What are the most important personal qualities to have?
Although the answer is subjective, certain qualities are universally regarded as strengths due to the broad range of benefits that they offer a person who exercises them. These are the qualities discussed in this post. They’re based on signature strengths from positive psychology, as well as various philosophical and spiritual traditions including Buddhism.
If you take absolutely nothing else from it, then you should take that personal qualities are cultivable – you aren’t stuck with what you have (or haven’t) got.
Honing your natural personal qualities
Before I get to the personal qualities, I wanted to send a cheesy quote your way, which was either from Oscar Wilde or Thomas Merton (nobody knows):
“Be yourself. Everybody else is taken”
It’s fine to want to cultivate certain qualities that you feel you don’t have. But there is something in just going with the natural flow of your personality, and owning the strengths that are innate to you.
Nothing has helped me more to do that than learning the Enneagram.
Balancing personal qualities
I must also make a quick note about balancing personal qualities.
Rare is the person whose personality traits are perfectly in balance as a starting place. Which isn’t a problem except our tendency is often to double-down on the virtues that we already have, rather than developing complementary virtues.
But it is a good idea to change that approach and consciously focus on developing weaker attributes. That helps to make us more balanced and happier.We tend to work at our strengths, and avoid dealing with our weaknesses Click To Tweet
I’m pretty highly motivated and self-disciplined. However, my life can lack a sense of spontaneity and welcome chaos, which are things that I happen to value too. Being aware of this, I have sought to develop a more flexible approach to my life. Here are some other qualities that can produce negative effects when there isn’t enough of the opposite quality:
- Tranquillity without activity can make you ineffective.
- Effectiveness without compassion can make you robotic.
- Kindness without wisdom can result in being taken advantage of.
Think about your own personal qualities and the potential weaknesses they produce as a side effect.
Now for the personal qualities.
Also known as: Gratitude; optimism; cheerfulness; hope; humor; satisfaction; and appreciation.
If joy could speak, she would say: ‘Life is good. It is great to be here and to be me. This is fun.’
I am sure we can all agree that without joy, life is pretty gloomy. So what things help to create more joy?
Living in alignment with your values is key to do. Having a spiritual practice, which teaches you to be mindful and to let go of attachments, also helps. It is also well known that we feel a sense of joy whenever we overcome obstacles and ourselves.
Also known as: Compassion; generosity; patience; service; warmth; and sensitivity.
If kindness could speak, she would say: ‘I take your feelings and wellbeing as seriously as my own. You and I aren’t separate. We’re all in this together. How can I be of service to you?’
Kindness is true beauty. Offering a word of encouragement, listening without judging, teaching; seeing the good in others, doing something for someone who can’t possibly repay you are all aspects of kindness. Kindness rewards the helper in the process.
Books/practices that have helped me the most to develop kindness: Practicing acceptance. Loving kindness meditation.
Also known as: Modesty; egolessness; simplicity; deference; and respect.
If humility could speak, she would say: ‘I don’t know. Everyone has the ability to teach me something. It’s always possible to know more.’
In the words of C.S. Lewis, true humility is not about thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. Being genuinely happy with other people’s successes and accepting the uncertainty of life, and how small we are, are all signs of humility.
Also known as: Peacefulness; temperance; patience; tolerance; acceptance; resilience; and fortitude.
If equanimity could speak, she would say: ‘Although I am enjoying/not enjoying this, it is all temporary. I feel confident in handling life’s vicissitudes. The very moment is my teacher.’
Equanimity is the ability to accept the present moment without emotional reaction and agitation. Without equanimity, life is an emotional roller-coaster. We are attached to the highs and we are uncomfortable (perhaps even fearful) with the lows. We’re also impatient.
5. Non attachment/Letting go
Also know as: Non-clinging; forgiveness; dispassion; non-attachment; forgiveness; and moderation.
If non-attachment could speak, she would say: ‘I am the only reliable source of happiness. This is out of my hands. I can only control my own actions and reactions.’
Non-attachment is becoming disillusioned with external desires and goal (which sounds a bit unrealistic, I admit).
Letting go means letting things and people go and allowing things to flow as they will.
Also known as: Faith; acceptance; openness; willingness and hope.
If trust could speak, she would say: ‘Even if this doesn’t make sense now, it will. Life flows better when I see purpose in random events. There is something larger and beyond my comprehension.’
