10 Essential Character Traits for a Happy Life

“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” ~ Socrates

Who we are at the core matters to how we feel. And who we are at the core is largely what defines our character.

The Power of Character

When everything is stripped away, when you are proverbially standing naked with nothing else but who you are between you and the mirror of life, when you are without house or car or career or wardrobe to hide behind, then, and for some only then, you will be left to recognize the singular importance of four basic components of life:

  1. Your thoughts, attitudes, opinions and quality of mind
  2. Your faith, beliefs, spirituality and values
  3. Your relationships and experiences  and
  4. Your character.

Nothing else ultimately matters all that much when compared to these. Each is crucial to your happiness. Corrupt any one of the four components and your happiness will be compromised. Period. End of story.

This final post in this series, then, will introduce you to those principles of character that are important to living a happy life.

But what is character?

Character is the marriage of #1 and #2 as expressed in #3 (of the 4 components above). In other words, your character is the marriage of your thoughts, attitudes and opinions to your faith, beliefs, spirituality and values as expressed in your relationships and experiences.

It is how you live when no one is looking. It is the quality of your actions when there is no apparent benefit to acting well. It is the fusion of thought, belief and action into a coherent identity of person. It is who you are deep inside as an expression of how you treat yourself and others. It is the degree to which you live with integrity to universal principles of decency.

Being Happy

So character matters to happiness. It is the foundation that holds up the house. In other words, character is to happiness what a foundation is to the structure of your home. Remove the foundation and the house starts to sink. Remove character and so does happiness. Hateful, mean and selfish people are not supposed to be happy as hateful, mean and selfish people.

Sure, everyone everywhere are meant to be happy. But no one is meant to be happy while engaged in those behaviors, exercising those beliefs and attitudes and living their lives in such a way as would quite naturally produce its opposite of bitterness, resentment, anger and depression.

The following character traits are those I believe will most help you live with more abundant, consistent and radiant joy.

10 Ways to Live Yourself Happy

1. Be Humble

The highest form of humility is the acceptance of our limitations – even if acknowledging our limitless potential – while unflinchingly recognizing the truth of humanity’s interdependence and our reliance on something or someone higher than us.

Humility is a quiet sort of confidence, an inner strength that allows for vulnerability because its possessor cares more about what is true than who is right. Humble people are teachable because, unlike the proud, they are open to criticism and correction without being emotionally battered and bruised by what is said or even how it’s said. True humility not only requires emotional strength and confidence, but an inner maturity and emotional independence of others’ opinions.

It is in that inner strength that happiness can grow to full maturity. Humility is also the gateway to developing all other character traits in that humble people are open to opportunities to learn and grow, to develop and improve. Therein lay the secret of humility’s influence on happiness: Humility leads to personal growth. Personal growth leads to more joy.

2. Be Courageous

At exactly that point where courage falters, is the point at which all other character traits fail as well. In other words, courage is needed to nail every other character trait to the wall of integrity.

Loving the loveable is easy. But loving the unlovable takes courage. Being loyal to your friends is easy in front of your friends. Being loyal when there is pressure to be disloyal requires courage to stay true. Honesty when you know you will be praised for speaking it is easy. But honesty when you know you will be in all kinds of trouble for telling the truth requires all kinds of courage to tell it anyway.

Confronting weakness. Stepping into the unknown. Grabbing hold of life-changing opportunity. Trying something you’ve never done before. Opening your heart after having it broken. Ending the subtle poison of procrastination. Jumping into the deep-end of life. All such behavior requires varying degrees of courage. Happiness requires all such behavior.

3. Be Grateful

Habitually grateful people – those for whom gratitude is a way of life – are not only thankful for what most of us are thankful for (a promotion, a birthday gift, a strangers’ good deed), but are even thankful for lessons buried deep in the trial and heartbreak of life.

Grateful people notice the light in the dark, joy in the sad and purpose in sorrow. Where ingrates only see pain, despair and emptiness, those who have mastered the attitude of gratitude see opportunity and fullness and Heaven’s guiding hand even at those moments it may appear we’ve been abandoned.

They are also grateful for what others might consider the ordinary and common – that which is so easily taken for granted. They notice the rose along the path and appreciate its fragrance. They smile at the curiosity of the child who asks question after question after question. They notice the flutter of leaves in the breeze and the blueness of the sky and the crispness of autumn. And they feel the radiant glow of joy in each act of appreciation they offer.

4. Be Tolerant

The truly happy are a tolerant bunch. They are tolerant of others’ mistakes. They are appropriately tolerant of their own (see #10). They tolerate the uncertainty of life. They don’t feel the need to control it or to control others. They have thick skin. They don’t blow up or blow things out of proportion. They can live comfortably with change and disruption and opposing ideas and attitudes.

5. Be Loving

Love is the great neutralizer of negativity. It allows us to see pain behind anger, to recognize hidden misfortune behind very public expressions of bitterness and to reach out with kindness and compassion to those who strike out in fear and blame. Love truly does conquer all.

