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 some cardinal virtues that guide our journey. We all have many virtues and vices, and the former can be defined as qualities of our mind and heart that provide guidance to us in difficult times. Thus, it is very clear that having a clear list of 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.
What is Virtue?
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.
The word virtue is defined as something that is your inherent character trait, and it is your foundation for living a morally 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. 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.
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. The virtues of a man simply define who will become as he grows mentally and spiritually. They are about realizing the true potential of your own self.
Besides the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity – there are many virtues that you can incorporate into your life to make it more fulfilling. A daily practice of virtues mentioned below can change your life and inspire and coach you to become a better version of yourself.
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.
Qualities related to truth include hope, openness, devotion, faith, 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 the 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.
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. Without joy, you will feel pessimistic, bored, unhappy, and cranky. Joy is also related to other virtues like gratitude, cheerfulness, satisfaction, contentment, and appreciation.
Kindness 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. 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. 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. You can offer a word of advice to someone, or encourage them. You can listen to someone without any judgments, 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. Courage 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.
For learning more about these virtues you can read the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
Tranquillity 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.
To learn more about this where to, you can read the book The Path to Tranquillity by the Dalai Lama.
Focus 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. For example, focus teaches you to cut down on social media, gossip and TV while working. 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. For most people courage means acting despite the fear, not the complete absence of fear.
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. 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. 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. 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. Integrity 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.
To learn more about integrity, you can read the book Lying by Sam Harris.
You can achieve your goals by doing the things that you need to do, doing them then you should do them, and how you should do them. This also involves keeping yourself neat and clean and your belongings in the right order, while also being punctual and on time. All these qualities are included in the virtue of orderliness.
Giving good things away two other people abundantly and freely falls under generosity. This involves not just money, but also your skills, knowledge, and time. It also involves the way in which you give, which should be cheerfully and willingly. Learning generosity teaches us that true happiness only comes from selflessly giving ourselves to others.
Giving to others what is rightfully theirs constitutes justice. A just person is the one who is in the habit of thinking the right way and treating others in a fair manner. Someone who promotes equality and equality is considered just. It is important to stand up against unfair practice, not blame the victim, and support those who are in need in order to uphold the virtue of justice.
Self-control refers to managing our desires and wants so that we can focus on achieving the greater good and meeting the goals in life that we have set for ourselves. Building self-control is important not just for giving us willpower, but also for growing our self-esteem. In this age of technology where every advertisement is trying to tell us that something is wrong with us, self-esteem and self-control are extremely important.
Setting appropriate boundaries, and doing it in a positive way is extremely important for leading a stress-free life. Assertiveness also means asking for help when you need it and being confident and positive about your own abilities. This virtue helps you stand up for yourself in any situation, say no then you are being pressurized to do something you don’t want to do, and negotiate when you are having a disagreement with someone. It also builds your confidence and self-esteem.
List of Virtues for Better Relationships
Being helpful to others and doing things that are thoughtful not only make a difference in the lives of those who are closest to us, but also in our own lives. This word also helps us improve awareness and observation. It helps us give a part of ourselves to others and grow in that love. Be mindful that this does not mean that you should take over and do everything yourself. It just means that when someone needs assistance, you give it to them and show them how to do something on their own.
Modesty refers to purity of our heart when we are committed to an action. It is also reflected in our speech and dress. It means being patient in our speech and moderate in our relationships. It also means being modest when we are wearing clothes, without taking it overboard and being excessively prudish. In this age of social media, this particular side of modesty is extremely important.
Having the sense of inner peace, no matter what is happening around you, is the epitome of a happy life. It is also therefore him being contained and satisfied with wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Being in harmony with our desires and goals, remaining poised and calm in the middle of our busy lives, and not letting the stress take over our minds all fall under the virtue of peacefulness.
Beneficence refers to selfless help of humankind. It involves charity and volunteer work and it can also be referred to as service. It involves doing things for the greater good of the community and for the common good of humanity. A well-rounded person should have this virtue because it gives them the purpose of existing beyond their own needs and recognizing what their community and humankind needs at large.
Forgiveness means handling the poor choices of other people, their disobedience, and their disputes in a consistent and reasonable way. It also means not being too harsh when others make a mistake, but also not being too lax. Forgiveness ensures that you do not hold anger and bitterness in your heart, but also don’t let others walk all over you. It should come from the heart and it should be sincere. When you learn forgiveness, you learn to let go of resentment and allow yourself to heal.
