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If your parents and carers were doing their job properly you were brought up to believe the importance of a virtuous life. There was also an implicit message that it is something most of us can only ever aspire to; he truly virtuous role models we were presented with in out formative years were people like saints, or iconic figures from history.

Certainly, in my case at least, I was never told becoming more virtuous was something I could become better at (or, if I was, I wasn’t listening). There was religion, but that didn’t click with me, and beyond that there was never any talk about how to develop virtue in daily life.

Being good, patient, kind to others, industrious, diligent, loyal… It was implied that these were qualities that would stand someone in good stead, but beyond occasional approval from an adult, no marks were given for getting it right. As for practical instructions, the closest thing I ever heard to that was “Virtue is its own reward”.

The good news is that science has now shown us that virtue is rewarding in ways that are not airy-fairy or pious. It is possible to study the qualities of virtue – patience, generosity, kindness for example – and we are surrounded by advice on how to go about it.

A second positive point about getting better at the list of things labelled as virtues, is that it actually brings measurable personal benefits. While this may not reflect a truly virtuous attitude, personal gain tends to motivate the human spirit so maybe it alright to mention it. It’s the end result that counts, after all.

Physical and mental health, personal performance, creativity and even the elusive happiness are all linked to the qualities of virtue. Learning to be kind, grateful or patient, for example, means you might live longer and even be more prosperous. If you don’t reach either of those goals, at least you’ll be more content while you’re waiting.

See, for example:

Four Reasons to Cultivate Patience

The Four Keys to Wellbeing.


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