Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been. When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day. What follows is one piece of that advice. I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.
It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself.
As we have said, personal happiness involves a decision, but along with the decision must come action—action that aligns your behavior with your values and beliefs. That’s integrity.
In constructing a building, all the structural components must fit together perfectly for the structure to hold up against the forces of nature. When the pieces are all properly connected to one another, from the bottom of the foundation to the top of the roof, the building is said to have structural integrity.
The same holds true for people. Earlier, we talked about your values as well as your priorities. Your values and your priorities must be in agreement with each other, and your actions must be consistent with both. If you value honesty, you must tell the truth—all the time. If your family is important to you, you must spend time with them. If you prize friendship, you must be a good friend to others.
Every time your actions conflict with your beliefs, your own structural integrity is weakened. You’ll have a problem any time that happens, and if the disconnect is major, you’ll have a major problem.
A good example would be a public figure, such as a government official or prominent minister who rails against child abuse or pornography. If the official or minister gets caught doing the very thing he condemns, the result is justifiable public outrage. But even if the person doesn’t get caught, he still has a huge problem. Imagine the self-inflicted torture of such a person. It would literally be a personal hell.
Obviously, this would be an extreme case and—one would hope—extremely rare. But none of us is perfect. To expect perfection from yourself is unrealistic, although it is a worthy goal. Everyone falls short of being their ideal person at some point and to some extent. The point is to make an honest effort to be your best self by consciously aligning your actions with your values and priorities. When you get off track, get back on.
Integrity is a crucial ingredient of a happy existence. As you strive to live each day with integrity, you’ll view yourself as someone deserving of your own respect. You’ll almost certainly like yourself.