The Liberating Power of Honesty

Power of Honesty“Honesty is the best policy,” Shakespeare said.  We’ve heard that quote a thousand times.

But it’s his next sentence that cuts to heart of things:  “If I lose my honor,” he said, “I lose myself. ”

With those two simple lines, the old bard told the whole story.   Evade the truth and you lose not only your honor, but your undermine your own reality.

Positive psychologists recognize the association of honesty with integrity and genuineness, too.  In fact, when Martin Seligman  and Chris Peterson  first identified the character strengths, “honesty” was listed as “honesty/genuineness/integrity.”   In the VIA Character Strength Survey report, you’ll find this description of the strength of honesty:  “You are an honest person,” it says, “not only by speaking the truth, but by living your life in a genuine and authentic way.  You are down to earth and without pretense; you are a ‘real’ person.”

Setting an Absolute Standard

We all like to think of ourselves as basically honest.  But, as I said in an article about authenticity“We all have areas of our lives where we’re pretending to be something that we’re not.  We pretend we’re on a diet, but the truth is we’re sneaking Twinkies when nobody’s watching.  We pretend we’re hard workers when we’re mainly goofing off.  We pretend we’re being faithful.  We’re pretending to be happy.  We’re pretending we’re in favor of an idea that we don’t find appealing at all.”

If you’re seeking to be a whole, happy and flourishing, being “basically honest” isn’t good enough.   Every time you do a little end-run around the truth, you lose a part of the truth of who you are.  Every time.  Even when you tell yourself that you’re being kind.  You can be compassionate and honest at the same time.

When you pretend to yourself, you cheat yourself of the opportunity to look squarely at the things that you wish were different and to take measures to change them.

When you are dishonest with others, you sabotage the trust that’s the bedrock condition for any relationship to thrive.  In addition, your own sense of trust gets shaken.  How can you believe what anyone else says if you are dishonest yourself?

Setting a standard of absolutely honesty for yourself prepares you for moments of temptation.   Because you begin with self-honesty, when you look within, you see an honest human being.  And that gives you the strength to put the truth first—even when it may mean humiliation, or that someone may think less of you, or that you may look ill-informed.

Every lie you tell out of fear strengthens the fear.  Every truth you tell strengthens your courage and confirms your integrity.  And, as Marianne Williamson says, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”   Our own truth emboldens others to tell theirs.

Truth is Freeing

Practicing absolutely honesty is incredibly liberating.  You find the power of living according to your own beliefs, preferences and desires instead of trying to mold your behavior according to others’ expectations.  You learn to trust yourself completely and to take full ownership for your decisions.  Your relationships get cleaner and clearer and deeper.  Your stress decreases, and life becomes both more interesting and more fun.

If you would like to put it to the test for yourself, take The 24-Hour Truth Challenge® and see how it feels.  If your experience is like that of others, you’ll discover honesty’s power in a vibrant, new, liberating way.

To learn more about authenticity and honesty, see: Authenticity: The Hero’s Journey and Want Happiness? Be Truthful.

This article is one of a series on the 24 Character Strengths.  You can find the others by clicking on the “Article Index” tab above and scrolling down to “Strengths, Individual.”

If you enjoyed this article, please do pass it on.

Illustration by RAWKU5 at stock.xchng

Keeping on Track: Tools for the Road

Three cool tools for expanding your positivity . . . Free for the taking.

Where’s Your Positivity Ratio Today?

The magic number is 3:1 – three positive experiences for every negative one. Achieve that and you pass the tipping point where you begin to move in a continuous upward spiral toward ever more positive living. Surpass it and you’re begin to soar.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, whose research uncovered the positivity ratio, has a 2-minute online test you can take that will give you your score for the day.

If you use it consistently for awhile, you will not only get a sense of your level of positivity, but increase your awareness of the kinds of emotions you’re feeling throughout the day and gently incline your mind toward those activities that bring you more joyous living.

For a wealth of insight into the benefits of positivity and solid, scientific methods for achieving it, I whole heartedly recommend Dr. Fredrickson’s vibrant, joyfully written book,  Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive

You can listen to Dr. Fredrickson talk about her book here:

Are You Staying on Course?

How strong is your commitment to positivity? Did you intentionally use a positivity practice today?  Did you:

  • Remember to smile?
  • Extend kindness?
  • Take time to notice the goodness in your life?
  • Get in touch with your gratitude?
  • Engage in interesting work, or an absorbing hobby, sport or creative activity?
  • Practice mindfulness?
  • Work toward doing more of a beneficial activity, or less of a detrimental one?

Keep track of how many days in a row you practiced by using this free online tracker: Don’t Break the Chain. Or, for a free tracker that will also send you email and Twitter reminders, enroll at Create New Habits.

Need a Mindfulness Nudge?

Hop on over to Wayne C. Allen’s blog, The Pathless Path,  and pick up a free online timer that will remind you at random intervals to pause and center yourself in the here and now.

Wayne describes himself as “a simple Zen guy [who] writes about living and relating elegantly.” In 2007, as he was writing about paying attention, he remembered that a bell is rung at random intervals in zen monasteries. When they hear its sound, the monks pause to evaluate their level of presence. He had the timer created so that all of us could participate in remembering to be present as well.

Just go to the link above to download the small program and easy installation instructions.  And while you’re there, treat yourself to some of Wayne’s lively, heartfelt, and thought-provoking posts.