Having trust is having the attitude that life is happening for you, not to you. Without trust, we adopt negative interpretations. Trust tells us that there is something good to be learned or gained from any situation.
Without trust, life can feel lonely, scary, or unfair. We feel alone in a cold and uncaring universe.
Books/practices that have helped me to develop trust: Trust by Iylana Vanzant.
7. Calmness/ tranquillity
Also known as: Serenity; calmness; non-reactivity; gentleness; peace; and acceptance.
If tranquillity could speak, she would say: ‘All is well.’
Tranquillity involves keeping your mind and heart calm. You take your time to perceive what’s going on and act purposefully, without agitation, without hurry, and without overreacting.
On a deeper level, it means to reduce rumination and useless thinking. Without tranquillity, we waste energy.
Books/practices that have helped me the most with developing tranquillity: The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday.
Also known as: Boldness; fearlessness; decisiveness; leadership; assertiveness; confidence; and magnanimity.
If courage could speak, she would say: ‘Although the consequences of this action might be painful, I want to do it/ it is the right thing.’
Courage is the ability to place our fears and feelings to one side, and see something through. For a few, it is the absence of fear – for most, it’s the willingness to act despite fear.
Lots of things in life take courage. It takes courage to be our authentic selves, to try something new, to change directions, to take a risk, to admit we are wrong, to have a difficult conversation, to trust yourself.
Without courage we feel powerless and repeatedly choose the path of least resistance.
Also known as: Energy; enthusiasm; tenacity; passion; vitality; zeal; perseverance; willpower; determination; discipline; self-control; resolution; mindfulness; steadfastness; tenacity; and grit. Also includes focus.
If discipline could speak, she’d say: ‘However bad this gets, I’m committed to making it work.’
Having discipline is about making a decision once in something that is good for you, and then keeping it up despite adversities and mood fluctuations.
Without that we can’t accomplish anything meaningful. We give up on everything too soon. We are a victim of circumstances, social/familial conditioning, and genetics.Without having discipline and focus, we can't accomplish anything meaningful Click To Tweet
Part of having discipline is developing focus. Focus says: ‘I will ignore distractions, ignore the thousand different trivial things, and put all my energy in the most important thing. I will tame my mind’.
Books/practices that help cultivate discipline: Exercise and meditation.
Also known as: Responsibility and self reliance.
If autonomy could speak, she’d say: ‘Only I am responsible for my happiness and wellbeing.’
Without having responsibility and autonomy, we are the victims of others with a stronger will.
Having autonomy is about being independent and reliant on yourself and not others to feel good. At its deepest level, it is acknowledging yourself as the creator of your reality.
11. Wisdom/ discernment
Also known as: Intelligence; discernment; insight; understanding; knowledge; transcendence; perspective; discrimination; contemplation; investigation; clarity; and vision.
If wisdom could talk, she’d say: ‘Let me contemplate deeply on this. Let me understand it from the inside out. Let me know myself.’
Unlike the other virtues listed so far, wisdom is not something that you can directly practice. Rather, it is the result of contemplation, introspection, study, and experience.
Without wisdom, we don’t really know what we are doing. Life is small, often confusing, and there might be a sense of purposelessness.
Books and/or practices that have helped me to develop wisdom: So many things! I think that a lot of it is intelligently reflecting on your experiences as life unfolds.
Also known as: Having honor; truthfulness; sincerity; honesty; responsibility; reliability; loyalty; and dignity.
If integrity could talk, she’d say: ‘I will do what is right, according to my conscience, even if nobody is looking. I will choose thoughts and words based on my values, not on personal gains. I will be radically honest and authentic, with myself and others.’
Integrity is not about being moralistic, but about being congruent to our own conscience and values. It involves letting go of the ‘but I can get away with it’ thinking and not promising what you know you cannot fulfill.
Without integrity, we are not perceived as trustable or genuine.
Books and practices that have helped me to develop integrity: The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz.
Even if you have worked to develop half of these, chances are you’re already enjoying greater levels of life satisfaction. And the more the merrier, as they say.
Use this list as a snapshot summary of where you could do with investing your efforts. If you want, you could focus on a single virtue each week (or month), and look for opportunities to put that chosen quality into practice.