
workshops), in two, 10-minute presentations, and in one
poster (International Positive Psychology Association
Outside of positive psychology, however, there
exists an extensive and longstanding, although often
disparate, literature on peace. Indeed, there are several
thousand research studies on peace psychology
(Blumberg et al., 2007; Christie et al., 2008). There are
dedicated journals (e.g., Peace Studies; Journal of Peace
Research; Journal of Peace Education), an American
Psychological Association Division (Division 48/Peace,
Conict, Violence), several university ‘peace centers’
across the globe, and numerous ‘programs’ (some
science-based, some not) that would claim peace as
one of their areas of focus, some with international
popularity such as nonviolent communication
(Rosenberg, 2003) and restorative justice (Zehr, 2015).
There are various research areas that can link to nega-
tive peace such as the impressive research on disarm-
ing microaggressions (Sue et al., 2019) and to positive
peace such as the research on mindfulness (Sedlmeier
et al., 2012) and self-compassion (Ne, 2003) for inner/
To be sure, there are constructs closely related to
inner/personal peace that have emerging literatures,
highlighted inside and outside the positive psychology
literatures. From the Chinese culture there is ‘peace of
mind’ research, dened as an inner state of peaceful-
ness and harmony; this research shows that peace of
mind is higher in Chinese cultures compared with
Western cultures (Lee et al., 2013; Yu et al., 2019).
Related to this is harmony, which was found across 11
of 12 cultures to be the single most common concep-
tion of happiness (Delle Fave et al., 2016). These
researchers identied harmony as having four compo-
nents – inner peace, balance, contentment, and psy-
chophysical well-being – and comment that harmony
has been substantially neglected in the scientic eld.
Arguably, the main work on harmony comes from
Swedish researchers who have examined the construct
as emphasizing psychological balance and exibility in
life, and with their validated harmony in life scale found
that harmony related signicantly to peace and balance
(Kjell et al., 2015).
Equanimity and serenity are additional related con-
structs. These connections with peace are also crucial
to expand and build upon, especially their unexamined
relationship with character strengths. Equanimity is
viewed as a nonreactive skill in which the individual
accepts their inner experience regardless of the situa-
tion, i.e., calm under pressure. Studies link equanimity
as an important construct that can be developed
through mindfulness practice (Juneau et al., 2020;
Rogers et al., 2021). With regard to serenity, Kreitzer
et al. (2009) found three factors of dispositional seren-
ity – inner haven (sense of inner peace, inner calm,
inner security, inner strength, inner centeredness),
acceptance (of oneself, of that which is outside one’s
control, and of the transitory nature of life), and trust
(in the innate goodness and meaningfulness of life and
in the wisdom of the universe). Soysa et al. (2021)
extended this research nding that dispositional seren-
ity predicted lower stress and greater mental well-
being (over and above mindfulness).
Other peace scientists have emphasized the concept
of unity, noting that conict is the opposite of unity, and
that unity is the main prerequisite for peace (Danesh,
In addition, it’s valuable to add that some cultures
have words that relate to peace that might be distinct
for that culture or that oer an important nuance of
peace for further investigation. For example, the
German word Koniktfähigkeit refers to the ability to
manage interpersonal conict constructively and not
become personally upset (Lomas, 2019) and the Danish
term, tilfreds, means to be satised and ‘at peace’
2R. M. NIEMIEC
(Lomas, 2016); these might oer important character
strengths insights for relational peace and personal/
inner peace, respectively.
Despite these connections with peace and the deep
relevance for positive psychology, there remains no
exploration or integration with the science and practice
of character strengths that has erupted over the last two
decades (Niemiec, 2018, 2020). In short, leading peace
scientists argue that positive psychology is well-
positioned for a focus on peace (Cohrs et al., 2013).
Counterbalancing peace misconceptions
How could a subject as common as peace and with
potential benets therein not received more direct
attention in the science and practice of positive psychol-
ogy, especially considering the reality that peace’s cou-
sins, happiness and well-being, enjoy unfettered
attention? Below are a handful of misconceptions and/
or obstacles I’ve observed about peace psychology, each
followed by a counterpoint or realistic approach.
●Peace seems hopelessly lost in idealism: When peo-
ple think about peace, they imagine all 8 billion
people on the planet getting along with no war or
conict. It sounds impossible – outlandish and far-
fetched (e.g., consider the person who says their
personal mission is to ‘create world peace’).
○Counterpoint: We must approach peace realisti-
cally, even if driven by idealism within us. It’s
important to realize there is likely not one lynch-
pin for peace just as there is no panacea for
ending violence. Liebovitch et al. (2020) explain
that research shows there is no single leverage
factor that creates sustainable peace, however,
their examination of methodologies shows that
a large number of positive peace factors can add
up to support peace and overcome negative
●Peace seems amorphous. After one gets past the
idealism, then immediately follows a lack of clarity
about how to approach peace. Are we talking
about peace between countries, reducing the con-
ict among a religious group alongside numerous
economic and political tension, pursuing inner
peace while feeling overwhelmed, or a marital
counselor supporting a couple in conict?
○Counterpoint: Peace and peace-work can be very
convoluted; such work is laden with complex
political, economic, religious, and cultural nuan-
ces that shape the reality and trajectory of peace.
