Become a Better Person: Adopt Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues
Let’s admit it.
You, and I, we will never reach personal perfection.
No matter how hard we try, we won’t be perfect. Even if we keep trying and trying and getting better and better, we won’t be perfect.
But we can try, can’t we?
That’s at least what I try day-in, day-out – being the best ever possible version of myself.
If you also try to constantly improve yourself, accomplish your ambitions and basically STRIVE for personal perfection, then you’re at the right place here reading this!
In this article you’ll learn about Benjamin Franklin's 13 virtues that can help you become a better person.
Benjamin Franklin's 13 Virtues: Quick History Lesson
Benjamin Franklin, an American legend. He was not only one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, but also an author, scientist, musician, and inventor (among other things he invented the lighting rod and the Franklin Stove).
And what was the KEY to his success?
The key to his success was his continuous pursuit of self-improvement.
I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. – Benjamin Franklin
In 1726, at the gray age of 20, Ben Franklin decided to take up the bold quest of arriving at moral perfection. He resolved to always do right and to avoid doing wrong.
In order to accomplish his goal he defined 13 virtues which he strived to live up to.
In other words: His goal was to become a better man by living up to 13 desirable character traits.
How Did Benjamin Franklin Improve Himself and Develop the 13 Virtues?
Smart enough, Franklin decided to tackle one virtue at a time.
For one week he would track himself concerning one virtue. Every time he observed himself violating the virtue, he marked it in his booklet (which he carried around all the time).
Thus, in the first week, my great guard was to avoid every the least offense against Temperance, leaving the other virtues to their ordinary chance, only marking every evening the faults of the day.
– Benjamin Franklin
The following week he would focus on the next virtue, while simultaneously trying to keep the previous virtues spotless (as not violating them).
The basic idea was to constantly observe and evaluate himself and thus become as morally perfect as possible.
Interestingly enough, he would do that for the rest of his life. Now THAT’S something to live up to, right?
(By the way, I know he didn’t really do that for the rest of his life: After a while he did it less and less until he omitted it entirely as he was engaged in voyages and business abroad. But he always carried the little book with him.)
Anyway, so here’s what this article is all about: Learning from the best by stealing his treasure map to personal excellence (and translating it into the present).
So, we’re going to look at Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues one by one.
Ben Franklin's Virtue #1: Temperance:
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
I know, not very sexy. Not very sexy at all…
However, Ben Franklin started off his quest to moral perfection deliberately with temperance.
The idea was to develop self-discipline first. In a world of constant temptation it was (and still is) necessary to stay alert and present at all times. He aimed at staying cool and clear by not overconsuming food and alcohol.
If he could develop the self-discipline to only eat when hungry and until full, and to drink in moderation, then he could keep a clear head to tackle the other virtues.
How does that apply to your life?
Well, what are the temptations nowadays?
M&M’s, Big Macs, gallons of coke, cheap booze, Facebook, Netflix, The Biggest Loser, Candy Crush and on and on…
There are tons of temptations that want your attention.
Let’s start with food.
While Franklin could only overeat on real food (e.g. bread, milk, meat, eggs, and cheese), you and I, we (could, and often do) overeat on CRAPPY, highly processed, and insanely unhealthy food (e.g. crackers, skimmed milk, burgers, chips etc.).
Food is EVERYWHERE. We are tempted to eat all day long. There’s a hotdog stand, here’s a B’ King, supermarkets are everywhere, and the fridge is stuffed…
Ben’s Advice #1: Thou shall eat less, eat more consciously, and enjoy every bite. Stop when you’re full and don’t give in to temptations. In short: Don’t eat shit and eat real food instead. (By the way, Ben’s Advices are made up...)
What about drinks (booze and soda)?
While Franklin didn’t know the temptation of sugary drinks, he definitely knew the temptation of liquor (which he couldn’t always resist). He was a fan of parties and therefore used to drink… however, he recognized the dangers of drinking to elevation. You lose focus, make bad decisions, and feel shitty the day after.
