I think, therefore I am. Really?

Episode 21 in Part 2 of our Introduction series: Getting to know yourself.

Habits:  Positive attitude | Know thyself

Skills:  Positive thinking | Mindfulness

Description:  In this episode, we introduce Rene Descartes famous phrase, I think, therefore I am. Reviewing at least two ways to consider its meaning. We explain how your thoughts can affect who you are in a given moment, and we introduce the idea of the 24 Character Strengths and how you can discover your Signature Strengths.


How this lesson might be discussed with your child

This episode introduces Rene Descartes' famous phrase, "I think, therefore I am." We introduce the intended meaning of this phrase, but also look at another way of considering the sentence, referencing in the process, William Shakespeare's writings in Hamlet, specifically the line: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

The concept that your thoughts in any given moment change who you are (that your thinking makes you so), suggests that we need to pay attention to our thoughts, particularly negative thoughts which can lead to a more negative outlook on life generally.

In addition, we touch on Martin Seligman's outline of the 24 Character Strengths we are said to all possess in varying degrees. We identify that the five or so Character Strengths that are most prevalent for an individual are known as Signature Strengths, and Seligman suggests that discovering these (and learning to use them as often as possible) lead to a more enjoyable life... or 'The Good Life'.

Below is a list of the 24 Character Strengths as defined by the VIA Institute on Character (please note, these have slightly different names to the character strengths outlined in Seligman's book 'Authentic Happiness'. We've included these particular strengths, as they align to the survey link we've provided in the exercises section). The 24 Character Strengths are broken into 6 categories, and are as follows:

Wisdom

  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Judgement (Open-mindedness)
  • Love of learning
  • Perspective

Courage

  • Bravery
  • Perseverance (Grit)
  • Honesty
  • Zest

Humanity

  • Love
  • Kindness
  • Social Intelligence

Justice

  • Teamwork
  • Fairness
  • Leadership

Temperance

  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • Prudence (Discretion)
  • Self-regulation (Self-control)

Transcendence

  • Appreciation of beauty and excellence
  • Gratitude
  • Hope
  • Humour
  • Spirituality

In considering both Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" and Seligman's 'Signature Strengths', there are a number of areas that can be considered for discussion:

  • Do you believe that your thoughts can influence who you are? Why/Why not?
  • What does that mean about the power or influence of your thoughts?
  • Do you believe you have complete control of your thoughts? Why/Why not?
  • Do you believe it is difficult to catch yourself thinking a negative or unwanted thought? Why/Why not?
  • What do you think you could do to help yourself catch unwanted thoughts?
  • Do you think we all possess different amounts of the same 24 Character Strengths? Why/Why not?
  • Do you think there are other character strengths that are missing from the list?
  • Are there character strengths that you would really like to have? Why?
  • Are there character strengths that you think would be bad to have? Why?
  • Is it possible to be strong in all of the character strengths? Why/Why not?
  • Are you curious to discover your signature strengths?
  • Do you think that your signature strengths are set, or can they change over time?
  • Can you get stronger in a character strength that you want to improve in? Why/Why not?
  • If you have discovered your signature strengths, what have they revealed about yourself?
  • Can you think of jobs or hobbies that might align to your signature strengths?
  • What could you do to include more of your signature strengths in each day?

Some specific discussion points

Discussion of any individual, whether a fictional character, famous historical figure, current sports, movie or business names, or teachers, friends and family members, offers an opportunity to discuss both the influence of their thoughts on who they are, and their potential character strengths.

Some possible questions or exercises may include:

  • Can you think of anyone who has changed who they are at a time when their emotions have changed?
  • Did they stay that way permanently, or did they return to their more usual self some time later?
  • Do you think, if we practice regularly, we can shift or usual way of being to something more positive, or more brave, or any other trait we want? Why/Why not?
  • Who do you think most embodies each of the character strengths? Why them? (One character trait might be assigned to each student for them to research, identify an individual who most embodies that strength and report back to the class)
  • How has this character strength helped or hindered this person?
  • In thinking of someone you might aspire to be like, what character strengths do you think they most embody?
  • Are these strengths you would like for yourself? Why/Why not?

Discussing the quote from this episode:

"There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. That little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative." — W. Clement Stone

Possible areas of discussion may include:

  • Do you believe that whether a person's attitude 'is positive or negative' makes a big difference in people? Why/Why not?
  • How many successful people can you think of who seem to be very positive?
  • How many successful people can you think of who seem to be very negative?
  • Do you believe that there is very little difference in people? Why/Why not?

Further information on this topic

If you'd like to dive a bit deeper on this topic, you might be interested in watching:

 

Martin Seligman – The New Era of Positive Psychology.

 

Or you might like to read:

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.
by Martin E. P. Seligman, 2002

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.
by Martin E. P. Seligman, 2006