This can render peace intangible. This amor-
phous quality of peace can be simultaneously
embraced as a challenge and it can be claried.
The type of peace can be named (i.e., positive or
negative peace). The level of peace (e.g., personal
peace, relational peace, intragroup peace) and its
scientic concepts can be understood (e.g., for
relational peace, see Söderström et al., 2021).
Actions and/or structured protocols can then be
tailored to that level, type, and context. The com-
plex and convoluted nature of peace need not be
an enemy of progress and strength
●When people hear of the work of peace, the impres-
sion is peace is the pursuit of something permanent
and all-encompassing. Once peace is achieved, it is
complete and will always be there.
○Counterpoint: Such all-or-none thinking impedes
progress. Peace is impermanent and by its nat-
ure, transient in its gradations and dimensional-
ity. An individual, couple or group may have
more periods of peace, longer periods of deeper
harmony, and/or sustain resolution on
a particular issue, but this does not mean conict
and adversity is permanently absent. Peace is
found in moments and created in experiences,
whether that be turmoil, ecstasy, despair, or utter
boredom. Peace can be a mindset, intervention,
emotion, characteristic, or behavior that one
returns to over and over.
●Peace seems like something attainable only for the
economically advantaged, the fortunate ones, or
the WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized,
Rich, and Democratic, Henrich et al., 2010) ones.
○Counterpoint: Peace is a universal phenomenon
and pursued across the globe. It can be a unier
for human beings. Research indicates peace can
be pursued and progress made in terms of nega-
tive peace and positive peace across cultures and
groups (Christie, 2006; Christie et al., 2001).
●Peace is outdated. Peace is something leftover from
○Counterpoint: Negative peace focuses on factors
that reduce war, violence, and conict. As wars
continue to the present day – as well as relation-
ship and group conicts – negative peace eorts
are highly relevant. One of the most eminent
peace psychologists has added and argued that
the focus should not exclusively be on negative
peace and avoiding war, which has important,
concrete, short-term objectives, but should also
focus on positive peace (Wagner, 1988). Positive
peace eorts involve focusing on building peace
such as enhancing collaboration, equity, har-
mony, and strengths.
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 3
●Peace is inactive. Peace seems to be quiet, soft,
weak, or static. It isn’t forward-thinking.
○Counterpoint: In reality, peace is the opposite of
each of these descriptors. Peace is related to
equanimity which is ‘calm under pressure’ and
is a mind that is active and engaged in the pre-
sent moment. It is highly goal-oriented, hopeful,
rm, and tough-minded. Might one of the
numerous approaches to peace be that of non-
violence and/or pacism? Yes, and this is an
active, courageous, thoughtful approach as
opposed to a mindless, vacuous stance.
Looking only at the misconceptions, obstacles, and
underlying impressions of peace, it would seem to be an
impossible venture. But, the counterpoints provide the
true nature of peace and what it oers the team, the
community, the relationship dyad, and the individual.
A more accurate view of peace is that it can be realistic,
practical, impermanent, unifying, relevant, and coura-
geous. Peace can be discovered in any moment (Nhat
Character strengths and peace: A wide range of
integration opportunities for research and
Seligman’s call to the psychology eld, was not only an
invitation but an active encouragement to advance the
science of what is best in, between, and among human
beings (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Cohrs et al.
(2013) oered initial thinking for ways in which positive
psychology contributes to peace and point out that
character strengths oer strategies for inner peace and
peace of mind and might contribute to nonviolence,
reduced reactivity, and building a global resilience. To
their latter point, they argue that the integration of
peace psychology and positive psychology is not locked
in an individualistic approach. Therefore, the focus here
will not solely reside with the level of personal or inner
peace (although it will certainly include that), but will
venture into relational peace, intragroup peace, and
intergroup peace. It will not directly address interna-
tional or global peace, but the hope is that the integra-
tion points oered will provide a meaningful foundation
for such discussions.
The integration discussed here aligns closest with
what peace scientists refer to as the area of peacebuild-
ing, which is the active building of peace and peaceful
relations (through both positive and negative peace), as
opposed to other areas of peace, albeit having some
overlap. Other areas of peace work, especially in inter-
national relations, include peacekeeping (acute
situations involving the de-escalation of violence) and
peacemaking (fostering agreements in a conict situa-
tion), whereas peacebuilding traditionally has focused
on fostering healing in post-conict situations and pre-
venting further conict or violence (Christie et al., 2008;
Peacebuilding has been largely unexplored using the
lens of character strengths, but there are a couple con-
nections that have been drawn. While not studied with
the VIA Classication per se, a peaceful personality has
been connected with several enabling factors relating to
character strengths such as perspective, self-regulation,
open-mindedness, and hope (Nelson, 2014). In addition,
Cohrs et al. (2013) hypothesized the character strengths
under the virtues of temperance and transcendence as
important contributors to peace such as in reducing
aggression and reconstructing relationships (e.g., for-
giveness, humility, prudence, and self-regulation) and
in focusing on universal humanity, human rights, non-
violence, and peace activism (e.g., hope, gratitude,
appreciation of beauty, spirituality). Other studies have
shown that fairness is a core, hardwired component of
relational peace (Palagi et al., 2016).