Today, we live in a world when it’s uncool NOT to drink. People think they can’t have fun when sober. How pathetic is that? Do you really need the liquid courage to have a good time? (I have to ask myself the same question…)
Earlier, I mentioned Facebook, Netflix & co. These are new temptations that shall not be consumed neither to dullness nor to elevation.
Keep your temper and consume with temperance…
Ben’s Advice #2: Thou shall not drink to elevation. At least not every weekend… And don’t drink those sugary soft drinks (they will kill you)…
Ben Franklin's Virtue #2: Silence:
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself;
avoid trifling conversation.
Sometimes, it’s best to say nothing…
…and listen instead.
This virtue is not about shutting your mouth and not saying anything, but about knowing the right time and the appropriate words to speak.
I’m sure you have this friend who thinks he knows everything, or at least has an opinion on everything. He talks about a movie he hasn’t even seen, he knows who’s the best player on the pitch even if he doesn’t know the offside rule, he knows what your problem is even if he doesn’t listen to you…
You don’t want to be that guy.
The person who does the most talking and the person who is the most successful are rarely the same person. – David J. Schwartz
I’m sure you have this friend who gossips and talks shit about others all the time.
Well, this one is easy: You don’t want to be that guy either.
What about speaking on the phone?
Don’t be the guy who talks loudly on the phone in public transport. This annoys EVERYBODY.
Don’t be the guy who answers the phone while talking to someone in person (or at least do it gentleman like).
The same holds true for texting while you’re listening to someone in person. I’m sure it can wait a minute.
What about texting, chatting and commenting?
Well, if it doesn’t benefit others or yourself, don’t write it.
Basically, don’t text or comment what you wouldn’t say to someone in person.
Personally, I try not to talk immediately when something comes to my mind. Because when I do, I talk shit and don’t listen carefully.
I find that when you say less, usually what you say holds more value. People appreciate value and will listen to you in the future.
Ben’s Advice #3: Thou shall listen more and talk less shit.
Ben Franklin's Virtue #3: Order:
Let all your things have their places;
let each part of your business have its time.
“Have you seen my glasses?”
“They’re on your head, grandma.”
We’ve all been there. Looking for something because we didn’t put it wherever we usually put it.
(Or looking for your phone while holding it in your hand, but that’s another story.)
Well, Benjamin Franklin’s idea with order was that he would gain more time for his project and studies by having a clear order and schedule.
He created this schedule for a normal day. Following the schedule would allow him to spend more time on his essential tasks.
Scheduling is the first big idea of the virtue order.
And scheduling is great! I’m a big fan. I get much more done when I know exactly when I got to work on what. This helps me to keep focus. However, I also enjoy some off‑days when I don’t schedule at all.
The idea is to plan in advance. You can do that in 3 steps:
- What are my main tasks?
- When is it best to do which task?
- Write down your schedule for the next day.
In the beginning it’s not easy to estimate the time certain tasks will take. But that’s just like sex: Eventually you’ll get better.
The second big idea is letting your things have their place.
Basically, keep everything in order. The less you own, the easier it gets.
Ben’s Advice #4: Thou shall schedule your day and keep your room tidy, as a messy room and day will blur your mind.
Ben Franklin's Virtue #4: Resolution:
Resolve to perform what you ought;
perform without fail what you resolve.
1st Step: Decide on what you want to do.
2nd Step: Do it!
Basically, do the opposite than what most Americans do with their New Year’s Resolutions. According to statistics only 8% actually succeed with their resolution…
Be resolute and perform that way.
This is a great virtue, but not easy to act out…
So, how can you be resolute and act accordingly?
- Decide wholeheartedly. This is important. Don’t just decide out of the blue. Chances are that you will not go through with it. Take your time to decide. This will make sure that your decision will be firm. And it’ll also make sure that you will only decide on what is truly important to you.
- Have a plan B AND a plan C. Things won’t usually work out exactly the way you’ve imagined. Therefore you need to be prepared for different scenarios. Ask yourself what’s most likely going to happen. And ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen. Plan what you’d do in that case. Whatever comes, you won’t be overstrained or surprised.
