The ABCs of Virtues

If we want people to understand the relationship between virtues and emotions, we will probably need to start young.  Toward that aim, I’m working on a new project – a Virtues Alphabet Refrigerator Magnet set.  I’ve decided that along with the 60 magnets – each of which contains a letter and a virtue that starts with that letter – I should offer my own parent-friendly definition of each virtue.  I welcome your comments.  (Since comments are moderated, they will not appear immediately, but I’ll post them as fast as I can.)
You already know what these virtues mean, but here are some helpful hints as to how to apply them to your children:

Call them active when they initiate activities other than watching TV or playing video games.

Call them adorable when they do something that melts your heart.

Call them attentive when they listen to what you are saying, even if there are lots of distractions.

Call them brave when they try something new or challenging.

Call them beautiful when they are a pleasure to be with.

Call them creative when they put things or ideas together in a new way.

Call them courteous when they say please and thank-you, or are polite in social situations.

Call them dependable when they do what they say they will.

Call them delightful when they make you smile.

Call them eager when they are excited about doing something.

Call them eloquent when they use words well for their age.

Call them energetic when their youthful energy is being channeled wisely.

Call them excellent when they achieve something at the top edge of their ability.

Call them forgiving when they let go of anger or disappointment with a friend.

Call them friendly when they make an effort to get along with their peers.

Call them generous when they share something of theirs with a friend or family member

Call them gentle when they handle small animals, babies or delicate items with care.

Call them helpful whenever they help you do something – even if you have to make up an artificial need so that they can practice this important virtue.

Call them happy when they are enjoying the many virtues that surround them.

Call them independent when they try something new on their own.

Call them intuitive when they express a thought or feeling about their environment that might not be obvious at first glance, or that they figured out through an emotional insight rather than through their rational understanding.

Call them idealistic when they express hopes and dreams for a better world.

Call them just when they choose to be fair, whether it is in a game, or when dividing treats.

Call them joyful when they take pleasure in their own growth.

Call them kind when they show concern for other people and animals.

Call them knowing or knowledgeable when they share with you something new they have learned.

Call them loving when they perform acts of kindness or service for those they love.

Call them loyal when they show support or say positive things about one friend or family member to another.

Call them mature when they behave in a way that is advanced for their age, or do NOT behave in a way that might be considered typical for their age.

Call them modest when they 1) dress and behave appropriately for their age and gender or 2) avoid bragging or boasting about their accomplishments.

Call them noble when they strive to be their very best.

Call them nurturing when they care for those weaker than themselves.

Call them observant when they notice something interesting and point it out to you.

Call them optimistic when they show a positive outlook towards some future endeavor.

Call them organized when they clean their room, compete a puzzle or successfully take on a task with multiple parts.

Call them patient when they wait for you.

Call them playful when they are having fun being silly.

Call them questioning when they want to know more.

Call them quiet when they are willing to moderate their noise level to match the situation.

Call them radiant when they are so full of life and love and enthusiasm that you can hardly stand it.

Call them respectful when they control their impulses in respect for the rights and feelings other people, or when they do thing that show that they value people and things other than themselves.

Call them strong when they put forth extraordinary effort, either physically or emotionally.

Call them sincere when they express how they really feel.

Call them truthful when they tell the truth – even if it is difficult.

Call them thankful when they express gratitude.

Call them unique when they do something that demonstrates their unique personality or way of thinking.

Call them unselfish when they give up something they want for someone else.

Call them unified when they successfully negotiate with other children or family members to do things together.

Call them vibrant when they approach a task full of energy and enthusiasm.

Call them virtuous when they demonstrate a combination of any of these virtues, but especially the kind, loving, selfless and generous ones.

Call them wise when they recognize the difference between what their impulses demand and what their virtues require.

Call them wonderful when you are amazed at how well they are practicing these virtues.

Call them expressive when they use words, gestures and emotions to communicate their experience.

Call them exuberant when their enthusiasm is so contagious that you catch it yourself.

Say “you are being yourself” when they express a personal opinion or do something that makes you want to smile because it is just so “them.”

Say they are yearning when they want something good for them or the world with all of their heart.

Say they have zeal when they express commitment and enthusiasm for achieving a goal.

Call them zestful when their natural joy of life bubbles over.