The argument here is that each of the 24 character
strengths can be viewed as a capacity to contribute in
a meaningful way toward peace, and that there are
numerous character strengths concepts and dynamics
that are relevant for exploration, research, and practice
for peace. I propose three initial levels of character
strengths application for the levels of peace.
(1) Specic strengths: from curiosity and love to fair-
ness and humility, each of the 24 strengths
(Peterson & Seligman, 2004) can be directed in
ways to foster positive peace and negative peace.
For example, a person can use prudence to pause
to think before they speak out of anger when they
are in a tense situation, while another person uses
social intelligence to understand the context, read
the nonverbal expressions, and respond
(2) Character strengths concepts: There are a variety
of character strengths concepts relevant for
peace, including signature strengths, the high-
est, most energizing strengths in an individual’s
unique prole (Seligman et al., 2005), in which
the person makes an eort to use their most
authentic, best understood qualities toward
behaviors that boost harmony. Phasic strengths
refer to those non-tonic strengths the indivi-
dual uses to rise to the occasion and bring
forth strongly when needed (Peterson &
Seligman, 2004). Peaceful action – especially
4R. M. NIEMIEC
negative peace – often requires individuals to
step up with their strengths to help in
a situation; an individual low in bravery, perse-
verance, or humility might nevertheless turn to
and wield one or more of these strengths
strongly to help face an adversity happening
against a disenfranchised group, speaking out
against an authoritarian leader, or reducing the
tension of someone riddled in anger. Other
concepts are strengths overuse, strengths opti-
mal-use, and strengths underuse which map
out a continuum in which each character
strength can be ‘too much,’ ‘just right,’ or ‘too
little’ for the situation at hand; overuse and
underuse occur when one’s character strength
expressions bring about a negative impact on
oneself or others (Niemiec, 2019). Is a person
bringing too much judgment/critical thinking
or too much love (i.e., head strengths and
heart strengths) to a particularly tense situa-
tion? Is the person’s underuse of fairness or
kindness toward themselves having a negative
impact on their inner peace? Is the inux of
creative ideas or badgering curious questions
(overuses) having an impact on the peace that
typically exists in one’s relationship?
(3) Character strengths dynamics: This strengths
level refers to the interaction and/or resulting
dynamics among character strengths within
oneself or between dyads or groups.
Examples include character strengths combina-
tions (bringing two or more strengths together),
character strengths synergies (intrapersonally or
interpersonally, when two strengths come
together and are greater than the sum of their
parts), character strengths collisions (intraper-
sonally or interpersonally, when two or more
strengths come together and are in conict
and cause trouble for oneself or others), giving
and receiving strengths (the importance of not
only expressing kindness, gratitude, humor, curi-
osity, etc. but also being able to fully receive
these strengths), the ordering eect (the rele-
vance of expressing character strengths in
a particular order, usually one particular strength
prior to another particular strength), the temper-
ing eect (using one strength to manage the
intensity of another strength), the towing eect
(using a signature strength to boost or uplift
another strength), and hot buttons (when the
strength used by someone, perhaps overused
or underused, is triggering for oneself)
Embedded within these levels is the reality that
character strengths use does not always lead to posi-
tive results; it is possible character strengths can have
a negative eect on peace. Because each of the 24
character strengths are fullling and positively morally
valued in and of themselves even without obvious
tangible outcomes (Stahlmann & Ruch, 2020), they are
more likely to be positive than to cause aiction. That
said, there are a myriad of ways that character strengths
can be overplayed or underplayed and negatively aect
peace (Niemiec, 2019). For example, too much bravery
with one’s words might elicit discord in an intergroup
discussion, while too little kindness or social intelli-
gence can negatively impact intimacy in a close rela-
tionship. Likewise, too little self-regulation and/or too
much zest might impact one’s quest for inner peace
during a yoga or meditation practice. These character
strengths overuses and underuses can lead to a small or
substantial negative impact and provide a useful lens
for understanding oneself and one’s interactions.
Moreover, this conceptual level can combine with the
dynamic level, for example, two groups that are in
conict can understand that their dynamic reects an
underuse of forgiveness to the opposing group, an
overplay of fairness, and/or the underuse of humility.
Such insights point toward a deepening mutual under-
standing and can serve to promote new character
strengths within each group and between the groups
in the interchange.
A separate concept worth noting – and one that is
necessarily negatively impactful – is referred to as the
misuse of character strengths; this means the individual
uses a character strength intentionally in order to manip-
ulate or harm another person or group, and has been
highlighted specically in the creativity and leadership
literatures (Niemiec, 2018). (The intentionality of the
harm makes misuse a separate category from common-
place phenomena of strengths overuse/underuse.)
When a person uses their creativity to come up with
unique ways to violate another person or uses their
leadership to intentionally harm another, they are mis-
using their character strengths.
Considering these three character strengths levels
and the myriad of ways these strengths combine and
dynamically relate to one another in one context or the
next – and considering the multiple levels of peace
itself – the range of areas to investigate and integrate
peace and strengths is substantial. Due to the increasing
complexity, a matrix of hypothetical integration points is
provided in (Table 1).
