Living With Integrity

By March 11, 2004Blog

“Father, what is honor?”
“Honor, Son, is the gift that a man gives to himself.”

–from the 1995 movie “Rob Roy”

When you think of a person of integrity, what do you think of? Probably someone who is honest, who follows through on his or her commitments, who does what’s right even when it’s difficult, who walks his walk and talks his talk.

A simple way of thinking about integrity is congruence.

Integrity means that the various elements of your self are not disconnected or scattered about. What you believe is congruent with what you say. What you say is congruent with what you do.

What do you believe? What do you value? What is meaningful to you?

When you feel challenged on any of these, do you assert your values? Do you speak what is true for you, or do you tend to keep it to yourself? Do you tend to take the action that those words suggest? It is certainly important to be thoughtful about what you say and do, but in general, do your words and deeds correspond with what you value?

What are your strengths?

Think what your life would be like if you designed your daily life around your strengths. To live in congruence with your strengths is to be congruent with your temperament, with your gifts, and with the best within you. (If you haven’t done so already, go to and take the VIA Strengths Questionnaire, to get a better sense of your strengths. Then take some time to think about how you could arrange your life to be more in line with those strengths).

Integrity is always a work in progress. Every new awareness, every new piece of information, every new understanding, can be actively integrated into who you are – or not. To live with integrity means to actively strive to integrate what you do and what you experience. This can be difficult work at times, particularly when it is new for you; but this work, and the congruence you earn through it, contributes mightily to a sense of satisfaction and happiness.

As with so much of virtue, people have often seen integrity as a thing you do as some sort of external duty. But I see it as a fundamental act of self-love. It is also central to the ability to earn happiness.

Contrary to what much of 20th century psychology and philosophy taught, character does seem to matter a great deal with respect to a person’s happiness. The idea that character doesn’t matter, that we are happy only to the extent that our environment has made us happy, can now be considered one of those archaic relics from a past century: the last one.

Try writing this sentence beginning on a piece of paper: “If I were to live with 5% more integrity this week…” and finish it with ten different endings, quickly, no editing, no elaboration, no complex details. Do this each day for a week (exercise courtesy of Nathaniel Branden see ).

At the end of the week, go back and look over what you have written. Spend some time wondering about it, considering how you might be able to use what you’ve written.

Look for ways that you could increase your integrity just 5%, and I think you’ll have given yourself a gift you can long cherish.