“In temper he was Earnest, yet controlled, frank, yet sufficiently guarded, patient, yet energetic, forgiving, yet just to himself; generous yet firm.”
“His conscience was the strongest element of his nature. His affections were tender & warm. His whole nature was simple and sincere – he was pure, and then was himself.”
“Such a nature was admirably constituted to direct an heroic struggle on the part of a people proud enough to prefer a guide to a leader, a man commissioned to execute the popular will but, as in his case, strong enough to enforce his own.”
If you haven’t guessed yet, these quotes were written about the character of the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a role model for character, integrity, and honesty, traits that never left him throughout the trials and tribulations of leading a country during one of the worst periods of its history.
Of course Lincoln was president during the 19th century when character was a highly-regarded quality. According to historian Warren Susman in his book Culture as History, the use of the word “character” peaked in the 19th century. “Character was a key word in the vocabulary of Englishmen and Americans,” says Susman, and so important to society that it was promoted as an essential component of one’s identity.
Things began to change in the 20th century, as we transitioned from a producing to a consuming society. Emphasis shifted from a focus on virtue and character to a focus on self and material possessions. Says Susman, “The vision of self-sacrifice began to yield to that of self-realization.” It became more important to cultivate personality, influence, and outer perceptions than to develop nobility of heart, mind, and deed. Abraham Lincoln likely would never be elected president today.
Is developing good character an outdated, useless pursuit that has little relevance in modern society? If you look at many of today’s role models (the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus, sports celebrities), it would seem so. Who has time for boring character which gets in the way of an egocentric life?
However, it doesn’t take much experience to discover how essential good character traits are when it comes to one’s self-esteem, relationships, and life satisfaction . Individual character is the linchpin for a healthy, functioning society. Although it may not be a popular pursuit, developing your character is one of the most satisfying, emotionally healthy endeavors you’ll ever undertake.
Good character consists of defining your values and integrity based on time-tested principles and self-reflection, and having the courage to live your life accordingly. So how do you begin to improve your character?
Let’s look at 20 good character traits that impact your happiness . . .
Integrity is having strong moral principles and core values and then conducting your life with those as your guide. When you have integrity, you main your adherence to it whether or not other people are watching.
Honesty is more than telling the truth. It’s living the truth. It is being straightforward and trustworthy in all of your interactions, relationships, and thoughts. Being honest requires self-honesty and authenticity.
Loyalty is faithfulness and devotion to your loved ones, your friends, and anyone with whom you have a trusted relationship. Loyalty can also extend to your employer, the organizations you belong to, your community, and your country.
You treat yourself and others with courtesy, kindness, deference, dignity, and civility. You offer basic respect as a sign of your value for the worth of all people and your ability to accept the inherent flaws we all possess.
You accept personal, relational, career, community, and societal obligations even when they are difficult or uncomfortable. You follow through on commitments and proactively create or accept accountability for your behavior and choices.
You have a confident yet modest opinion of your own self-importance. You don’t see yourself as “too good” for other people or situations. You have a learning and growth mindset and the desire to express and experience gratitude for what you have, rather than expecting you deserve more.
You feel deep sympathy and pity for the suffering and misfortune of others, and you have a desire to do something to alleviate their suffering.
Using discernment, compassion, and integrity, you strive to make decisions and take actions based on what you consider the ultimate best course or outcome for all involved.
You make conscious, intentional decisions to let go of resentment and anger toward someone for an offense — whether or not forgiveness is sought by the offender. Forgiveness may or may not include pardoning, restoration, or reconciliation. It extends both to others and to one’s self.
You are able to be your real and true self, without pretension, posturing, or insincerity. You are capable of showing appropriate vulnerability and self-awareness.
In spite of fear of danger, discomfort, or pain, you have the mental fortitude to carry on with a commitment, plan, or decision, knowing it is the right or best course of action.
You are willing to offer your time, energy, efforts, emotions, words, or assets without the expectation of something in return. You offer these freely and often joyously.
Perseverance is the steadfast persistence and determination to continue on with a course of action, belief, or purpose, even if it’s difficult or uncomfortable in order to reach a higher goal or outcome.
You are knowledgable of basic good manners, common courtesies, and etiquette, and are willing to apply those to all people you encounter. You desire to learn the skills of politeness in order to enhance your relationships and self-esteem
Kindness is an attitude of being considerate, helpful, and benevolent to others. It is motivated by a positive disposition and the desire for warm and pleasant interactions.
The ability to be loving toward those you love means showing them through your words, actions, and expressions how deeply you care about them. It includes the willingness to be open and vulnerable.
Optimism is a sense of hopefulness and confidence about the future. It involves a positive mental attitude in which you interpret life events, people, and situations in a promising light.
You can be consistently depended upon to follow through on your commitments, actions, and decisions. You do what you say you will do.
You have the desire to do things well or to the best of your ability. You are thorough, careful, efficient, organized, and vigilant in your efforts, based on your own principles or sense of what is right.
You are able, through good habits or willpower, to overcome your desires or feelings in order to follow the best course of action or to rise to your commitments or principles. You have a strong sense of self-control in order to reach a desired goal.
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Developing these traits of good character can be difficult to foster and maintain, but they afford so many positive benefits to improve the quality of your life.
How to build good character traits
If you believe developing your character is an endeavor you want to pursue, here are some steps to show you how.
Define your core values
Know what is most important to you by determining your values for your professional and personal life. These are the principles that are the foundation for your priorities, choices, actions, and behaviors. You can start by looking at this list of values.
Practice the habits
Pick one or two of the traits of good character listed above to practice for several weeks. Write down the actions you want to take or the behaviors you define that reflect this trait, and implement them in your daily life and interactions. Wear a rubber band on your wrist or create other reminders to help you practice.
Find people with character
Surround yourself with people who reflect the character traits you want to embrace. They will inspire and motivate you to build these traits in yourself. Try to avoid people who have weak character and make bad decisions.
Take some risks
Start taking small actions toward a goal or value that involve some level of risk. When you face the possibility of failure and challenge yourself toward success, you become mentally and emotionally stronger and more committed to your principles.
Create high standards and big goals for yourself. Expect the best of yourself and constantly work toward that, even though you will have setbacks and occasional failures. Every stretch builds your confidence and knowledge that your character is getting stronger.
Commit to self-improvement
Realize that building your character is a life-long endeavor. It is something that is practiced both in the minutiae and the defining moments of your life. There will be times you step up to the character traits you embrace and other times you falter. By remaining committed to personal growth and learning about yourself, your character will naturally improve, even through the failures.
What do you consider to be the most important and valuable character traits? How do you reflect these traits in your daily life both at work and in your personal life?