There are opportunities for each of the 24 character
strengths, each of the major character strengths con-
cepts, and the multitude of character strengths dynamics
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 5
to contribute in some way to support various levels of
peace. The integration is a territory ripe for exploration,
therefore, I turn to an empirical investigation.
A pilot study exploring peace and character
To attain data on the connections between levels of
peace and character strengths, a rst of its kind, study
was conducted using a convenience sample of indivi-
duals taking the VIA Inventory of Strengths (VIA Survey)
on the www.viacharacter.org website. After completing
the test, each user was given the option to take a few
minutes to answer nine questions relating to character
strengths and peace. The questions included the follow-
ing, three foundational items:
●When you think of your own ‘inner peace’ (feeling
calmness, tranquility, harmony) in a particular
moment, either alone or with others, which char-
acter strength most strongly supports you or cre-
ates that ‘inner peace’ for you?
●When you think of creating peace, however brief, in
one of your close relationships, which character
strength most strongly supports you or helps create
that ‘relational peace’?
Table 1. Matrix of integration examples across levels of peace and levels of character strengths application.
General Peace Domain
Level Example of Integration
Positive Peace (enhancing character
strengths to promote harmony, equity,
An individual begins to target her strength of love as a self-care practice of
cultivating an internal state of joy.
A young man uses his signature strength of hope to build a conﬁdent sense of
agency and belief in himself to set goals around taking positive social action.
An executive taps into an intrapersonal synergy of fairness and kindness by
limiting the hours of a busy work schedule to emphasize greater self-fairness
A colleague points out three signature strengths of a coworker, explaining how
the coworker use these strengths to great eﬀect at work; the result is a deeper
While leading a team meeting, the leader turns to humility to hear, value, and
validate each person’s perspective and relates those views to the team’s well-
Leaders of two sport teams realize both teams share strengths of perseverance,
zest, and prudence; they decide to bring the members of both teams together
to explore this mutual intergroup synergy and look for new, harmonious
collaborations revolving around these three strengths.
Negative Peace (managing or reducing
aﬄictions, conﬂict, tension, and/or
A young woman ﬁnds calm and balance by using self-regulation of breathing to
reduce her physical tension and let go of psychological worry.
Turning to his phasic strength of bravery, an individual confronts his anxiety
around giving a public presentation as opposed to continuing to avoid it.
Expressing the tempering eﬀect an individual uses her self-forgiveness to
decrease the tension brought forth by too much zest/energy.
While in a tense conversation with one’s spouse, the other spouse pauses to
consider which character strengths one is overusing and underusing that is
contributing to the problem.
A work team is struggling to ﬁgure out the direction of a critical project and
members are feeling frustrated and confused. The team recalls two of the
highest strengths in their ‘team culture’ are judgment/critical thinking and
social intelligence. They post these two strengths terms on a board in clear
view for all team members to see at each meeting and they decide to use the
combination of these two strengths (i.e., considering all sides of an issue and
empathizing with those with opposing viewpoints, respectively) as the mindset
for future interactions.
During a heated debate among two community factions, one side decides to
display the ordering eﬀect to reduce tension; they deliberately use prudence
ﬁrst (being cautious with word choice), followed by creativity (actively
brainstorming and problem-solving solutions).
6R. M. NIEMIEC
●When you think of someone who has a dierent
political or religious view than yours, which char-
acter strength helps you most in managing that
dierence or conict?
These will be referred to as personal/inner peace,
relational peace, and negative peace, respectively. After
each of these items, the user was oered the opportu-
nity to select up to two (or ‘none’) character strengths of
the 24 strengths in the VIA Classication (i.e., two items
for each foundational item) and a write-in response
explaining why they chose the strength(s) (i.e., one
item for each foundational item). These nine items
were presented to users for seven consecutive days in
February 2021. A total of 25,302 individuals responded
to one or more items. Demographics are oered in
(Table 2), and reveal a wide range of respondents with
females making up more than half, ages 18–24 making
up the largest subgroup (22%), bachelor’s or profes-
sional degree making up the largest education level
(25%), and the United States being the largest geo-
graphic location, followed by Australia, United
Kingdom, Mexico, Canada, and Brazil.
Percentages for each character strength were calcu-
lated and totaled for each level of peace (i.e., personal/
inner peace, relational peace, and negative peace), and
calculated and rank ordered (see Table 3). These repre-
sent the percentage of occurrences individuals selected
the character strength in either of their two options. The
rst two areas (personal/inner and relational) are posi-
tive peace phenomena as the item focused on building
peaceful harmony/calm while the third area captured
negative peace in that some adversity, in this case poli-
tical/religious conict, is being managed.
Most participants oered at least one character
strength selection to each level of peace. The percen-
tage of people saying ‘none’ to the option to name
a character strength associated with peace was an aver-
age of 0% for each level. The percentage of participants
indicating only one character strength for a given level
of peace (thus saying ‘none’ for the option to note
a second character strength) was 4% (for personal//
inner peace), 9% (for relational peace), and 16% (for
negative peace). These ‘nones’ progressively increased
which could reect survey fatigue as participants com-
pleted the VIA Survey and then decided to answer the
optional additional questions, some items of which
required fatiguing, write-in responses. This could also
reect the complexity of the items as there is an increas-
ing degree of diculty starting with ostensibly the least
challenging (personal/inner peace), followed by an item
that is likely more challenging (relational peace), and
concluding with a tense topic about reducing or mana-
ging an issue that is often highly sensitive, divisive, and
conicted (managing political/religious dierences).
