May 28, 2016

Trying to Follow Ben Franklin's Plan

Ben Franklin was a man who had an oversized impact on the beginnings of our country. He is considered to be one of the Founding Fathers. Wikipedia lists his accomplishments as being an author, printer, political theorist, postmaster, scientist (think kite and lightning), inventor, statesman, and diplomat.

He gave us the memorable quotes, "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn; by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail; they who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

In 1726, while only 20 years old, he wrote a book that continues to sell today. He listed 13 virtues that he was determined to follow in his quest for moral perfection. Later in life he admitted he was not able to keep all the virtues completely, but was sure he lived a happier and more productive life just from making the attempt. His baker's dozen included:

  1. temperance
  2. silence
  3. order
  4. resolution
  5. frugality
  6. industry
  7. sincerity
  8. justice
  9. moderation
  10. cleanliness
  11. tranquility
  12. chastity
  13. humility

For our purposes I want to highlight just five of his traits and draw a connection to a satisfying retirement.

Temperance: Though akin to another word on his list, moderation, this word implies not overeating or overdrinking by showing self restraint. For our purposes, I see this virtue as being part of our overall attempt to maintain our health. As we age our body's metabolism slows down. We must eat less or burn more calories. We also lose muscle mass and the ability to process oxygen as well. Regular exercise is a requirement, not an option.   

Frugality: This is a word that has gotten a bad reputation. Frugality doesn't mean reusing paper towels, living in a tent, or keeping your possessions in a duffle bag. It does mean the acceptance of the limits of one's financial resources and living within those constraints. Ultimately, it means understanding the difference between needs and wants and satisfying the true wants after needs are accounted for. It doesn't have to mean doing without; it does mean eliminating waste and cutting back where possible.

Industry: He said, "Lose no time. be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions." Ben was referring to hard work and dedication to the task at hand. Today, we may use the words energy or vigor to describe this attribute. It means working for what we want until the job is finished to our satisfaction. It would be the opposite of laziness. 

Moderation: Like the first virtue, temperance, though usually we think of this as covering more ground. Moderation in everything, including moderation, is one of the keys to happiness and contentment. He says we must "avoid extremes." 

Tranquility: Being peaceful or calm are two personality traits that are often in short supply in our lives. Of course, the virtue of industry teaches us that there are times when hard work and dedication to the task at hand are necessary. But, for too many of us, that highly-stressed, use-every-moment-to-be productive attitude is our setting for every moment we are awake. That results in burnout and health problems. As Mr. Franklin said, "be not concerned with trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable."

Someday I may write about  the remaining virtues (though chastity may be difficult to tackle, especially for a man who wrote a rather famous letter entitled, "Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress" ). He owned several slaves, so his list of virtues was missing at least one key component.

Even with those shortcomings, Ben Franklin's is as good a list as any to ponder about how to make our lives more satisfying and meaningful.

NOTE: Betty and I are on an Alaskan Cruise! Comments will take awhile to be responded to, but please leave your thoughts.


  1. I like the list. I find I am happiest when my life is in good order. All of the above mentioned virtues can help bring serenity and a sense of well-being when efforts are made to live your life accordingly.

    It's funny, but each of us probably has our own definition of what exactly each of these virtues entails. For example, my version of order means that there is minimal clutter in our house. Someone else may decide that clutter is just fine, as long as it it orderly!

    As always, t's about finding balance in our lives and with our spouses/partners; a balance that provides inner peace and harmony.

    Alaskan cruise! What a wonderful opportunity! Can't wait to hear about it and see some of Betty's photos.

    1. Each of us probably do have personal definitions of these traits. You give a good example.

      I can promise you Betty will take lots of photos. We will share some!

  2. Enjoy your trip!

    1. Thanks, Chris. The weather isn't cooperating..forecasts are upper 50s and rainy. But we will have a great time regardless.

  3. I taught this selection for many years in Junior English and loved it every time. Ben wrote this toward the end of his life, and he was gently poking fun at his younger, more naïve self. However, he ended the essay saying he was a better man for having tried (and failed) at this endeavor. He also commented that the order in which the virtues occurred on his list was important: acquire temperance and silence would be easier to conquer, etc.
    Thanks for this post and have a great time on your cruise.

    1. I know he felt good later in life for trying to adhere to this list, even if not 100% successful.

  4. A few thoughts on a couple of points you raised from Franklin's list:

    1. Frugality - this one always gets to me, since so many people mistake "cheap" for "frugal". I have always known the difference between the two, and consider it an honor if I am considered frugal. It means I am being a good steward of the resources that have been made available to me, and I am not being wasteful.

    2. Industry - how times have changed. We have generations in this country that live off the industry of others, and consider those who are industrious to be fools. In Franklin's time I believe that was quite different, and the non-industrious would be ostracized. Perhaps we need to get back to those times if we want to save this country.

    3. Moderation - goes without saying. I believe as we age most of us find that this is something we did not necessarily live by when younger, like Franklin, but can make up for at least some of the errors as we age.

    Good stuff, Bob. And hope you and Betty are having an amazing time. Enjoy!

    1. St. Paul made it clear in the Bible that those who can work but don't should not share in the benefits of society...including food. He and Ben would agree on industry.

      Thanks for the good wishes.

  5. Chastity, in reference to sexual conduct, may be difficult to tackle, but perhaps not in terms of personal integrity. Franklin's list of virtues remind me of your choice of a word for the year which prompted me to develop a list of words that were really values, i.e. balance, nourish, community, wholeness, hospitality, etc.

    1. Ben's list is hard to argue with, but tougher to follow.

      I think you are right..chastity meant more than just controlling sexual behavior.

  6. Ah, Ben! My favorite forefather. We have a fabulous actor in Philly who embodies Ben all around the Historic areas. It is so fun to see him interacting with kids and adults. It is like a living History and what drew me to Philadelphia in the first place. The first time I walked around the city, back in the '70's, I felt a real pull. I knew I was connected to it. I still am today, just not living right in it.

  7. Ben appears decidedly on the chubby side in every portrait I've seen, so his adherence to moderation may have been similar to the way he practiced chastity. However, the list is good stuff as guidelines.

    1. Maybe that ample size is him in moderation. There is a sobering thought.

  8. Good advice! I'm a Franklin fan. I did a post "Age-Old Aphorisms" a while ago based on Walter Isaacson's book Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. One of my favorites: He that lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas. And another: He who multiplies riches multiplies cares.

    1. Bailey sleeps with us most nights and we remain flea-free, but I get his point.

  9. Thanks for the post. But..give Ben credit for selling his slaves and then founding an abolitionist society.