Your Biggest Strength
Oh, how I love a personality quiz
Greetings from 30,000 feet above these continental United States! We’re somewhere over the part where the Midwestern Rust Belt becomes Pennsylvania, an endless state from which there is no escape. (Look, as long as I’m in a Wawa-affiliated region, I’m good.)
Before I get into it, here’s your table of contents for this week…
1.) Introduction including A CALL FOR MODELS IN CHARLESTON, SC
2.) Recommendations of things I dig
Speaking of PA, a highlight of the past couple weeks was producing a photoshoot for a nonprofit in Philly at the BOK Building, which used to be a big technical high school. I wasn’t surprised to learn it gets rented out to “play” a school all the time.
I had full body memories of being a high school teacher but also had to clothespin persnickety cotton on models, which was not a part of my teaching days.
Speaking of which, I’m co-producing another photoshoot 3/16 for a national nonprofit digital campaign in Charleston, SC. I’m looking for volunteer models! Open to: ages 17+, all genders and backgrounds, all shapes and sizes, all hair colors and styles. Older models welcome!
If you’re interested in applying, email firstname.lastname@example.org (SARATONIN NEWSLETTER AT GMAIL DOT COM) ASAP and I can give you more details. It’s not paid, but I will ply you with coffee, tea, water, and gratitude.
I’d particularly like to include more Black, Latinx, Asian American, Pacific Islander and indigenous folks, but everyone is welcome to apply. Most of our volunteer models have no prior modeling experience. Suitable for work tattoos are totally okay, and we welcome folks who use visible hearing aids, canes, and other assistive devices.
I paid $8 to type these words to you from the sky, which reminds me - thank you to all paid Substack subscribers and Patreon patrons for making such luxuries possible. It would mean a lot to me if you felt like throwing a few dollars into a subscription model. If that’s not for you, perhaps a Venmo tip is your bag.
Or just read this shit for free! I wouldn’t offer it for free if I didn’t want as many people as possible to see it. I hope you enjoy it.
On to this week’s recommendations…
None of this stuff is sponsored, and I disclose my affiliations. But if you WANT to sponsor something or send me a press release or pay off my debts or whatever, email email@example.com (SARATONIN NEWSLETTER AT GMAIL DOT COM).
I guess we’re all moving to Vienna? - I love a clickbait article about the best places to live. Travel & Leisure looked at a report from The Economist and made us a pretty article.
The books you see above - I linked to Bookshop.org. Get ‘em all!
Emily’s List - I had a hell of a good time at our annual Pre-Oscars Breakfast out in Beverly Hills. Despite the venue for this particular event, Emily’s List is not an inherently fancy or glamorous organization. It’s a grassroots organizing group that trains and supports pro-choice women Democrats from the school board on up.
But, ya know, it is fun to be at an organizing event not in a school cafeteria or backyard or barn or church basement now and then. That’s usually where I’ve been to or helped with nonprofit events in my life and I love it, duh. Give me a chili cookout fundraiser at a firehouse! I live!
I’m a volunteer member of the Emily’s List Creative Council, and our president, Laphonza Butler, is the former head of the biggest union in California - which happens to be the one representing home healthcare workers. Staff and volunteers do the nitty gritty work of advocating for pro-choice women Democrats to be elected everywhere from a small town school board on up.
At 102, she leads fitness classes 4 days a week: ‘When I get old I’ll quit’ by Kellie B. Gormy for the Washington Post - These fabulous old ladies exercise for thirty minutes a day, four days a week, in their senior living home. I am going to take a page from their elderly book and move my human body more.
My favorite quote from fitness instructor Jean Bailey, age 102: “I really feel that if you don’t keep your mind and body busy, then why are you here?”
Vintage clothes from The Wolfpack - I stumbled upon this little Cincinnati shop when I was doing a show with my friend Travis McElroy of the podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me. It is awesome and I’ve been ordering gifts and apparel from the joint ever since.
Essay: What is Your Biggest Strength?
I used to love those quizzes in teen magazines, the ones that purported to explain something vitally interesting about you that would, inevitably, lead to you finally becoming the most popular person alive or, at the very least, getting Ronaldo from gym class to ask you to prom.
I suppose my fondness for astrology and tarot are in that same vein. Broadly speaking, and with respect to the shrinks I’ve seen in my day, I guess psychology is kinda in the ballpark, too. It all boils down to a desire to figure out who the fuck I am so that I can be as happy and healthy as possible.
The other day, I said that I think my biggest strength is making friends, and if that could just be my job, I’d probably be good at it. Maintaining close friendships is another task entirely, but making and keeping casual friends is not hard for me.
This week, author Susan Cain (Bittersweet) recommended the VIA Character Strengths Test in her newsletter. There are 24 different character strengths, and we all possess them all to some degree (kind of like Prof. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences). Susan’s top strength was Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence.
I was surprised to see that the VIA Institute on Character website actually includes a quote from the man himself: "‘Peterson and Seligman's endeavor to focus on human strengths and virtues is one of the most important initiatives in psychology of the past half century.’ - Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Education and Cognition, Harvard Graduate School of Education.”
Then I realized this was an obvious marriage of the psychological minds. Martin Seligman, co-founder of the VIA Institute on Character and past president of the American Psychological Association, is one of the proponents of positive psychology.
At its best, positive psychology focuses on an inclusive and diverse approach to helping people be as mentally, physically, and even spiritually healthy as possible. The emphasis, as you might imagine, is on positivity and optimism rather than on one’s maladaptive behaviors, although the latter should certainly be taken into account.
This branch of psychology became popular in the ‘90s as a reaction to what some researchers and clinicians saw as a negative tone in older, more traditional American and European psychological treatment methods.
In the world of academia, Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences was similarly groundbreaking in its acknowledgment of and elevation of methods of learning and working that are not valued in conventional, mainstream American society. I learned about his work in my high school courses, and then again in my graduate courses at Teachers College, the professional school of education at Columbia University.
Positive psychology is not meant to be pie in the sky, spiritual bypassing, toxic positivity stuff. You’ll see subpar, untalented practitioners and wannabe Instagram life coaches communicate about it in this way, but ignore them. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge the importance of negativity is a fucking charlatan.
Speaking of negativity, I found myself on an airplane musing on some stuff that has been stressing me the fuck out. I read Susan’s newsletter thanks to the in-flight wifi, and thought, “Well, fuck it. I’ll try this test.”
I took the test and was surprised to find my top character strength was Love.
Ewwww. But also - awwww.
“Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing & caring are reciprocated; being close to people.”
They send you a little follow-up email with your results (and to try to upsell you on more products - it worked for me, alas) and expanded on the whole Love thing: Your top strength is Love which means you put someone else’s needs equal to or above your own, and you take pleasure from that. You can easily express warmth and caring for the people in your life who matter most to you, and you likely are a compassionate listener.
I guess I was right about the whole friendship-should-be-my-job thing.
It’s an interesting test, and an interesting theory. You get to look at your top results easily, and then you can pay for a whole long thing about it if you want.
My next few strengths, in descending order, were Gratitude; Curiosity; Perspective; and Susan Cain’s big one, Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence. It all felt about right to me.
If you take the test, let me know your strengths in the comments. Do your results resonate for you?
Thanks for being here. You get four of these per month, and paid subscribers get two additional private letters/essays/creative missive things per month.
I am grateful to you all.
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