The write-in responses individuals oered to describe
their rationale for the chosen strength(s) was reviewed,
however, qualitative analysis was not conducted. A few
examples for each of the top strengths across the three
levels is provided later.
In examining the percentile rankings, perspective and
kindness were the only strengths to appear in the top 5
across all three levels of peace. This indicates that across
these levels of peace it is important to take in the larger
view and consider others’ viewpoints while also being
caring and considerate with words and actions, whether
to reduce conict or build harmony. Buddhist psychol-
ogy would consider this as operating under the central
tenets of wisdom and compassion to create peace
within, with others, and with the world.
Table 2. Speciﬁc demographics (N = 25,302).
Area Speciﬁcs Percentage
Gender Female 53%
Age Under 13 <1%
Education No schooling completed 6%
High school/diploma/equivalent 11%
Associate’s degree, some college, or
Bachelor’s or professional degree 25%
Master’s degree 13%
United States 29%
United Kingdom 4%
South Africa 1%
New Zealand 1%
Other countries 17%
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 7
Honesty appeared in the top 10 across the three
levels. This strength relies on the importance of being
authentic – true to oneself and true in one’s relation-
ships. For many respondents, this was the key path
for handling dicult tensions as well as for nding
inner calm and building from a solid relational foun-
dation. Love was number one for two levels while
gratitude, humor, curiosity, and social intelligence
appeared in the top 10 for two levels. The two levels
that love, gratitude, and humor were highest in were
the levels on positive peace. This indicates the impor-
tance of these strengths in building positivity or
upward positive spirals (Fredrickson, 2001) and it is
not uncommon to nd these strengths correlated
highly with dierent areas of well-being (e.g.,
Wagner et al., 2019). The two levels social intelligence
was highest in were those dealing with other people;
this indicates that for creating peace between peo-
ple – whether positive or negative peace – it’s impor-
tant to empathize, read the situation and the body
language, and be smart and socially appropriate with
word choice and actions. Curiosity was in the top 10
for personal/inner peace and negative peace; this
shows the usefulness of exploring others’ views, ask-
ing questions, and pursuing knowledge/information
as opposed to telling others how to think or feel
(for negative peace) and the value of exploring pos-
sibilities and investigating one’s inner landscape (for
In accounting for all 24 of the character strengths, 18
character strengths appeared in the top 10 at least once.
This indicates a versatility of these character strengths in
the service of peace. The six character strengths that did
not appear in the top 10 of these levels of peace were
bravery, perseverance, zest, leadership, prudence, and
appreciation of beauty/excellence. Despite not being
commonly reported, these strengths can readily be
applied to peace, for example, consider the use of appre-
ciation of beauty by someone who goes out in nature to
nd tranquility, calm and connection, and consider the
many people who turn to bravery and perseverance in
order to handle a political/religious conict.
In considering the virtues of the VIA Classication
(outlined earlier) that the character strengths nest
under (i.e., wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temper-
ance, and transcendence; Peterson & Seligman, 2004), all
six were well-represented across the levels of peace,
indicating their relevance and importance in people’s
lives. For personal/inner peace, all the virtues have at
least one strength in the top 10 with the exception of
temperance, all the virtues have at least one strength in
the top 10 for negative peace with the exception of
transcendence, while relational peace has all virtues
represented in the top 10.
More detailed exploration of character strengths
across personal/inner peace, relational peace, and nega-
tive peace follows.
Personal/inner peace ndings
For personal/inner peace, from a positive peace per-
spective of promoting harmony and balance in oneself,
20% of participants listed love in one of their two
choices as a central strength, followed by kindness
(18%), creativity (15%), gratitude (15%), and perspec-
tive (13%). Taken as a group, this reects the impor-
tance of fostering an inner environment that is caring
and compassionate while also balanced with stimula-
tion of new ideas and the wider perspective of life. The
rapidly growing science of self-compassion and its mul-
tiple benets (Ne, 2003; Ne et al., 2007) might be
viewed as reected in these choices. This cluster of
strengths also suggests that inner peace might be
necessitated by a balance of heart and mind – using
heart-dominant strengths (e.g., love, kindness, grati-
tude) and mind/wisdom-oriented strengths (e.g., crea-
Table 3. Top 10 selected character strengths using percentile rankings across three levels of peace in N = 25,302 (maximum of two
character strengths selected per person, per peace level).
Political/Religious Diﬀerences and Peace
Character Strength % % Ranking Character Strength % % Ranking Character Strength % % Ranking
Love 20 1 Honesty 32 1 Perspective 38 1
Kindness 18 2 Love 32 1 Curiosity 25 2
Creativity 15 3 Kindness 28 3 Social intelligence 17 3
Gratitude 15 3 Perspective 14 4 Fairness 17 3
Perspective 13 5 Forgiveness 12 5 Kindness 13 5
Spirituality 12 6 Humor 11 6 Love of learning 11 6
Humor 12 6 Fairness 8 7 Self-regulation 9 7
Honesty 10 8 Social intelligence 6 8 Humility 8 8
Hope 10 8 Teamwork 6 8 Honesty 7 9
Curiosity 9 10 Gratitude 6 8 judgment 6 10
8R. M. NIEMIEC
A wide range of responses were oered by partici-
pants to explain their rationale for how the character
strength(s) supported them in building up inner peace.