This means having strong focus, concentration, and clear vision so that you can realize your goals. It also involves focusing on one thing at a time and not wasting energy or thoughts on multitasking. This virtue is essential for developing a sense of ambition and greater purpose in your life. It also gives you focus and vision, from which you will benefit your entire life.
22. Good counsel
This is one of the most ignored virtues in our modern world. It involves seeking advice from reasonable people and knowing who to trust to have your best interests at their heart. It also means knowing when to ask for help and whom to ask for help. It is an extremely valuable virtue and identifying a couple of trustworthy individuals can be life changing for everyone.
Fulfilling your duties and taking responsibility for the results of your actions and words, both intentional and unintentional, constitutes responsibility. In the modern world, there are not many people who take personal responsibility for their actions, words, thoughts, and their consequences. Eating yourself the virtue of responsibility will not only help you when times get tough, but you’ll also be able to get past adversity much faster.
Recognizing that every single human on earth has its own dignity and worth constitutes respect. It also means allowing other people to live in harmony with you. When you respect your parents, your partner, your bosses, your neighbors, and your friends, you are showing them that you admire them not just for their qualities and abilities, but also the very fact that they are human. Respecting others also allows us to respect our own selves.
Tolerance refers to accepting the fact that other people have their own ideas and preferences but may be different than your own. It means that you should allow others’ opinions to coexist in the same space in which your opinions exist, without feeling the need to compromise your own beliefs or forcing other people to change theirs.
This particular virtue means that you should have the willpower to take the steps that are necessary for reaching your own goals in life. If you want to be successful in life, this virtue needs to be at the forefront. It allows you to look adversity in the eye, overcome the temptation of quitting or being distracted, and giving your 100% to achieve every single goal.
27. Good judgment
This means that you should have the ability to think about a particular decision in a rational manner and make a sound decision. Good judgment comes from having bad as well as good experiences, and learning from those experiences. So, allow yourself to reflect on your mistakes and learn from them. This is the only way to develop the virtue of good judgment.
Gratitude, although often also known as thankfulness, karma is not the same as just saying thank you. It means that your general disposition towards life should be having a thankful heart and mind. Gratitude can change the entire outlook of our lives and help us grow our character in strength. Practicing gratitude every single day can also increase your happiness and contentment with life.
Being independent is important but it is also equally important to assent to the rightful authority without resistance or hesitation. Although this is seen as a sign of weakness in the modern world, showing obedience at the right place is what keeps the society functioning as it is. We should know when to shed our pride and ego, and learn to obey those who are better than us. Obedience can also help us be humbler and contribute to societal good.
List of Virtues for Contentedness
Optimism says that you should not dwell on the negative occurrences in your life. Know that better things are around the corner, and that something good is to be learned and gained from every bad situation. Be optimistic that if you stay true to your very self, things will eventually work out. If you do not have the virtue of optimism, things can feel very overwhelming. You may feel scared and alone too. The universe will appear cold and careless.
Dispassion teaches you to live life with zest and enthusiasm, and then step back and see what happens. It says that we enjoy things without being anxious about the future. If you do not learn dispassion, you will suffer from losses over and over again. Your mind will manipulate you with fear and insecurities. With dispassion, you learn to open your mind, and allow yourself to not need anything.
32. Freedom from results
This natural virtue is very similar to the message Lord Vishnu gives us in the Gita – only focus on the effort, not on the results. If you want to overcome suffering, learn to free yourself from the results of a task. It should be noted that this virtue 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.
Meditation allows you to control your own mind, your attention, and to calm down the noise that is inside and outside you. It is also the main skill developed during yoga. It helps you bring your attention and mind to where you want it to be, instead of wandering here and there. When you develop the necessary concentration for the most important things in life, you not only save time and energy but also gain the ability to develop other virtues.
34. Taking risks
This is the most important of all the character traits discussed here, because the virtue 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.
The truth reveals itself to those who are open to contemplation and introspection. Introspection 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. 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 contentment will help you maintain a healthy body, a peaceful state of mind, and a heart full of gratitude. A content 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.
This virtue inspires us to expand ourselves and gives us a 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, compassion 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. 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.
