Remember when I read and reviewed the Happiness Project? I thought it was amazing and I loved it. I related to it in a few of my other posts just because of the wisdom and peace in that book.
Well, as a history teacher, I do have to say that Gretchen was not the first to do a Happiness Project. One of my favorite founding fathers, while in his 20’s, decided to do one as well!
“It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other.” (Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography)
Ben Franklin knew he wanted to try and improve himself–he was good at somethings, but was led into temptation on others. He wanted to improve himself mentally, morally, and socially. So, just as Gretchen did, he came up with 13 different virtues to work on. He mentioned he wanted fewer with broader descriptions, rather than more that were super specified. That way, he didn’t feel overwhelmed.
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself, i.e., waste nothing.
Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Just like in the Happiness Project, Ben Franklin kept track of his goals. He listed each virtue on 13 different lines. Then, made 7 different columns for each day of the week. If he failed in his virtue of the week, he made a mark in the box.
As we can see on this page, he was mainly focusing on Temperance. His goal was to focus on that specific virtue this week, and leave all the others to chance, to see how he is on a normal day without trying. It made me laugh to see that he had trouble with silence and order. Knowing Ben Franklin’s personality and his life, it makes sense that he would have a hard time not butting into conversations and keeping an orderly house.
And, just like Gretchen, he mentions when he messed up. He owned up to it and talked about his frustration. He was being honest with us and with himself:
“I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish…My scheme of Order gave me the most trouble; and I found that, tho’ it might be practicable where a man’s business was such as to leave him the disposition of his time, that of a journeyman printer, for instance, it was not possible to be exactly observed by a master, who must mix with the world, and often receive people of business at their own hours. Order, too, with regard to places for things, papers, etc., I found extremely difficult to acquire. I had not been early accustomed to it, and, having an exceeding good memory, I was not so sensible of the inconvenience attending want of method. This article, therefore, cost me so much painful attention, and my faults in it vexed me so much, and I made so little progress in amendment, and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect.” (Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography)
I personally, have only studied Ben Franklin’s virtue project. I have not read his Autobiography yet. But, as I have come to know his personality through my different history and literature classes, the more and more amazed I am by him. I think I will definitely put his Autobiography on my to-read list.