(Table 4) oer a mix of participants’ insights across the
top 5 strength percentages for inner peace.
Relational peace ndings
For relational peace, from a positive peace perspective
of promoting harmony and equity in one’s close
relationship(s), 32% of participants listed honesty in
one of their two choices as a central strength, followed
by love (32%), kindness (28%), perspective (14%), and
forgiveness (12%). This indicates a large degree of agree-
ment in regard to the character strengths most impor-
tant for building peace in a close relationship.
One can examine these ve as a cluster of interrelated
strengths. Similar to the building of inner harmony, there
was a strong perception that the building of relational
harmony requires a loving-kindness and wider perspec-
tive, and indeed research has shown that the cultivation
of love can increase social connectedness (e.g.,
Hutcherson et al., 2008). But for this level, the interper-
sonal components of directness and truth-telling (i.e.,
honesty) and the capacity to let go of the little irritations
of others and being willing to forgive are uniquely cri-
tical for relational harmony.
(Table 5) provides several ways in which participants
thought about how character strengths contribute to
their relational or interpersonal level of peace.
It’s worth pointing out that the questions on rela-
tional peace and inner peace focused on positive
peace, therefore it cannot be assumed that negative
peace at these levels would reveal the same respective
data. Questions to tap into negative peace at the inner
level would revolve around reducing inner conict and
unhealthy self-criticism while negative peace at the rela-
tional level would query the use of strengths to reduce
a relationship conict or ongoing problem. In fact, it
could be hypothesized that dierent strengths might
emerge more frequently such as humility (e.g., admitting
one’s mistakes, limiting defensiveness) for reducing con-
ict in a relationship and self-regulation to lower anxiety
and stress for inner peace.
Negative peace ndings
For the management of a dierence or problem –
a negative peace perspective – 38% of participants listed
love in one of their two choices as a central strength,
followed by curiosity (25%), social intelligence (17%),
fairness (17%), and kindness (13%). These were the
strengths individuals prioritized in thinking about how
they would handle a conict or dierence that is parti-
cularly divisive, as classically characterized with political
or religious discord.
Perspective was the overwhelming favorite strength
and this instance marked the single highest percentage
(38%) for any single strength at any level. This suggests
that when confronting conicts, having a default
approach of stepping back to see the bigger picture
rather than getting lost in the details, the opinion, or
the body language or voice of the other, is pivotal.
Within this wider view, the exploratory nature of curios-
ity, the second highest strength reported, might further
Table 4. Participant responses for how character strengths boost
Top character strengths
for inner peace
Explanations for why/how the strength is
helpful for creating inner peace (verbatim
Love I love giving and being loved, the feeling it
brings to people knowing they’re cared for
and wanted makes my heart happy.
I don’t often feel peaceful these days, but when
I do, it’s the peace of being close to people
I care about. Especially when cuddling my
kids and my husband.
My inner peace usually comes from a place of
love and laughter. I enjoy making others feel
like they are loved and I love making them
laugh. I also feel most at ease when I feel
Kindness Acts of kindness help me to feel peaceful
because I know that there is good in the
When I feel calm and comforted, I feel a sense
of larger kindness or benevolent
consciousness that is present in the world
and available to me if I can quiet enough to
tap into it. I am also soothed by kind inner
monologues and recalling kind words from
I feel most inner peace when I have been able
to help someone.
Creativity When I try to ﬁnd peace, I use my creativity to
paint a picture in my head.
Creativity has always grounded me, it’s
a meditative process.
Creating things from scratch makes me feel
Gratitude Gratitude creates peace by placing me in the
Gratitude helps put things back in perspective
for me and centers me into a state of mind
I want to act out of all the time.
When I stop to acknowledge the things I have
in my life and that I am grateful for, I feel
peace and gain a greater perspective on
small obstacles that might stand in my way.
Perspective My ‘inner peace’ stems from looking at the
world through diﬀerent lenses.
I feel most calm when I have a relaxed view of
the diﬀerent things that are happening
within me and around me.
Seeking ‘inner peace’ is trying to ﬁnd calm in
a frantic world. Appreciating that having
moments of calm is important in using
perspective. Having those moments of calm
enables me to persevere and deal with life’s
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 9
transform conict through the approach of asking the
other person questions as opposed to proclaiming or
convincing them of one’s own righteousness on the
political or religious view. Social intelligence, fairness,
and kindness involve a degree of empathy toward the
dissenting person and treating them in a way that they
have a right to be heard. These strengths hold the
humanity of the other as opposed to a view that reduces
the person to ‘less than.’
These negative peace ndings might have relevance
to multiple levels of peace including managing conicts
and problems to build relational peace, intragroup
peace, and intergroup peace. A positive peace perspec-
tive that might propose questions such as, What char-
acter strengths would help you build peaceful relations
toward someone with a dierent political/religious
view?, was not explored in this study.
