The journey of life can be divided into two parts – a journey of gaining enough experience to have insights about the world, as well as developing virtues that guide our journey. A list of virtues can be defined as qualities of our mind and heart that provide guidance to us in difficult times. The virtues of a man also define who will become as he grows mentally and spiritually. Thus, it is very clear that having some virtues that define your approach to life can be a game changer.
Indeed, there have been many books recounting the importance of being virtuous. In this article, we will explore what are the most important virtues of the heart and mind, what strengths you can derive from each of them, and what gifts you can gain from developing a particular virtue.
But before we jump into that and go over the list of virtues, we must first know what exactly is a virtue.
What is Virtue?
A virtue is your inherent character trait, and what helps you live a good life. Virtues help you achieve greatness, and protect you in difficult times.
Virtue is defined as something that is your inherent character trait, and it is your foundation for living a good life. Thus, virtues can be different for everyone, depending on their priorities and what they consider the most important things for them. The bottom line is, your personal list of virtues should be something that helps you achieve greatness and live your best life.
Some people may think virtues are a Victorian concept. They may consider them puritanical, even. However, virtue has a meaning that is very personal to people. It can vary from one person to another. In their very essence, virtues are personal assets. They act as a shield for us and protect us in difficult times, in times of suffering, and whenever life becomes too tumultuous.
Philosophers from all cultures and ages have talked about the importance of virtues. Ancient Greek philosophers, Yogis, and Buddha himself have revealed how significant it is to cultivate certain qualities and habits that improve your life. Many books have been written about these virtues too.
Here is a list of virtues of the mind and heart for a more systematic approach to the subject. There are many more, of course, but this brief introduction of the very basics of this concept is a good place to start.
Every virtue acts as a superpower, if you let it. It enables you to experience life in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise. It should also be noted that virtues do not make you better than anyone else. They are simply about realizing the true potential of your own self.
The 10 List of Virtues for Life
Steve Jobs said that one has to have trust in something – whether it is your destiny, karma, your gut, or the universe.
The virtue of trust says that you have to trust the universe and all that flows inside it. Trust that there is something larger than you at play, and life will flow easier if you trust things that are bigger than you.
For example, the trust says that you should not dwell on the negative occurrences in your life. Trust that better thing are around the corner and that something good is to be learned and gained from every bad situation. Trust that if you stay true to your very self, things will eventually work out.
If you do not have the virtue of trust, things can feel very overwhelming. You may feel scared and alone too. The universe will appear cold and careless. Thus, it is one of the most important things to be included in a holistic list of virtues.
Qualities related to truth include hope, openness, devotion, faith, radical acceptance, and optimism. If you want to learn more about this virtue, you can read all about it in Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance.
Trust does not say that things will happen according to you. It says that you have to have faith that whatever happens, will ultimately be for your greater good. When you trust that there is purpose behind some events, and ultimately everything will be for the better, you will have a calmer and peaceful life
There is a Zen saying that states that the tighter you hold on to something, the more chance you have of losing it.
Detachment teaches you to let go of things. It says that you can love things and people, interact with them, experience them, but you cannot hold on to them. Everything changes and everything passes, no matter how dear to you. Learn to let them go, and let them be.
One of the most important things to learn if you want to overcome suffering is to learn how to let go. It should be noted that detachment does not say that you do not live intensely, it just says that do not get attached to them. It does not say that you do not play or sing or work or seek your passions with intensity, it only says – do so without attaching yourself to the results.
Detachment teaches you to live life with zest and enthusiasm, and then step back and see what happens. It also says that we enjoy things without being anxious about the future. Detachment is very similar to the message Lord Vishnu gives us in the Gita – only focus on the effort, not on the results.
At its deepest level, detachment is all about learning how to let go of any external sources of happiness. Know that the source of your happiness is inside you. It also teaches us that we should hold on to any particular state of mind, person, or thing.
If you do not learn detachment, you will suffer from losses over and over again. Your mind will manipulate you with fear and insecurities. With detachment, you learn to open your mind and allow yourself to now need anything. Detachment is also related to other virtues like dispassion, moderation, flexibility, non-attachment, and forgiveness.
