On Right Habits

For many of us, habits are often associated with undesirable behaviors like chewing with our mouth open or poor driving skills. Developing good habits is a process that requires a conscience effort and will to continue despite obstacles that may arise among feelings of doubt. If we want to lose weight, we might struggle to avoid the birthday cake in the break room or feel as if results don’t come quickly enough. But when we strive for greater consistency in our life, we slowly begin to correct poor attitudes and behaviors which develops better life skills and eventually a deeper sense of satisfaction and happiness. It is the work of building character and what we expect from ourselves and one another. In the Catholic tradition, these habits take the form of virtues, character traits that allow us to live a more harmonious and joyful life. But living out the virtues are more than just unconscious behaviors or reactions; they are a moral blueprint for a life imbued with genuine happiness.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (famed tutor of Alexander the Great) argues in his great work on moral philosophy Nicomachean Ethics that the person who possesses true character excellence does the right thing, at the right time, in the right way. The goal of life is to pursue eudaimonia, a Greek word meaning well-being or “human flourishing.” For example, Aristotle thought that the person whose desires were in the correct order actually takes pleasure in acting moderately. In social settings, one should not be reclusive or obnoxious but find the “Golden Mean” or middle point of proper behavior. Just as our bodies benefit when we eat balanced meals and exercise regularly, so too our moral compass becomes stronger when we perform good deeds because they give us a deep sense of joy. Today there is an entire body of social science research showing the correlation between good actions for others (altruism) and improved physical and cognitive health. Habits do not simply benefit the person; they make a more robust community.

While we usually try too convince ourselves to start new habits during typical milestones like New Years Day or “next Monday,” it’s useful to consider starting one now. Today; not tomorrow. Smile more. Complain less. Offer help to everyone. Say “thanks” with greater frequency. Virtues can give the impression of being unattainable or lofty but building habits is gradual, taking one step forward. Over time we may not become paragons of virtue, but we will be doing our best to improve ourselves and each other. Even the desire to cultivate virtues is in itself a courageous act! So let’s all work to begin something new…now.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

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