(Table 6) oers a sampling of participants’ reections
on how character strengths help them to manage dier-
ences or problems, in the context of political/religious
Taken together, across the three levels, these data
support the theory that all 24 character strengths are
possible for both creating positive opportunities and for
managing adversity (Niemiec, 2020). Across the 25,302
respondents, all of the character strengths were named
and examples given across the three peace levels. For
example, the lowest character strength reported across
any level was the strength of zest for the political/reli-
gious dierences item (negative peace). While that per-
centage of responses rounds to zero, there were,
nevertheless, 98 people who reported zest as central to
handling these conicts. Therefore, all 24 strengths are
capacities that hold potential to be of benet across the
levels of peace.
In considering these connections, empirical and the-
oretical, it is argued that the VIA Classication of char-
acter strengths holds strong potential as a common
language of and for peace.
Summary, limitations, and future directions
There are a number of factors to promote peace, both
positive and negative peace, across the various types of
peace, as opposed to one single lever (Liebovitch et al.,
2020). One of the factors that has been largely unex-
plored is the science of character strengths. Indeed, the
integration of peace and character strengths has been
highlighted as one of the integration areas that is ripe for
development in the positive psychology eld (Niemiec &
Pearce, 2021). Character strengths might provide
a substantial value-add for peace research, for improving
existing peace programs, and for serving as the frame-
work for new peace programs.
Not only is the examination of the role of specic
character strengths for particular levels (e.g., love for
inner peace; honesty for relational peace; perspective
Table 5. Participant responses for how character strengths boost
Top character strengths
for relational peace
Explanations for why/how the strength is
helpful for creating relational peace
Honesty If I don’t think the person in front of me is
honest, I will not try to create an
atmosphere of peace.
Honesty helps open communication
channels. Real honesty is not simply about
expressing emotions but also ﬁnding
peace and alignment with emotions and
the mind. Being honest with yourself helps
creating peace in one mind. When one is at
peace with themselves, it is easier to be
honest with others.
Honesty and vulnerability in any relationship
creates peace within self and a safe space
with the other person.
Love Love allows me to be vulnerable, feel safe,
protected, and cared for in my
relationships, and to have an all-around
sense of peace.
If I am in a relationship and we are having
issues, I feel like my love brings peace.
I believe if you love someone you only want
the absolute good for them and you can
create peace between people by sharing
your love and heart with one another.
Kindness Kindness is fundamental in close
relationships to create peace and assure
the other of one’s respect for the other.
Taking time to listen to another and reﬂect
on the other person’s perspective allows
me to move toward relational peace.
Remembering kindness helps me be
compassionate and present.
Perspective Perspective allows me to think from
a diﬀerent standpoint. It takes me out of
my emotions and lets me think about the
To have perspective in a relationship is key to
understanding the person with whom you
are trying to develop relational peace.
In order to create peace within a close
relationship you need to have perspective
on the other person’s opinion or outlook.
Forgiveness A sense of peace and connection is restored
in my personal relationships when I forgive
others for things I perceive they have done
or not done that upsets me.
To keep relational peace means to be able to
forgive and forget. Love heals all and you
heal yourself and others with forgiveness.
You must always provide love and
forgiveness to keep a relationship
Understanding how another person views
a situation often allows me to reach
a middle ground of understanding and
mutual respect. Forgiveness allows me to
acknowledge that people are not perfect
beings, but we are all trying our best.
10 R. M. NIEMIEC
for negative peace) important, but equally relevant is the
territory of character strengths concepts such as signa-
ture strengths, the overuse, underuse, and optimal use
of character strengths, character strengths synergies and
collisions, phasic strengths, and character strengths
dynamics. These oer a legion of possibilities for
researchers and early pioneer practitioners.
As the creation of peace involves multiple layers of
social/psychological phenomena and cuts across indivi-
dual, group, and societal levels, there is far more that we
don’t know. Thus, an empirical study was conducted to
begin an exploration of the integration and mutual ben-
et of peace and strengths. The study revealed several
character strengths connections and concrete anecdotes
from participants for building peace and managing
There are some limitations to highlight. When parti-
cipants selected the character strengths they use to
build peace, for simplicity purposes, denitions were
not provided. As many participants were taking the VIA
Survey for the rst time, their knowledge of the
strengths was likely low (strengths knowledge/experi-
ence was not assessed). While the 24 strengths reect
a user-friendly language, some strengths may not be
immediately clear in terms of their meaning (e.g., pru-
dence) and thereby less likely to be selected. If
a denition were provided in the future, alongside
a short practical example relating to peace (e.g.,
a prudent person is often good at pausing to think
before they speak or act and therefore can prevent
problems from escalating), that might oer new per-
spectives and dierent reports of character
The sample used had the advantage of being inter-
national, however, it was not a representative sample
and thereby interpretations are limited in drawing con-
clusions about any group of people. Examining charac-
ter strengths frequencies, levels of use, and practice
applications within a specic group, team, culture, or
population would be a valuable project.
It’s also worth noting that the questions posed do
not provide a full picture of all the levels and per-
mutations of peace or all the levels of character
strengths, for example, there was not a direct mea-
sure of applicable character strengths concepts (e.g.,
signature strengths) or character strengths dynamics
(e.g., intrapersonal synergies), nor was there a focus
on negative peace for the inner/personal level or the
relational level or on positive peace for the political/
religious conict item. There was no direct examina-
tion of intragroup and intergroup peace; ideally
Table 6. Participant responses for how character strengths
manage negative peace.
