Martha Beck: What Redefining Virtue Can Teach You About Happiness
If you'd like to experience this for yourself, join me in something I call an Integrity Cleanse. The word integrity (from integer) means "wholeness." Living in integrity means expressing and doing what's true for you in all situations. Depart from your truth in any way—offer a fake smile, flatter your awful boss, marry for money—and you become two people: the truth knower and the lie actor. That's duplicity. And duplicity, not social noncompliance, is the real enemy of joy.
To start the Integrity Cleanse, first ask yourself, "Where am I out of integrity?" Where are you not feeling what you feel, knowing what you know, saying what you believe and doing what feels most right? Once you've identified the duplicity, come back into integrity. Speak your truth. Act on it. No matter what.
Sound radical? It is. Plop integrity into an unfair system, and you'll get back disapproval or attack. People have been imprisoned for living with integrity. People have died for it (sometimes moving society a little closer to equality and liberty in the process). Even if your consequences are relatively minor—your parents object when you leave graduate school, your book group mocks your political stance—they'll still sting. At first you may feel the same old outrage: "I put in virtue and got back punishment!" Stay the course. See what happens.
I've watched many people take Integrity Cleanses. They often leave (or experience rejection in) situations that don't match their truth. This can feel like the end of the world—because it is: the end of the illusory world where rule following buys happiness. Refusing to give a drug-addicted loved one more money; quitting the secure, horrible job; stating your beliefs to bigots—such actions may feel like dropping atom bombs on your own safety. You'll certainly be afraid. Maybe sad and angry as well. But almost immediately, you'll also feel an indescribable relief, as if a broken bone that healed badly has been reset in its correct alignment.
Continue your Integrity Cleanse and you'll begin to see how the cosmic vending machine really works. You'll find ways of thriving in the world as yourself, not someone else's puppet. Despite all the challenges, that will feel good. In fact, it will feel amazing.
But don't take my word for it. Try putting complete integrity into the vending machine of your own life, and sample what you get back. Even though the reward may not be what you expect, and although some bitterness may mingle with the sweetness of living your truth, I doubt you'll ever have tasted anything quite so delicious.
Martha Beck's latest book is The Martha Beck Collection: Essays for Creating Your Right Life, Volume One (Martha Beck Inc.).