And the purer the love, the deeper the happiness it produces. Pure or perfect or unconditional love is no longer simply an expression of love to a particular person (my mom, my child, my best friend), but is a generalized expression of an internal condition of the soul.

6. Be Forgiving

Forgiveness at its highest form is forgiveness broadly applied, as an expression of a forgiving heart. It is the attitude of forgiveness. It manifests itself even as the offense is taking place. It is spontaneous forgiveness. It’s the attitude of Gandhi to his jailors, and Jesus to his crucifiers.  And it is a character trait of the very deeply happy.

Those who carry the weight of grudges grow to be crooked and disfigured with hate and resentment. But those who can throw off such disfiguring burdens of the soul are lighter, freer and happier.

7. Be Selfless

Selfishness is the great destroyer of love and compassion, of kindness, empathy and happiness. The problem is that it is also quite a natural part of the human condition.

But there is a paradox that is also, at least in part, a solution to the problem. It is when you truly lose yourself in serving others, that you actually start to find yourself on a much deeper level. So uproot the natural, but crippling characteristic of selfishness and learn to release and love and feel. Step into the moccasins of others, see through their eyes, feel with their hearts. Serve, bless, help and watch the selfish impulse slowly drain away.

Out of that service you render will rise a deeper sense of meaning and purpose and joy in living for something higher than yourself.

8. Be Honest

Be true to others. If you say you’ll do a thing, do it. If you’re not sure you’ll get to it, don’t say it. This builds credibility. Others will come to trust and respect you when they are confident your word is a stronger adhesive to action than a law suit is a disincentive to being dishonest. And as a wonderful side effect, there is an inner confidence and joy that comes to people who live honest lives.

Be true to yourself. Don’t pursue a career in medicine when you ache to become an architect or teacher. Don’t allow the incongruence and dissonance that is the result of living out of sync with who you fundamentally are. But who are you fundamentally? You are a person with immense potential, a man or woman who has the spark of divinity glowing within your soul, who has unbelievable stores of possibility. Be true to that part of you.

Be true to universal principles. Integrity to higher values, to universal realities, to truth, is our highest call. Unhappiness is largely the result of living incongruently to truth. Somewhere inside each of us is the soft yearning to live a higher, nobler life of integrity. Something speaks from our souls, longing for the good and the holy. We can hear it whisper when we’re quiet enough to hear it. Happy people are those who live more consistently to those principles.

9. Be Persistent

When the going gets tough, what do you do? Do you sit down, role over, and play dead? Or do you buckle in, readjust, hit the gas, and blow through barriers?

The road to happiness is liberally sprinkled with obstacles of difficulty and challenge, of trial and tribulation and sorrow and pain. Those who persist, who persevere and endure, these are they who are the happiest amongst us. They achieve more and do more and overcome more. Why? Simple: They don’t give up; they persist.

10. Be Expectantly Patient

What do I mean by being expectantly patient? Perhaps it is best put this way: Be impatient enough with life that you run more than sleep, that you climb more than fall, that you learn more than cram, that you laugh more than cry, that you live more than die.

Be patient with yourself as you allow yourself the room to learn … and allow yourself to trip and fall … and allow yourself back up on your feet to brush yourself off … and develop … and improve … and evolve … and grow. And be patient enough with others that you confirm and validate and love them even when they are not living up to who you know they can be.

Being expectantly patient is the patience that allows for mistakes, but doesn’t settle for where you fall. It smiles when you stumble, then runs a little faster after recovering balance for the sheer joy of the run. It’s accepting life’s ups and down while still living with passion, expecting challenge and opportunity, sometimes at the same time, and sometimes one through the other.

It is the art of simultaneously accepting the common lot of imperfect humanity and recognizing the potential for something amazing in each one of us at the same time.

Afterthoughts

Each of the character traits treated here is meant not as mere techniques to be conveniently applied then discarded as expedience demands.

To truly be considered a character trait, we can’t treat them as periodic expressions of the trait, like a hammer in a toolbox to be used when needed and put away when there are no more nails to hit. Here’s what I mean: To one, we may say, “That was a compassionate thing to do.” But to another we might say, “She is compassionate.” That’s the difference.

Each trait, then, is meant as a life-long goal to work toward, patiently but steadily and persistently, as you learn and grow and become the man or woman who is already there inside you, even now, but who is sometimes buried under the emotional and moral rubble of our own creation.

You are, after all, engaged in the sacred work of sculpting a man or woman of integrity and character … and picking up a deeper, more abiding brand of happiness along the way.

Sharing is Caring!

  • What character trait do you feel has been most important to your happiness?
  • Have you struggled with any of these?
  • I would LOVE to read your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
  • And please return to read my reply to what you say – I would enjoy the conversation!

One Last Favor to Ask

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To Read and Comment on the other Articles in the Series, Click on the Links Below

1. 10 Ways to Think Yourself Happy (the power of thought)
2. 10 Ways to Believe Yourself Happy (the power of belief)
3. 10 Ways to Act Yourself Happy (the power of doing)
4. 10 Ways to Live Yourself Happy (the power of character)

And have an amazing day!

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