(This reminds me of a scene of The Lord of The Rings when Gandalf says at Minas Tirith: “You are soldiers of Gondor. No matter what comes through that gate, you will stand your ground.” Well, they weren’t prepared for the worst case: Huge fcking Trolls…)
Basically, hope for the best and prepare for the Trolls…
- Be persistent. Keep going even if it gets tough. And it will get tough at some point. There will always be setbacks. Remember though, nobody’s perfect. Making mistakes is human, keeping on going is divine. Be divine, and take Ben’s Advice.
Ben’s Advice #5: Thou shall decide what you truly want, prepare for shit to happen and keep on pushing. In the end, thou will succeed.
Ben Franklin's Virtue #5: Frugality:
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
You and I, we are living in a society that LOVES spending.
We spend more than we have.
We consume, consume and consume. There seems to be no limit.
However, all that spending doesn’t make us happy, it makes us bankrupt…
Franklin was probably right. It could be better to live frugally.
Now, frugal isn’t the Jessica Alba under the words… I mean frugal doesn’t sound sexy at all. Yet, I found a meaning of the word that sounds sexy indeed:
Frugality means we are to enjoy what we have. Waste lies not in the number of possessions but in the failure to enjoy them. Your success at being frugal is measured not by your penny-pinching but by your degree of enjoyment of the material world.
– Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin, Your Money or Your Life
The idea is to get the maximum out of everything. They call that having a “high joy-to-stuff ratio”.
In other words: The happier you are with less stuff, the more frugal you’re living.
I love that idea.
They make an example of a woman having ten dresses. If she’s enjoyed wearing those dresses for years, she’s frugal. If she’s felt that she’s got nothing to wear, she’s a spendthrift.
Their point is: Living frugally is the new wicked.
It’s the cool kids playing with a stone instead of a PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Wii or Game Boy Color. It’s the classy boy enjoying his ONE pair of shoes instead of wearing different sneakers every freakin’ day of the week. It’s the satisfied guy enjoying a coconut instead of a 9-course meal.
It doesn’t always need to be better, newer, and bigger. Often less is more.
Ben’s Advice #6: Thou shall not waste your time, money and energy on shit that doesn’t do good to others or yourself. Play with a stone. Live more, consume less.
Ben Franklin's Virtue #6: Industry:
Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful;
cut off all unnecessary actions.
Do not waste your time.
Limit: Facebook. Twitter. Emails. News. TV. Netflix. Etc…
Instead: Work, and always do something useful. It doesn’t necessarily need to be hard work. The idea is to use your time efficiently.
Basically, spend your time with important stuff.
So, what is important to you? The basics are probably:
- Your job
- Your family and friends
- Your hobbies
Spending time with one of those most important things is what Franklin suggested. Either you’re working, you’re spending time with the most important people in your life, or you’re pursuing one of your hobbies.
If you’re doing something irrelevant, you’re wasting your time.
Nowadays, I’d call all this PRIORITIZATION.
Prioritize your most important activities and cut off all unnecessary actions.
What are unnecessary actions?
What about the time wasters that won’t bring deep and lasting satisfaction? Mainly:
You get it. No one ever died regretting: “Damn it, I spent too little time checking email and watching ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’.”
Ben’s Advice #7: Thou shall not waste your time with shit. Work hard and play hard.
Ben Franklin's Virtue #7: Sincerity:
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and,
if you speak, speak accordingly.
Let’s make this a personal one.
Sincerity is about WHO YOU ARE.
It’s about the true you. Not only about what you say, or how you act, but who you are as a person. What do you think? And how do you feel inside?
1. Sincerity is more than just speaking the truth. Because:
- You can speak the truth and still hurt someone’s feelings (“Well, you are just HORRIBLE in bed.”).
- You can speak the truth and just be a douche (“Gosh! Did you sleep under a bridge? You look like a zombie.”).
