Our recent Weekly Series explored ways to improve your life through character growth and a new habit of practicing virtues. Read the entire series when you have a chance.

What You Need To Know About Virtue In Order To Experience The Radically Life Enhancing Benefits Of Virtuousness.

Okay – as promised – in this week’s message I am going to provide a general framework for understanding what true virtue is and the unique conditions in which it is genuinely expressed or demonstrated – and will attempt to do all of this as efficiently and pragmatically as I possibly can.

To make sure that we are on the same page in our discussion about virtue – let’s begin by defining what virtue is:

Dictionary Definition: Virtue – pertaining to moral excellence; morally good behavior or character; a good, moral, or desirable quality.

Synonyms: Goodness, moral, integrity, dignity, righteousness, honor, honesty, trustworthiness, worthiness, nobility, respectability.

If we simply stopped with this definition – I’m sure you can see how increasing virtuousness (i.e., moral excellence, integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, etc.) within your family, business, and social relationships could be beneficial – right?

However, while this definition and the accompanying synonyms is helpful in providing a broad based understanding of virtue – I would like to go a step further in identifying 2 qualifying criteria that I discovered in my research on this topic – that will enhance our understanding of virtue and make our definition more practical and efficacious.

  1. “Virtuousness is associated with human beings—with flourishing and moral character (Ryff & Singer, 1998; Doherty, 1995), with human strength, self-control, and resilience (Baumeister & Exline, 1999; 2000), and with meaningful human purpose and transcendent principles (Emmons, 1999; Dent 1984; Roberts 1988). Desires or actions without human effects are not virtuous.”

    In other words – virtue is exclusively demonstrated in a social context (i .e., family, work, Church, community, etc.) and has significant positive impact and benefits.

  2. Virtuous behavior is remarkable in regards to what motivates such action. For example, kindness, gratitude, and/or courage expressed in search of external recognition or personal gain, are not virtuous. Another way of stating this, is that demonstrating virtuousness is its own reward and is not expressed with the intent of obtaining any external benefit or advantage (i.e., payment, approval, status, social media likes, etc).

I find this a somewhat interesting paradox – as the byproduct of being consistently virtuous is that you will develop deeper and more fulfilling relationships, feel happier, have increased wellbeing, become more resilient, experience improved health and more meaning and purpose in your life and work, etc. – however – in order to experience these benefits – the virtuous act would need to be intrinsically motivated – and not done for any external benefits or gain.

If I’m being transparent – I wasn’t aware of these qualifying conditions until I started my research into understanding the true nature of virtuousness. The implication of now knowing this information has been a game changer for me – as it has completely transformed my mindset regarding how I should be practicing and experiencing virtue in my relationships.

It’s kind of uncomfortable to acknowledge this – but I can now clearly see how many of my past attempts at being “virtuous” were not virtuous at all – as I was secretly expecting to receive some reward for being “good” (usually my motivation was associated with wanting to feel accepted, hoping that people would reciprocate, or gaining more business). Interestingly, when I didn’t get the reward I was hoping for – I would feel frustrated and angry – and when I did get the external benefit – the positive feeling was fleeting and quickly replaced with an empty and desperate feeling of wanting more.

Now, I try to intentionally focus my attempts to be virtuous on simply doing it because it’s the right thing to do – and because it feels good to do nice things and to have a positive impact on people that I care about. Most often these attempts are focused on my family, friends, clients, and people I regularly encounter at Church, Starbucks, and in my neighborhood (it can also be fun to practice being virtuous with random people – or to “shoot” positivity prayers or intentions at strangers).

It is truly remarkable how good it can feel to act virtuously when I remove any expectation of being rewarded. When I practice being virtuous in this manner – I tap into a source of positivity and wellbeing that originates from within – which is uniquely powerful. Plus, when you create virtuous exchanges between yourself and people you care about – it initiates a virtuous cycle that is constructive, empowering, creative, and ultimately transformational (which is infinitely better than its counterpart – the vicious cycle – which is destructive, toxic, and corrosive).

If you can take a moment to think about what it would look and feel like to practice the model of virtuousness that we just defined – and imagine how your spouse, children, employees, friends, community, etc., might benefit from receiving this type of virtuousness – I am confident you will understand why this topic is so important and necessary. Additionally, if we can really instill this model of virtuousness in our core relationships – it has radical power to heal, to create safe and secure environments where authenticity can flourish, and to inspire massive opportunity for meaningful growth.


  • Virtue is about moral excellence – having your character associated with integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, dignity, etc.

  • Virtue can only be properly understood in a social context – and has a demonstrably positive social benefit/effect for those receiving the virtuous act

  • Virtue is intrinsically motivated – where acting virtuously is its own reward

  • When virtue is expressed with the intent of receiving an external reward – i.e., popularity, improved social status, financial gain, etc., it will not provide the extraordinary holistic benefits that are associated with virtuousness – and can actually become a source of significant distress


  • The benefits of creating a virtuous culture/environment

  • Virtue expressed through character strengths – a powerful tool for self-awareness

  • How to shape and establish character strengths in your self – and in your most important relationships

  • Intrinsic Motivation – what it really means to “follow your passion”

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