Habits of Happiness

In the last 50 to 100 years, education has been about getting as many facts as possible into our heads to then regurgitate it all on a test to show the subject has been mastered.

How many facts do you remember from those classes?

That’s my point, education in our era has become about getting through the class instead of internalizing the ideas through ourselves! I have suggested in prior blog posts that real education requires us to engage and immerse ourselves in the classics. A classic is a book that has a “great theme.” Is written in “noble language.” It has universality and speaks across the ages. It summarizes the virtues and values of a civilization at its apex. I also love classics because in just a few hours I can read or listen to the ideas of great leaders and thinkers—concepts that may have taken them a lifetime to understand, and yet they have distilled it perfectly for me in an entirely different age.

Perhaps you, like me, are busy. If a book, blog or podcast does not fit these criteria, I decidedly put them lower in my sequence of importance. My time, focus and energy is a precious resource. I treat it accordingly.

Liberated and Self-Governing

Education, as you have absorbed on this blog, is interminable. It is about learning how to become a liberated self-governing citizen and a soul that seeks and lives a life of happiness and joy. The natural aristocracy of discovery and learning is very human and known to all of us but achieved by few. Why?

One challenge is that shiny, new information is coming at us every moment of the day. How do you manage it all without being overloaded? How do you organize and sift through the rubble of modern ideas and minutiae to pull the most important details into ideas and use reason and common sense of truth to allow them to flourish? A practical education leads to understanding and to the application of ideas based on the principles of freedom and success.

I remember wondering what the reason was behind taking “general education” classes in college when all I wanted was to focus on was the business courses that were my passion at the time. Unfortunately, the liberal arts classes required were not drenched in much classical learning about ideas. One of my teachers scolded that I was very focused on getting through those classes and joining the business world as soon as possible. She was right! However, shortly after getting out of school and into business I found a book on cassette tape at the time, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. This book turned my world upside down. Although it is a book that applied well to business for me, I found it was one that dealt more with a “way of being” or becoming than anything else. I was struck by this statement. “Between stimulus and response is a space. In this space lies our freedom to choose our response. In these choices lie our growth and our happiness.” Read and ponder that simple and powerful statement again.

The Power in Keeping Promises

The first of Covey’s three habits teach us how to obtain mastery over self. They include: Be Proactive®, Begin With the End in Mind®, and Put First Things First®. These first three habits can be summarized as I make and keep my promises to self and others. Integrity in our words and deeds is the highest form of loyalty to self and others. As my wife Linda sagely taught our children, “It is better to be trusted than liked.” Mastery over self aids us in developing integrity and becoming an individual whom others can trust. It is a private and personal victory.

The second three habits of Think Win-Win®, Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood®, and Synergize® aid us in relationship to others, in solving problems and working out solutions together. Executed correctly, it becomes a public victory and is a higher form of independence as it actually produces interdependence—or problem solving on a larger scale precisely because it includes others.

Principles Versus Values

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People also teaches that there is a fundamental difference between principles and values. Values govern our behavior and are internal to us. They are what we may think about people, things, or ideas. But principles govern the consequences of those choices or behaviors. Principles are Natural Laws of a Divine Universe that are external to us and dictate the consequences of our actions. Principles operate regardless of our awareness of them, acceptance of them, liking them, belief in them, or obedience to them.

We find laws in all aspects of life such as nature, mathematics, science, business, and more. Think of, for example, physics and laws of motion and thermodynamics, the formula for pi in mathematics, compound interest, budgeting, inflation, the law of gravity or the Ten Commandments.

Principles are also strongly connected to humility because as we stumble in ignorance or willfully violate laws, we realize we are not in control; therefore, we submit ourselves to true principles and law. Pride says we are in control as we act out our values, falsely believing life is a buffet and we can live it “our way”— an egotistical cry of “let me be who I am!” Therefore, we should always lead with principles and allow Natural and Divine Law to shape our values.

A key component of the classics is to teach us about these principles or laws as played out through the lives of others who have walked the road of mortality ahead of us. In classics we discover principles and virtues we wish to obey and emulate or acquire laid beside others that we discard because we know the lawful outcome.

The Key to Happiness

We each possess gifts of excellence, or as the Greeks called it arête. Using our gifts in accordance with principles of freedom to bless others is the very key to our happiness. As we use our gifts to comply with principles or laws of happiness, they shape our values and solidify our habits to become our character. As we serve others with fidelity to moral virtue, we develop integrity. The circle of acquiring these virtues is called interminable improvement or taking time to Sharpen the Saw® as Covey calls it. This is all part of what Plato suggested when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The 7 Habits is a modern classic with a call to examine your life and find balance in the virtues you develop.

A lot of us desperately desire happiness, but we are applying the “law of the school” which teaches us we can memorize a few key facts and, because of our gifts, efficiency, personality or talents, we can control the circumstances of our lives. In essence we become a person driven by convenience, situational ethics, or false values to be a certain way and regurgitate it on the stage of life as needed. The principle-informed and values-based person who has learned to obey the basic principles of effective living develops an impeccable character through obedience to principles of Natural and Divine Laws. The outcome is one of two ways: a person who has a situational “personality” façade or a person who has developed the habits of moral virtue—a “character of becoming” or of destiny.

When you are sorting out the plethora of information, develop and use the seven principles of effective people along with giving strict heed to the principles of freedom and happiness. You may be surprised what you can truly become.

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

One thought on “Habits of Happiness

  1. Dean you always touch me deeply. I so admire your insightful thoughts and I am humbled by your writings. I am so grateful for you and your words that are very healing.

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