- You can speak the truth and still be dishonest (by keeping something back).
- You can use honesty as an excuse: “Well, I was just being honest.”
It always depends on the situation whether you should actually speak the truth or tell a white lie. For instance, I sometimes used white lies when I got Birthday or Christmas gifts… I’ll be grateful for anything and say “Thank you very much, I’m sure I can use it…”. Another example is when your mum prepared food and you’ll just say “Thanks mum, it’s delicious…” even if it isn’t. (Never happened to me as my mum’s a brilliant cook).
Or, the classic, when your spouse asks you whether she looks fat in that short black dress… the right answer will always be “Fat? Fuck no, you’re looking damn gorgeous, baby!”
All in all, be as honest, empathic, and gentle as possible.
2. Sincerity is also more than just acting like an angel. Because:
- People will act like an angel but think like the devil.
- People will act fake just to get what they want.
- People will act in self-interest only.
Being sincere is about acting in accordance with who you truly are. For example, don’t tell a girl that you love her just to get her in bed. Don’t smile and wave to someone and think “What a jerk!”
Be sincere. Act as you feel.
Now, we’ll come to the personal part.
I imagine that there’s a camera looking at me ALL THE TIME. It sees everything! All the good and bad things I say, everything I do, and also what I think. When I feel observed, I want to be as sincere and good as possible:
- I want to be honest and at the same time respect others’ feelings.
- I want to be funny with the necessary respect to others’ feelings.
- I want to be correct.
- I want to keep my promises.
- I want to play fair.
In other words: I’m trying to be the best and most sincere version of myself all the time. Thanks to the constant watcher it’s much easier (but still a looong way to go).
Ben’s Advice #8: Thou shall not tell shit. Because liars have no legs… Act, speak, and think like a puppy: Innocent. Pleasant. Trustworthy.
Ben Franklin's Virtue #8: Justice:
Wrong none by doing injuries,
or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Well, I am no Saint. Neither was Franklin. And neither are you, I guess.
However, most of us know what it means to do the right thing. Here are some examples from everyday life:
- When you find a wallet on the street –> bring it to the lost & found.
- When you get too much change –> give it back.
- When you play the bank in monopoly –> play fair.
- When you witness a boy who gets beaten up –> try to help him.
- When someone is being a douche –> don’t punch him in the face.
You get it.
Ideally, if you can choose, do the right thing. That’s what justice is all about.
Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.
– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Have you read that quote? PHENOMENAL, right?
A great message. I believe we should integrate that into our lives. Whether it’s about justice, honesty, or fairness, I believe acting accordingly to what Jackson Brown said will improve both of our lives.
I remember playing poker at a family party. And I observed an adult guy cheating. I wasn’t quite sure and I was still young, so I didn’t say anything. But then I observed him cheating again. So, I told him “Hey, you cannot just take back your blind.” He then replied “No, I didn’t. Look after your own game.” We kept on playing and he kept on cheating, notoriously. Embarrassing… and he couldn’t even admit (and we were just playing for fun…).
I’m glad I learned at a young age that only losers cheat. So, I said to myself “What a TOTAL loser!”
Ben’s Advice #9: Thou shall not be a bad guy. Share your love, act like a gentleman, and treat people like family (not like the guy cheating though).
Ben Franklin's Virtue #9: Moderation:
Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as
you think they deserve.
Everything in moderation…
Ugh. Really, Monsieur Franklin?
- No binge drinking?
- No binge watching Netflix?
- No binge eating?
- No bungee jumping?
Well… in m o d e r a t i o n I guess.
I believe there should be space for extremes. It’s okay to have one drink too much once in a while. It’s okay to binge watch your favorite series now and then. It’s okay to do crazy, extreme things from time to time.
However, binge drinking every weekend is definitely bollocks. Binge watching series every night is just a sole WASTE OF TIME. And who invented binge eating? I don’t think that should have any space in life, that just sounds plain stupid. Bungee jumping, well there’s space for that for sure.
You get it.