If you want to learn more about detachment, you can read David Hawkins’ book Letting Go.
Joy refers to being cheerful. Nothing should be able to destroy the cheerful wall of your mind.
Joy teaches you to be content, happy and grateful. For everything that happens, try to find the silver lining. Although it may seem impossible to develop this state of the mind, it can be done, with time and practice. Consciously cultivating the virtue of joy will help you maintain a healthy body, a peaceful state of mind, and a heart full of gratitude.
A joyful disposition is a result of changes in your body and attitude. Although difficult to cultivate, this virtue can be developed by using deep meditation practices and practicing detachment. It is a natural result of focusing on other parts of your life, mindset, and attitude.
Without joy, you will feel pessimistic, bored, unhappy, and cranky. Joy is also related to other virtues like gratitude, cheerfulness, satisfaction, contentment, and appreciation.
This virtue refers to feeling others as an extension of yourself and taking joy in doing good for them. Kindness means serving and giving and enjoying it for the act itself. This virtue teaches you to wish good for everyone, and think of the well-being of others as an extension of your own well-being.
Kindness covers several other virtues and is the foundation of them all. These virtues include consideration, generosity, selflessness, compassion, service, sensitivity, friendliness, cooperation, etc. Kindness and its related virtues form the core of the social fabric of our society.
This virtue inspires us to expand ourselves and gives us the capacity to feel as others do. It teaches us to put ourselves in their shoes, and help them if we can. At its most superficial. Kindness is about treating others as we would want to be treated ourselves. In the deepest sense of the word, it is the realization that all of us are one.
Kindness is one of the best ways to experience something that is larger than you. To know more about this virtue, you can read Pierro Ferruci’s The Power of Kindness.
You can manifest kindness in several ways. For instance, you can offer a word of advice to someone, or encourage them. You can listen to someone without any judgements, or help someone directly or indirectly. You can teach children, try to assume the best of everyone, or volunteer.
Courage refers to the fact that one should not be afraid of the consequences of an action if he or she knows that it is the right thing to do. It means saying to yourself that the results of this action may be negative for me but it is the right thing to do and I will do it. Courage does not mean you have to face danger in a physical form, but that you have to be ready to do what is right.
This is the most important of all the character traits discussed here because the virtue of courage gives you the ability to take action without listening to the fearful thoughts. It allows you to listen to the small voice in your head that tells you to do something despite the anxiety that comes from thinking about the future. For most people, courage means acting despite the fear, not the complete absence of fear.
For example, it takes courage to try something new or to change the direction of your career. It takes courage to come out and say this is who I am, despite the fact that society may react negatively. Courage is what teaches you to take a risk, admit when you are wrong, have a conversation that is difficult, or let go of people that are toxic to you.
Courage also teaches you to trust yourself. The consequences of developing this virtue range from small to big things in your life, but they are you will start to notice them soon. Without courage, we tend to feel powerless. Thus, it is extremely important to include courage in your list of virtues.
Without courage, you will take the path of least resistance and the easy way out. You may feel comfortable right now, but in the long run, a lack of courage will only make you unhappy.
For learning more about these virtues you can read the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
Tranquility refers to a state of calmness in the mind and heart. It teaches you to live without stress and to believe that everything will eventually turn out okay. When your mind is tranquil, you’re going to be able to understand clearly what is going on.
You will also gain the ability to act purposefully and without any agitation. You do not do anything in a hurry and you do not overreact. The noise outside is reduced to a calm state of mind that allows you to evaluate everything without panicking.
On a deeper level, tranquility refers to reducing over-thinking, diminishing the tendency to ruminate things over and over, and worry about future results. In a nutshell, tranquility teaches you how to turn your mind and heart into a calm place.
For instance, a person who has the virtue of tranquility will take a deep breath before he or she answers an upsetting email or phone call. They will not respond to someone’s hurtful behavior with cruelty. Also, they are okay with not meeting the expectations of society. They do not brood too much about the past or future.