Top character strengths
for negative peace
Explanations for why/how the strength is
helpful for managing a political or religious
diﬀerence or conﬂict (verbatim responses)
Perspective Remembering that every person’s views are
inﬂuenced by their individual life
experiences, culture, etc. promotes feelings
of understanding and acceptance when
others disagree with me.
I try to understand why that person may have
a perspective that is diﬀerent from my
own. Is it their environment? Upbringing?
Do they have certain information that I am
unaware of? Being curious about why they
may think the way they do is important to
understanding someone else.
I think when it comes to someone who has
diﬀerent views from yourself, whether they
be political or religious, understanding
perspective is imperative in order to
manage or solve any conﬂict. Without
perspective, it is very diﬃcult to know
where another person is coming from,
which will not help diﬀuse any situation.
Curiosity Curiosity makes me want to know more
about someone’s belief so I can understand
what they believe and why.
I am curious when others have diﬀerent
beliefs than I do. I prefer to learn from
them than to judge.
I am genuinely interested in learning about
diﬀerent ways of looking at a situation
even if I never agree with the person.
Social Intelligence Being able to read a person’s views and
opinions on a deeper level despite what
they may be verbally telling you, can tell
you a lot about them.
I have learned the beneﬁt of having the
emotional or social intelligence to accept/
acknowledge those with diﬀerent
opinions. It’s OK to be diﬀerent, and
sometimes it’s best not to inﬂame
a situation. No one ever changed their
mind by losing an argument.
I think people hold their beliefs for a variety of
reasons and if you can see them as whole,
beyond their political or religious views, in
context of their lives, their situations
emotional or otherwise, it helps me bridge
what I may not otherwise understand (or,
in some cases even feel like I can abide).
Fairness I chose fairness because everyone should be
free to share their religious views or
political views without me being blinded
by that choice. I will be fair to everyone
regardless of religious and political views.
No matter how diﬀerent our opinions we
always have to treat that person with
fairness, to give them the option of
expressing their views.
We all have the right to our own opinions, so
I chose fairness because I think it is only fair
that everyone can live by their own
political and religious views.
Kindness I chose kindness because deep inside I don’t
want a person to hurt inside, especially
someone I care about – even if they
oppose my beliefs.
Kindness teaches me to give dignity and
respect to those who have diﬀerent
political and religious views than me.
With kindness you can put yourself in the
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 11
future studies would examine the character
strengths levels dynamically within and between
There are some resulting practical considerations
that warrant scientic investigation. Those character
strengths that emerged highest for each level and/or
across levels might be examined specically as possible
targets of interventions for peace; the character
strength constellations (e.g., top 5) might be brought
forth together and tested in a practical program for
creating peace in individuals, relationships, or groups.
More specically, it would be of value to understand
the role of signature strengths awareness and expres-
sion, one of the most consistent and robust ndings in
positive psychology (e.g., see meta-analysis by Schutte
& Malou, 2019), as tested across the peace levels. In
addition, any character strengths dynamic could be the
subject of exploration, for example, the character
strengths ordering eect: Might there be an optimal
order of character strength expression that serves to
make it more likely that conict will be reduced in an
intergroup dialogue (e.g., prudence then gratitude
then curiosity)? Is the order dierent for close relation-
ships and the boosting of harmony in that relationship
(e.g., starting with love or forgiveness)? Are these
strength ‘orders’ better supported with a starting
point of expressing one’s most authentic signature
strengths? Or, is there a character strength or two that
might be a universal starting point for tense conversa-
tions (e.g., perspective, kindness, or social intelligence)?
Any dynamic, concept, or specic strength can be trea-
ted with such investigation on any peace level.
To conclude, despite a number of misconceptions,
there is substantial opportunity for a scientic explora-
tion of the integration of character strengths and peace
psychology. The integration outlined here is theoretical,
empirical, and aspirational. It is oered with humility
despite the potentially profound ramications of such
a foundation. Whether eeting or steady, small or sub-
stantial, we can pursue a peace infused with core
strengths of character. This would be a peace that is
unifying and courageous, inclusive and deep, meaning-
ful and imminently practical to positively impact our
lives and the lives of others.
I am grateful to peace psychology scientist, Daniel
J. Christie, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University,
for his hypotheses on some of the connections between
character strengths and the dierent levels of peace, prior
to data collection.
The author declares he is employed at the VIA Institute on
Character which is a nonprot organization with a mission of
advancing the science/practice of character strengths, which
are a core subject of this work.
Ryan M. Niemiec http://orcid.org/0000-0002-3311-611X
This paper is dedicated to Dr. Marty Seligman for his lifelong
inspiring legacy characterized by tirelessly catalyzing tidal
wave shifts in the eld of psychology, innovating strong psy-
chological science, and directly and indirectly impacting count-
less lives toward the better angels of their nature. Second,
I dedicate this paper to two of the few people in positive
psychology thus far who have prioritized peace in their work,
who operate with both exuberance and gentleness –
Dr. Helena Águeda Marujo and the late Dr. Luis Miguel Neto.
Data availability statement
The data that support the ndings of this study are available
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