Extremes will flatten. You will get bored and numb. And then, you will want MORE. More of the extreme, more, more, more… so you actually get that “high” again.
For example, I remember as a kid we went to an amusement park. For two days! Early in the morning and in the evening only the people who stayed overnight could go on the rides. So, NO QUEUE! My brothers and I went on the best rides on and on until we were bored. Bored, from the best rides! Unthinkable at first, but that’s just the natural cycle. Even the most extreme activities will flatten at some point…
You can avoid the flattening of your life by adjusting your senses. You don’t need to bungee jump to feel alive…
Instead of coma drinking every weekend, just treat yourself with a cool, fresh beer. And enjoy it. Instead of watching hours of TV, limit yourself to one tantalizing episode. Instead of eating a whole pack of M&Ms, just eat the yellow ones (they’re the best anyway). Bungee jumping and other crazy stuff, just do it once a lifetime, or once a year or whatever.
This brings us to our society.
There are stimulants EVERYWHERE. And while we’re consuming we forget to enjoy.
In a world full of burgers, pies, donuts and popcorn, we forget savoring the tender taste of an artful praline. In a world full of Rihannas, Hannah Montanas, Simpsons and Sheldons, we forget listening to the melodic sound of silence.
Less is more.
Savor you just being rather than not getting enough from the constant bombarding stimulants of the world.
Ben’s Advice #10: Thou shall want less. Every extreme will flatten out. Rather glorify the pulse of your heart.
Ben Franklin's Virtue #10: Cleanliness:
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
This sounds easy.
Take a shower. Have a neat haircut. Shave. Change and wash your clothes. Tidy up your flat. à Et voilà. There we go. Bravo!
On the next virtue…
Not so fast, little grasshopper.
Before we move on, let’s see why cleanliness even is a virtue.
First of all, being clean makes you feel good.
- That active feeling after a shower – aaah.
- That refreshing smell of a washed shirt – mmh.
- That releasing sigh after tidying up the flat – haa.
Second, being clean clears your head.
- You don’t worry about your look and smell, you know you look and smell lively.
- You’re not stressed out due to a cluttered room.
- You’re clear to focus on essentials rather than trivialities.
Third, being clean gives you a clean image.
- You look good – everybody loves good looking people.
- You have order – everybody loves people with a sense of order.
- You don’t smell rotted – nobody likes to smell shit.
Ben’s Advice #11: Thou shall not smell like shit. Thou shall not be dressed like a rapscallion. Thou shall not live in a moldy wreck.
Ben Franklin's Virtue #11: Tranquility:
Be not disturbed at trifles,
or at accidents common or unavoidable.
I like this one! (In saying so, that yeehaw-exclamation was not very virtuous…)
This is about finding inner peace or tranquility.
How do you know whether you are already tranquil?
Have you ever been to a sports game?
Then you’ve heard the fans screaming things like:
- “Foul! Ref! That was a fouuul!”
- “Shoot! Shoooot! Aww, why didn’t that slacker shoot?”
- “Boooo! Son of a b*tch. Get up!”
(You’ve probably heard a lot more swearing.)
“But that’s sports! Emotions belong there.” Well, yeah. You’re right. But I hope you get the point. If you lose temper for every trifle, then you’ve not yet found inner tranquillity.
There are heaps of everyday situations where people exclaim and lose tranquillity. Drivers, for example. Some exclaim for no reason. If there’s a red light, they exclaim. If someone’s driving slower than allowed, they exclaim. If there’s a cyclist, they exclaim.
Or, you’ve probably been in restaurants with impatient people. If the food isn’t served within seconds they exclaim “Why the fck does it take sooo long?! I’M STARVING!”
Or, some teachers, they lose temper so quickly. If someone farts, they grouch. If someone doesn’t know the answer, they talk Billingsgate. If someone comes late, they shout “You’re late! Why are you late? That’s a thousand pages of extra exercise!”
