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Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

Farewell: Ask a Psychologist Says Goodbye

A final message on character, growth mindset, grit, and more from Angela Duckworth
By Angela Duckworth — April 17, 2024 3 min read
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A Final Note From Angela

The partnership between Character Lab and Education Week commenced in April 2020 in the early days of the pandemic. So much has happened in the intervening four years.

Now, as Character Lab prepares to sunset its operations, this wonderful partnership, too, must come to an end. It is with gratitude and joy that we look back on nearly 200 co-published articles—all written for teachers seeking actionable advice, based on science, for helping kids thrive.

Here is the last of these articles, published at Character Lab as our final Tip of the Week:

Here’s an adage you may have heard before:

Watch your thoughts, for they become your words.

Watch your words, for they become your actions.

Watch your actions, for they become your habits.

Watch your habits, for they become your character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Aristotle likewise conjectured that character is the sum of our acquired habits. Good character, he argued, was consistently acting, thinking, and feeling in ways that are beneficial to others as well as ourselves.

What does psychological science have to add to these age-old questions: What is character? And why does it matter?

Like scientists who study anything, scientists who study character find plenty to disagree about. One area of unanimous agreement, however, is that character is plural.

Any parent who makes a list of the qualities they hope their children will grow up to embody will want a long piece of paper to do it.

In my research, I find three families of character strengths.

Strengths of heart encourage relating to other people in positive ways. They are interpersonal—either in the sense of an ethical and loving posture toward friends, family, and close others or in the sense of civic virtue, including our duty to our neighbors, our country, and the world beyond our borders.

Character Lab is grateful to the scientists who wrote our Playbooks on gratitude, kindness, honesty, purpose, social intelligence, and emotional intelligence.

Strengths of mind encourage active and open-minded thinking. In this day and age, these intellectual virtues may seem in short supply. All the more reason to intentionally support their development.

Character Lab thanks the scientists who wrote Playbooks on curiosity, judgment, decisionmaking, creativity, and intellectual humility.

Strengths of will encourage the achievement of goals. These are intrapersonal insofar as they enable you to triumph over self-doubt, indecision, inertia, and other obstacles to a desired future.

Character Lab is proud to share its scientist-authored Playbooks on growth mindset, proactivity, self-control, and grit.

There was a time when your character was assumed to be an inherited disposition that, good or bad, would never change. But modern research suggests the opposite. As Eleanor Roosevelt has been credited with saying: “Character building begins in our infancy and continues until death.”

At any age—and most critically during our formative years—our interpersonal, intellectual, and intrapersonal habits can be cultivated. This is why our 15 Playbooks include over 200 specific Tips—actionable advice, based on science—for how to do so.

Although Character Lab as a nonprofit is sunsetting this June, the content we have curated will continue to be available at characterlab.org. And so will the blog at this very URL. The sun has only just begun to rise on the vision of a psychologically wise adult in the life of every child—a possibility that promises to make the world a better place for everyone.

Don’t assume that character is fixed. And don’t get hung up on whether the proper term is “character” or “social-emotional competencies” or “noncognitive skills.” A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Do model, celebrate, and enable character strengths of heart, mind, and will. When he was just 18 years old, Martin Luther King Jr. had the wisdom to declare: “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

With endless gratitude,


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The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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