Honesty is a type of moral excellence which is all about choosing what is right instead of what is easy. It is the opposite of instant gratification. You should also note that honesty does not mean that you have to be moral, it just means that you have to act according to your conscience.
39. Thinking of others
One of the most important virtues of life is that we should not think less of ourselves, but we should spend less time thinking of ourselves. This helps us transcend ego and find happiness in the success of other people. It also teaches us how small we are and how life is uncertain. There is no point being stuck in an ego trap which prevents you from growing. Moreover, it also teaches that being confined to our ego can poison our relationships.
List of Virtues to Improve Conflict Resolution
40. Respond, don’t react
This virtue gives you 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. It reduces over-thinking, diminishing the tendency to ruminate things over and over, and worry about future results. In a nutshell, it teaches you how to turn your mind and heart into a calm place.
41. Do not worry about others
A person who has the virtue of not caring what others think will not respond to someone’s hurtful behavior with cruelty. They are okay with not meeting the expectations of the society. They do not brood too much about the past or future.
Staying calm and not getting annoyed even when you have problems or difficulties dealing with people is known as the virtue of patience. It can also mean paying attention to something even if you are bored or have lost interest in it. This virtue is essential for achieving long term goals and working towards a better life.
List of Virtues for Success
Leadership refers to acting according to sound decision making. It also involves handling positions of power over your fellow human beings and helping them become a better version of themselves. The virtue of leadership also teaches you to use your words wisely when you are talking to your subordinates, handling conflict better, and learning even from those who work beneath you.
This virtue refers to controlling your wants and desires for reaching a particular goal in your life or 4 the greater good. It is the opposite of the modern world’s culture of self gratification and indulgence. Moderation requires self discipline, taking pleasure in delayed gratification, and even denying yourselves certain pleasures.
This word you die first to accept the bond that is implicit in our relationships with other people, or our country, family, or community. It is a very critical virtue for every relationship in our life. Loyalty is extremely important for building better relationships with our partners, colleagues, friends. Indeed, it is the foundation of every relationship worth having.
Mercy means treating other people with respect and understanding that every single human being is worthy of acceptance and love. When you treat other people with courtesy and speak and act according to this virtue, you are letting them know that you value them and respect them. Courtesy also helps us think about our decisions and how they affect other people and makes our interactions with other people more pleasant.
This refers to being easy to approach and easy to talk to. It also means being a friend to other people in their best and worst of times. Friendliness can help us get very far in life because it also makes other people feel heard and seen by us.
Sincerity refers to being enthusiastic and truthful in your words and actions, as well as in your relationships with other people. It also allows you to express yourself freely, and not worry about what others think of you. Sincerity is closely tied up with self-respect and self-love.
This virtue refers to not seeking joy from material wealth, but instead living your life in moderation. It also involves preferring the real joys of life, like family, love, and self-respect – instead of seeking contentedness from money and belongings.
List of Virtues for Moral Living
This is the foundational principle of all our virtues. It is that quality by which we live our life on the basis of principles and values that are important to us. It also helps us maintain authenticity with ourselves and act in a way that is holistically good.
This virtue refers to being flexible and accepting change. Taking advantage of the situation, no matter what it is and surviving even in the most adverse of conditions. Adapting and overcoming is the mantra of the marine corps and essential for achieving whatever goals you have set up for yourself.
The moral rule of cooperation is the most important value for succeeding in life. Because if you cannot cooperate with others and play well in a team, you’re not going to be part of the team for very long. No matter what career path you choose, you will need to cooperate with your colleagues to move forward.
Assertiveness refers to the fact that you should go after what you want in your life without feeling the need to apologize for it to anyone. It also means that you should be capable of setting up boundaries and not compromising when they are violated or disturbed.
Empathy refers to the ability to put aside your ego, stepping into someone else’s shoes, and experiencing their emotions. Empathy is essential for developing a connection with other people and having successful relationships in life. In fact, it is the foundational principle of most relationships.
This moral philosophy refers to being honest, while also remaining tactful. Remember that even when you are speaking the truth, there is another human being listening to your words. Being honest does not mean that you have to hurt another person or say cruel words. You can be gentle while still being truthful.
Commitment means doing what you said you will do without any excuses. It means getting up every day, showing up every day, and giving your best efforts towards yard work or whatever you have committed to.
Excellent is a virtue which encourages us to strive to be better than the previous day. It means not listening to the voice that tells us that it’s good enough, and instead always working towards improving something. Excellence can only be achieved by practicing.
