How to Be Happy: Discover Your Virtues

In the popular tale of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy picks up three companions in her travels down the Yellow Brick Road. Dorothy's new buddies long for the virtues they think they lack: Scarecrow wants a brain for deep thoughts; Tin Man seeks a heart to experience love; Cowardly Lion's on the prowl for courage, all the better for ruling the forest.

In the end, each character finds what he's hoping to be granted, just by looking into himself. The universal virtues — wisdom, benevolence, and bravery — were there all the time, begging to be recognized and revealed.

Cultures, religions, and philosophies around the world embrace the notion of peoples' noble qualities, or virtues. Many times, individuals mistake this basic good stuff within themselves with the skills or abilities that may get them hired, or make them famous, or bring them lots of money to buy more of what promises satisfaction.

Although it never hurts to be aware of what you do well, figuring out who you are — and coaxing those character strengths out into your everyday life — can bring you in closer touch with happiness overall.

First, give Dorothy's pals some thought. Scarecrow was all about getting a brain. With installation of a thinking machine, he could reason, create, imagine, absorb, comprehend, conclude, learn, and perceive. Virtues of wisdom and knowledge have been valued through time and history, and they encompass far more than simple know-how. The measure of your wisdom may be in your curiosity about the world around you; your passion for learning; your bold, original thoughts; your openness to new ideas; your common sense and your "street smarts"; or your welcoming interaction with other people.

Tin Man wished for the tenderness and emotion associated with the human heart. As universal virtues, humanity and love invite strong appreciation of and attachment to others. Giving generously of time, effort, kindness, and support are clear character strengths, as is caring deeply not only about others, but also about yourself.

As for the Cowardly Lion, courage was the magic he believed he was missing in his bid to be King of the Beasts. Especially in times of military battles and bloodshed, stories of bravery are commonplace.  But standing firm in the face of danger is also evident when you hold tight to an unpopular opinion, hang in there with a worthy quest, or stay true to what you believe. These are character strengths in themselves.

Just like the fantasy world of Oz, real life's open territory for virtues unveiled. Do you feel inspired by a walk in the woods? Does good music give you goose bumps? Do you count your blessings? Do you know how to laugh and have fun? Do you go for what you want with energy and enthusiasm? If you see something of yourself in any or all of those virtues, you're expressing transcendence, the state of going above and beyond limits.

If you're looking for a boost to your level of happiness, keep watch as your own character strengths bubble to the surface. They're virtues you can invite out again and again — they're always as near as your own backyard!