 

Finding an Alternative to “Better, Special and Right”

I spent much of my life trying to be better, special, and right. The only alternative I could imagine was to be worse, ordinary and wrong and no one wants to be that.
Now I’m trying to teach myself (and my kids) that it is possible to be unique, valuable and connected instead. It is difficult to overcome years of conditioning. I still want to be best. I still want to be right. I still long to be special. But all of those adjectives create barriers between me and others.  They keep me in a state of comparison instead of a state of compassion.

Unique is not special.  We are all unique.  Paradoxically, it is one of the many qualities we have in common with every human on earth.  Our ability to recognize our own and other’s uniqueness helps us to connect with others as sovereign identities.  Being unique is one of the things that gives us value.  Even if every link in a chain appears identical, it is unique, and it plays its unique role in life.  No other person – no other link in the chain of life – can take another’s place.

But for that uniqueness to have an effect, it must be connected.  Without a connection to the rest of humanity, a person’s unique contribution to the world will be lost.  It doesn’t have to be the best contribution, a “special” contribution, or even the right contribution.  It just has to be that person’s contribution.

I came to understand that participation is more important than being right when I realized that Aristotle was wrong about almost everything he said. Seriously.  He had some crazy ideas. But the fact that he was willing to share his ideas and explore them with others made him a valuable contributor to the world of ideas.

Like Aristotle, I can offer unique and valuable insights – even if they turn out to be completely wrong.  I can offer unique and valuable service – even if it is not perfect; even if it’s not better than the guy’s beside me.  It is my desire to be of service, my willingness to contribute and my whole-hearted participation that defines who I am, not whether I am better, special or right.

Even if the only thing I can do is to be the person that someone else practices their patience and compassion on, that is still a link in the chain and it serves a valuable purpose.

This is a real challenge to smart, talented and/or beautiful people – to truly be able to believe that they would still have value if they were slow, untalented and ugly.  Humility is not about seeing yourself as low, but about understanding that EVERY person on earth is just as valuable as you are, no matter how un-special and wrong they may be.

I tell myself this.  I try to believe it, but it goes against 57 years of conditioning. I pray to God that – as I grow old and weak and forgetful and needy – I can hold onto this belief and begin to internalize it enough that I can be at peace when even the dream of being better, special and right is beyond me.

This is what it means to pray for humility.

Thanksgiving Part 2 – Gratitude and Happiness Research

If the idea that practicing virtues like gratitude can make us happy sounds more spiritual than scientific, you may be surprised to learn that the Positive Psychology Movement has some hard research to back up this claim.

The best-known research is described in the book Authentic Happiness, by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. In his groundbreaking study, Seligman asked volunteers to do one of five different tasks.  At the beginning of the study, and for six months after, they also took an online happiness/depression assessment to measure their state of mind.

Of the five tasks, one was supposed to be an “inert” or “placebo” activity.  As expected, it had a small and short-lived effect on the participant’s happiness. One of the other initial activities also had a small effect that lasted slightly longer.

Three activities, however, had a significant effect on the participant’s happiness that lasted longer than expected.

In the one that had the strongest immediate effect, participants were given a week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude – in person – to someone who had been especially kind to them but had never been properly thanked.  These people’s happiness went up dramatically right after the exercise, and then slowly returned to normal over a six month period.  (I describe the other exercises in The Secret of Emotions).

Gratitude, of course, is a core virtue, so it should not surprise anyone that such an intense expression of it would have a positive effect on a person’s feelings, but that this positive effect could last up to six months gives us reason for encouragement in our own lives.

Perhaps before this Thanksgiving, each of us should set aside some time to not only think about what we are grateful for this year, but actually write it down.  Think ahead to all of the people you expect to see at your Thanksgiving feast, and try to remember something nice they have done, or some character quality that you particularly admire, and then write it down on a card.  When it comes around to your turn to tell people what you are grateful for, instead of stumbling through a last-minute list of half-remembered, half-sincere appreciations, you can share with each person at the table exactly how much they mean to you.

I guarantee you that the time you spend on this will be remembered by both you and your family much longer than your candied yams.

Longing for God

I know, blogs are for words, and pictures are for Pinterest, but I’ve illustrated some quotations from my new book and wanted to see how they looked here.  This is the first sentence of The Secret of Emotions which is the first volume in the Love, Lust and the Longing for God series.