Authenticity means being true to who you are and what your values are. It means removing the mask that hides our flaws and living in a way that aligns with our values and beliefs. If you are inauthentic to yourself, you also give others the courage to do the same.
Grace is gratefulness and generosity taken to the next level. It means giving something to someone who may not have earned it, deserved it, or even asked for it. Grace means being the bigger person, even if the one in front of you is not being graceful.
Prudence, also known as rationality, is the ability to look and face reality without keeping yourself under any delusions. It also means that you should not allow your emotions or your ego to get in the way and to do what is best for yourself as well as those around you.
List of Virtues for Fulfillness
Honor means respecting those who are above you and for those who are beneath you, acting in a way in which you are deserving of respect from them. Honor is basically the alliance and reputation that you earn from those who are your superior and your juniors as well.
Meekness is the serenity of the spirit when you are focusing on other people’s needs. It involves the virtue of self-control as well as remaining calm in negative situations. It teaches you to not react out of anger or malice, and think before you act.
Respecting and honoring your country, and being willing to serve it refers to patriotism. The feelings of love, attachment, devotion, and alliance towards your homeland and the citizens of your country is patriotism. It is an uneasy virtue to develop in the modern world, but it is extremely important.
Being able to understand the consequences of your actions and to think ahead is called the virtue of foresight. It allows you to think about your future and your past, and then act accordingly in the present. It is an essential virtue for making better decisions.
Working with energy and emotion, and being diligent in your work refers to industriousness. It should not stem from the desire to achieve more money, status, or things, but rather from innate respect towards your work. It is an essential virtue for finding yourself worth and dignity in your work.
Being to learn, grow, and be taught is docility. It is the virtue of obedience, combined with openness of the mind to be taught. It is essential for learning new ideas and gaining knowledge, as well as for applying this knowledge in your everyday life.
Having the confidence to do great things is known as the virtue of greatness. It is also known as magnanimity, and it involves pursuing honorable and great things in life, no matter how difficult it is to do that. It also requires the conception of virtue of courage, and because it usually means stepping out of your comfort zone.
Carving out time every single day for prayer, mindfulness, and meditation can help you connect with a higher power. It also gives you the confidence and courage to handle the difficult times with ease.
The modern virtue of ambition refers to having a healthy amount of pride in what you do. It also means that you should always have the drive within you to grow and be better, both in your personal as well as professional life.
This virtue refers to keeping your mind open to new ideas and opinions that may not be the same as yours. It is essential for personal growth.
List of Virtues for Self-improvement
Certitude is the virtue which enables you to have conviction in what you believe. It means god even when you are opposed by those around you, you should trust yourself and your values enough to not waver.
Keeping yourself clean, your surroundings clean and your workplace clean falls under this virtue. It is important because when the environment you stay and work in is clean, your state of mind also improves.
This watch you refers to being able to take quick, well thought out decisions, without taking too much time. Decisiveness is important, especially in times of emergency when a split second’s difference can be a matter of life and death.
This virtue refers to having the ability to live through difficult circumstances without letting it affect your mental state or breaking your courage. Being able to find strength even in the darkest of times and use that strength to move forward is true endurance.
The virtue of initiative refers to the fact that you should have the confidence and the ability to take charge of a situation, even when nobody else seems to do that. Initiative means not waiting for other people to pick up responsibility, but doing it yourself.
The virtue of sacrifice means being willing to give up what is important to you, for the sake of those who are around you. It means placing the well-being of your family and loved ones before your own comfort.
To be unwavering in your own choices, and to have the confidence to stand behind your decisions is known as steadfastness. It also means that, in your words and in your actions, you should be absolutely resolute.
Unity means the state of being one with your team, your friends, your family, or your partner. Not letting other people create rifts between you and your loved ones is unity. It is extremely important for having meaningful relationships.
This virtue is a mix of curiosity, awe, and admiration towards something that is unfamiliar or unknown to you. You should always have the childlike wonder inside you to look at and recognize all that is sublime and beautiful in this world.
Zeal towards life, and specifically towards your pursuits in life is important for leading a joyous and content life. Enthusiasms and zeal also improve your work life and your personal life.
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 life virtues can only be learned by practice and habit. The virtue ethicist 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.
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Namrata is a Doctor i.e. dentist turned writer and a 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 the 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