Character Education: A Role for Literature in Cultivating Character Strengths in Adolescence

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Positive psychology is devoted to studying the flourishing human life beyond the mere absence of illness. The ability to know, measure and cultivate those elements that contribute to such a life is transforming many fields. The emerging applied field of positive education is using the findings of positive psychology to more effectively educate for psychological well-being alongside that of traditional academic learning. One crucial area of study in positive psychology is character strengths. Individuals who are not only cognizant of their strength profile but also use their strengths daily are happier, higher achieving, more resilient and more satisfied with their lives. These findings give new life and scope to what schools might call “character education”. This paper argues that by cleverly capitalizing on the existing skills of regular classroom teachers all schools, regardless of their human and financial resources, location or demography, can begin embedding principles of positive psychology. Accessible, empirically-based, and well-integrated curricula are needed to bring to scale the work of positive psychology. We need to promote robust, cross-curricular learning in our students and better equip regular classroom teachers for the task. English literature, by virtue of its content and pedagogy, presents a rich opportunity for an innovative model. Learning about character strengths through literature provides a medium for robust debate, higher-order understanding and personal reflection and cultivation. More than merely achieving the agenda of positive education, the science of well-being also has a great deal to offer our study of literature. Using character strengths in our literature study can enrich the analytical process. After providing an empirical and theoretical base, this paper offers a sample unit of work on the strength of hope. Designed for an upper-secondary English classroom, it vitally demonstrates that a rich focus on well-being in literature need not come at the expense of academic rigor, deep ethical and emotional competencies or analytical essay writing.


character strengths, adolescence, positive education, hope, curriculum


Character Strengths and Virtues, Education


Literature Review, Other Formats



Date Posted: 19 December 2014