For me, I often find myself not being tranquil in discussions. I get emotional quickly and start to talk louder. Or, when I was smaller and my younger brother annoyed me by just being himself, I would exclaim (and hit him)…
I’ve learned a simple trick that helps me to stay calm and relaxed. I think of other people as testers. They just test me whether I can stay tranquil or not. Simple as that. This helps me massively. Thanks to that I’m more present and can stay calm mostly.
Ben’s Advice #12: Thou shall not exclaim for every little shit. Shit, may it be little or big, happens. Stay the fck calm, breathe deeply, and think about your best possible reaction.
Ben Franklin's Virtue #12: Chastity:
Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
“Preach what you teach, Monsieur Franklin.”
There are rumors that claim Franklin was a notorious womanizer… However, there’s little if any evidence (although he did have an illegitimate child before his wedding) that prove those claims. Let’s say that he did like to flirt but claiming he was a womanizer is probably exaggerated.  
And we must not forget that Franklin’s basic idea of the 13 virtues was becoming a better person, and not a saint.
Chastity in our sexualized world seems prudish, old-fashioned, and even preposterous. Real men notch their bedpost for every woman they’ve conquered. Real men go out with the goal to get fcking laid. Real men want to tick every nationality on their world sex map…
Our porn-laden society and chastity? No chance!
Or… is there still a chance?
However, a whole sex discussion would blow up this post. So, let’s just focus on QUITTING PORN.
I believe quitting porn is the key to a chaster world. And I don’t mean chaste in the resolute sense of quitting sex altogether. No no no, sex is needed (you know, reproduction and love). Porn on the other hand is NOT needed.
(I quitted porn approximately 3 years ago when I saw that eye-opening Ted talk.)
There are a ton of reasons for not watching other people having sex…
Just to name a few:
- You’ll have better sex
- You’ll have more energy and drive
- You’ll have more confidence and self-esteem
- You’ll be more attracted to real people
- You won’t support a filthy industry
- You won’t have a distorted image of women
- And in the end you’ll have more time…
Ben’s Advice #13: Thou shall not watch porn. Always keep control. And think with your brain…
Ben Franklin's Virtue #13: Humility:
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
That’s the last of Franklin’s virtues. In order to develop a better character a person shall be more humble.
I stumbled upon this story while informing myself on the internet.
My grandfather used to tell us that he won a medal for his humility, but it was taken away when he began to wear it.
Let’s look at 3 ways to become more humble.
Appreciate and respect others:
You and I, we are just two out of billions. We are not worth more or less than anyone else. We are equal. Let’s appreciate that we’re one tiny piece in the world puzzle. Others might think different, others might think 1 + 1 = 4, yet that does not make us superior or inferior. Let’s respect others for who they are.
Nobody needs to know that you picked up litter and recycled it. My brother doesn’t need to realize that I keep the bathroom clean. My boss doesn’t need to know that it was me who made the tea.
Serve anonymously. (I still imagine the camera watching me all the time… this helps.)
The more you know, the more you know you don't know. – Aristotle
Learn from everybody:
Be open-minded. Others have different perceptions; that’s how you can develop a more objective view. Listen to other people, and be eager to learn from them as much as possible. Learn from books, people wrote down all the knowledge they acquired throughout their lives. Just imagine how much knowledge that is…
Ben’s Advice #14: Thou shall be humble. Love others. Serve others. Learn from others. (And here’s something he actually said…) “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Thank You, Benjamin Franklin for Your 13 Virtues
The 13 virtues by our friend Ben Franklin.
Thanks for the wise advice.
I use some of this and try to be a better person.
By the way, Franklin himself never achieved his goal of moral perfection:
But, on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it. – Benjamin Franklin
Although he never achieved perfection (nobody ever will), Benjamin Franklin was a remarkable man.
For me, he’s an idol concerning the constant willingness to improve oneself. I think being eager to learn and grow as a person is a valuable virtue by itself.
What's your favorite of Ben's Advices? Let me know in the comments. Thank You.
Ben’s Final Advice #15: Thou shall not only read good advice, thou shall actually DO IT! “Well done is better than well said.”