The capacity to live in accordance with our own morals is a significant predictor of happiness and resilience. If this comes as a surprise, simply reflect on the difference between how you felt the last time you acted with integrity and the last time you went against your own moral compass. Then recall how positive emotions (satisfaction, joy etc) mediate happiness, while negative emotions (guilt, anger etc) make us more vulnerable to stress-related conditions (anxiety, depression etc).
In this post we will discuss moral strength: what it is, why it matters and how to cultivate it!
What is Moral Strength?
When we talk about morals, we are generally referring to personal beliefs about right and wrong. We are also referring to our principles of conduct in regard to these beliefs. Our ability to live up to these values is what we call moral strength. In short, our morals determine how we would like to treat ourselves and others, while moral strength concerns our capacity to do so.
Why Does Moral Strength Matter?
The vast majority of us recognise that being hostile towards ourselves or others does not go hand in hand with lasting happiness. We also know that doing what is morally right promotes peace of mind and minimises regret. In fact, we are fundamentally wired to be ‘good’ both from an evolutionary and cultural perspective.
The problem is that living with integrity is not necessarily easy. Taking the moral high ground is often unpopular and unenjoyable in the short-term. And while we are wired to be moral, we are also wired to be liked and to seek short-term pleasure. This leads us to choose poorly and make mistakes at times. So, we need a level of moral strength to withstand adversity, to maintain self-respect and to get it back when we mess up (which we will).
How to Develop Moral Strength?
When it comes to the development of moral strength, it is important to recognise that we are not trying to create mental characteristics out of thin air. We are simply building on inner qualities that we already have.
To reinforce these qualities and ultimately bolster our moral strength it is helpful to focus on three core steps:
1.Commit to living morally before adversity strikes: Deciding on a predetermined moral course of action helps to keep our integrity on track when stress or temptation arises.
2.Define a strategy for overcoming inevitable transgressions: You are human, which means mistakes and slip-ups are part of the territory. At such times, the aim is to get back on track morally and regain self-respect. This process generally includes the following steps:
Admit what you did was wrong
Make amends when possible
Acknowledge mitigating circumstances to increase understanding
Forgive yourself based on your own values (kindness, compassion etc)
Commit to a better course of action and resolve not to make the same mistake again
3.Persist in your pursuit of moral excellence: Inventory your moral weaknesses as they are right now. It might be helpful to consider what harms your self-respect or may cause others to distrust you? This is not about giving yourself a hard time. It is simply about recognising how you can better align your morals and actions.
As you build moral strength keep in mind that perfection is not the goal. This is a lifelong process that involves making mistakes and bouncing back. It might be helpful to remember that living morally will be beneficial not only for you but for those around you. And this is ultimately what morality is all about, taking action based on the common good.
Have a great week!