Tranquility also refers to developing a lifestyle that is not busy, but more purposeful. It teaches you how to live a life beyond the fight and flight mode. Without tranquility, we spend more energy on things than is needed. We live in a constant state of stress, agitation, and anxiety. We may even be fooling ourselves into thinking that we are productive.
To learn more about this where to, you can read the book The Path to Tranquility by the Dalai Lama.
This virtue refers to the ability to ignore distractions and not pay attention to the trivial things around you. Focus allows you to put all of your energy into the tasks that you are doing. When you develop the focus to concentrate on the most important things in life, you not only save time and energy but also gain the ability to develop other virtues.
Focus allows you to control your own mind, your attention, and to calm down the noise that is inside and outside you. Focus is also the main skill developed during meditation. It helps you bring your attention and mind to where you want it to be, instead of wandering here and there.
For example, focus teaches you to cut down on social media, gossip, and TV while working. The focus will also help you say no to things that are not worthy of your time. It teaches you to stay on the path that is right for you, instead of chasing random things.
If you want to learn more about this virtue, you can read the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown.
According to this virtue, one should never feel superior to other people. The superiority can come in terms of wealth, fame, beauty, influence or intelligence. Humility is also closely related to other virtues like simplicity, lack of conceit and egolessness.
In very simple terms, true humility refers to the fact that we should not think less of ourselves, but we should spend less time thinking of ourselves. Humility helps us transcend ego and find happiness in the success of other people.
Humility teaches us how small we are and how life is uncertain. There is no point in being stuck in an ego trap which prevents you from growing. Moreover, humility also teaches that being confined to our ego can poison our relationships. Thus, it is extremely important to include humility in your list of virtues.
To learn more about humility you can read, Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy.
Wisdom refers to the ability to think deeply about something and understand it inside and out. Unlike all other virtues, wisdom cannot be practiced directly. It is something that you have to develop as a result of experience and study.
Wisdom reveals itself to those who are open to contemplation and introspection. Wisdom is also the door that opens your mind to other virtues and helps you practice them more easily. This virtue is what helps you find out the truth beneath the surface, connect things to each other, and find patterns in the randomness of everyday life
At its very core, practical wisdom teaches us that we don’t really know what is going on. The universe is huge and ever-expanding, and there is always something we can learn.
Integrity refers to the ability to do what is right even when nobody’s looking. It teaches you that you should choose your actions on the basis of your values and virtues, not for any personal gain. Integrity means being authentic and honest, with yourself as well as with others.
Integrity is all about choosing what is right instead of what is easy. It is the opposite of instant gratification. You should also note that integrity does not mean that you have to be moral, it just means that you have to act according to your conscience.
To learn more about integrity, you can read the book Lying by Sam Harris.
The Twelve Virtues as Given by Aristotle
According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, it is the duty of the human being to engage in activities of the soul according to his or her virtues. He believed that there are two main types of virtues that human beings should follow – intellectual and moral.
He claimed that intellectual virtues are either inherited or learned with the help of education. On the other hand, moral virtues can only be learned by practice and habit. He also believed that the highest virtue is intellectual contemplation.
The list of virtues by Aristotle is widely popular. Here are the 12 virtues as explained by him:
- Good Temper
Neither Aristotle’s list, nor the list of virtues in this article should be treated as a comprehensive list. There are many more virtues, and as human beings, we can never develop all of them. But the list of virtues in this article is a good place to start.
As humans, we never stop growing. It would be foolish to expect ourselves to develop these virtues and think that we are perfect. Becoming virtuous is a lifelong process, and you will always find something new to learn and practice. The key is to keep trying to be better than who we were yesterday.
Namrata Singh is a dentist turned writer and clinical researcher. Eager to learn about anything and everything, she is what you would call a jack of all trades and master of none. With a zeal for reading novels, books and anything she could get her hands on ever since she was little, she embarked into a writing career purely out of luck. After indulging in a freelancing career for nearly two years, she can now write on anything - from dentistry to decor, travel to technology, medicine to management - but psychology remains her first love. Having dealt with mental health issues in the past, she hopes to raise awareness for the same and help people with her work in association with The MindFool team