Benjamin Franklin's Thirteen Virtues Journal

By Jarrett Retz -February 10th, 2017

I first read about Ben Franklin and his thirteen virtues journal in The Happiness HypothesisAfter I read about it in another book I figured I would give it a shot.

A quick version of the story. Franklin wanted to improve his character, so he listed thirteen virtues in his journal, and whenever he noticed that he violated one of them he would place a dot next to the corresponding virtue. Each week there would be an emphasis on a particle virtue, so the process takes thirteen weeks.

So, how bad of a person was I?

This has been replicated by many people since so a quick Google provides you with a journal outline and the virtues with definitions. I used just about all the same ones Franklin came up with, but I tweaked a few. Mine list consisted of;

  • Temperance; Eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation
  • Speech Awareness; Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself, avoid trifling conversation
  • Order; Let the roles in your life have their places, champion your week
  • Resolution; Resolve to perform what you ought, perform without fail what you resolve
  • Frugality; Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself
  • Courage/Confidence; Say & do what you believe, believe what you say & do
  • Sincerity; Use no hurtful deceit, think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly (avoid gossip, sarcasm, lying)
  • Justice; Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty
  • Moderation; Avoid extremes, for bear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve
  • Cleanliness; Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation
  • Tranquility; Be not disturbed by trifles, or at accidents COMMON or UNAVOIDABLE
  • Chastity; Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness or injury of peace or reputation
  • Humility; Humility isn't weak, submissive, or self-abasing. Humility means having the quiet confidence to allow actions to speak for themselves

At first it seems like a lofty task! However, I did not carry a journal around with me. Instead, I would reflect on my experiences through out the day and fill them out later.

Most notably, I was able to be aware of cleanliness, speech awareness, and tranquility. I was able to think about these for improvement as opportunities persisted throughout the day. I did not notice many dots for humility, or justice. Temperance was interesting, when I ate or drank I really approached the activity differently. I came to notice which tendencies were easily visible in my life. However, I felt my reflection at the end was quite biased.

If I did it again, I would have a way to make quick marks, or keep track of virtues, throughout the day (i.e something on my person). This would make the reflection easier. The BIG change I would make is to put dots down for times when you positively display these virtues, and see how many you can get day-to-day or week-to-week. Reflecting on my day, trying to remember all the times I wasn't awesome is a definite bummer before you go to bed. Keep it positive, make it simple. This is an easy way to work towards a better you.

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