If you walked into my cubical right now, it would be hard to recognize that one of my top strengths is appreciation of beauty and excellence. Messy desk aside, I also had a hard time recognizing this strength in myself.

The VIA Institute on Character explains that appreciation of beauty and excellence is the noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various life domains. When this strength came back as number five in my strengths report, I didn’t fully understand its purpose or how it could be useful to me. If I’m fully pulling on my strength of honesty, I kind of thought appreciation of beauty and excellence felt a little frivolous, like: “Oh, you like pretty things.” I was wrong.

I think that I was unable to recognize the strength in myself not just because of my unfamiliarity with its meaning, but also because the strength was so wrapped up in my identity and approach to life that it was hard to separate. It wasn’t until coworkers consistently called out my using of this strength that I came to realize its value and importance in my life. One example stands out:

It was winter and snow was starting to fall for the first time of the season. (I love snow like Lorelai Gilmore loves snow.) Windows lined one side of the building and I couldn’t pass through the corridor without stopping by at least two windows and marveled at the little individual snowflakes in all their perfectly formed, unique, geometric beauty: how they collided with the glass, stuck to it, and then melted away seconds later. By the third time of me gazing out the window in wonder, a coworker remarked, “Girl, your appreciation of beauty and excellence is strong today!” The immediate response (in my head) was: “What? I don’t even care about that strength.” But it also prompted me to think, don’t others appreciate tiny, amazing things like me? It brings me so much joy to notice these things! Is that what this strength is?

You might still be thinking, “Okay, you saw some snowflakes; this strength still seems frivolous and unimportant.” But, it’s not just snowflakes. I find myself using my appreciation of beauty and excellence strength all the time in my work: noticing an excellently designed flyer that inspires me when creating a PowerPoint presentation, taking note of a great facilitator in a meeting or appreciating an agenda that is expertly designed to get the group where it needs to go. Noticing this excellence, inspires me to also be excellent or to try something new to elevate my own work.

I have also found that my appreciation of beauty and excellence strength pulls up lesser strengths that are often harder for me to access like gratitude, sense of meaning, and humility. When I find myself in awe of something, it is a quick path to also being incredibly grateful for both the thing that I am in awe of and the opportunity to experience it. I also often feel a sense of connectedness or higher purpose when using my appreciation of beauty and excellence strength, especially when noticing nature. It’s hard not to get caught up in the amazing interconnectedness of all the expertly crafted beings in our environment. Lastly, noticing excellence around me and from others helps keep me humble. To recognize and acknowledge the excellence in others takes humility in appreciating that I’m not and shouldn’t be the best at everything. There is room for us all to be excellent.

What I love about this strength (and all 24 VIA Character Strengths) is that you can build it. The more I practice this strength, the better I am at appreciating, getting inspired, and stepping up to excellence. Try some of the activities below to build your appreciation of beauty and excellence strength:


Create a work-space you love by hanging inspirational images, photos of people you love or bring in a potted plant. Make your space a sanctuary of things that are beautiful to you.


Take a 10-minute break to walk outside or sit under a tree. Consider taking your lunch break outdoors. Be mindful of the everyday beauty of nature that surrounds you.


Look for the uplifting moments of excellence in your day that inspire you to be better. You might observe a great example of teamwork between colleagues or notice someone who is making great progress on a challenging task.


Listen to a beautiful song and pay attention to each instrument, sound & voice. Appreciate the excellence and skill that each musician demonstrates to create the beauty in the whole piece.                   

(Adapted from Michelle McQuaid’s E-book Putting Strengths to Work.)