The word integrity evolved from the Latin word integer, meaning whole or complete. I believe the most important element in attaining true happiness that lasts, is to live a life of integrity. And as we know, happiness leads to good health. What does it mean to live with integrity? It means being transparent, authentic, honest and, acting in ways that reflect your core beliefs. Philosopher Harry Frankfurt describes living with integrity as being fully self-integrated, free from inner-conflict, harmonizing what you want and what you do.
In a world of instant gratification and external achievements, this virtue of living an authentic life is easily forgotten. Our principles and values are constantly being challenged and it is up to us to choose whether we compromise or rise. In my experience, it’s always better to be true to yourself regardless of what you believe others may think, than to suppress your needs to please others. As someone who has spent most of my life as a people pleaser, I know all to well that sacrificing my needs and authentic self to serve others, doesn’t bring happiness. True happiness comes from being able to authentically express your truths and desires, and risk not being liked by all in doing so. We halt the growth of relationships when we don’t speak our truth, with kindness, to others.
There are of course exceptions in life where it’s a must to put others needs before our own, such as taking care of a baby’s needs and sacrificing sleep, but all too often we make a habit out of living a life that suppresses our authenticity. I spent almost a decade in a personal relationship where I found myself constantly trying to please the other person, frequently at any expense to my own well-being. I was living the life of a martyr, and a decade of this behaviour robbed me of my happiness. It took both mindful awareness and time for me to understand how people pleasers cannot actualize happiness at their core.
Anytime we are engaged in something that that is out of sync with our own inner voice, we are not authentically expressing ourselves. The potential consequences of being out of touch with our true selves include the following…
Research has shown that our will power is limited, and like a muscle that tires after a strenuous workout, so does our self-control. When you spend the majority of your time performing for the acceptance of others, you will have more difficulty controlling your attention, thoughts, and emotions. You might find yourself reacting more aggressively, instead of responding appropriately, and poorly carrying out simple tasks such as managing your time or organizing.
Stress and Anxiety
Whether we are telling an innocent white lie, or pretending to be or to feel something, we are causing stress to both our physical body and mind. For example, polygraph tests detect that when we are lying, subconscious activity translates into stress and fear. The test is able to sense changes in our skin, pulse, breathing and vocal pitch. Changes that are the result of stress hormones, called glucocorticoids, that are released in response to a stressful stimulus. Our bodies are able to handle acute stress, but chronic stress is detrimental to our health. A study showed that when people who were given instructions on how to lie less frequently, and actually lied less frequently, that their physical health improved as a result. They reported less trouble sleeping, less tension, anxiety, fewer headaches, and improved relationships. These findings are due to the decreased stress responses that arise from lying both to oneself and to others.
Living a life of inauthenticity makes life more stressful, and takes away from our potential to be truly happy. The consequences are detrimental to our physical health, by increasing stress that we know leads to chronic disease, and posing a risk to our relationships with others. We can only suppress for so long before we find ourselves reacting to others instead of responding. To live with integrity begins by evaluating your beliefs and committing to an internal agreement between the values that have shaped you and the values that you have acquired later in life.
Self-awareness is the catalyst for this process; it will help you discern what values serve your ‘best-self’ well so that you’re free to let go of all that no longer serves you. By choosing to preserve your core values, throughout life’s challenges, you will find a lasting sense of true happiness and fulfillment.
1) McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. Avery, 2012.
2) Harmon-Jones, E. & Mills, J. (Eds.)(1999). Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology. American Psychological Association: Washington, DC.
3) Carter, Christine. "Why It Doesn’t Pay to Be a People-Pleaser." Greater Good in Action. Berkeley, 9 Aug. 2016. Web.
4) Nguyen, Thai. "The Art of Living With Integrity." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 07 Mar. 2015. Web.