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  • Writer's pictureLouie Romanos

Choosing Temperance as your pathway to well-being: What is Temperance and how can it be developed?

Self-navigation through a world with so many uncertainties can seem insurmountable without something to guide you or keep you centered. There are different habits or practices that can provide you with a sense of direction or clarity. Mindfulness meditation, journaling, exercise, getting enough sleep, and a belief in living one's life according to a higher power (i.e., religion) are some examples of practices that can lead to improved self-awareness and mental clarity. For example, numerous studies have suggested that mindfulness meditation offers significant positive effects in reducing various physical and mental symptoms, enhancing self-functioning (Yue et al., 2017). Religion benefits mental health by providing people with something to believe in, structure, and typically offers a group of people to connect for similar beliefs. These facets can have a large positive effect on mental health including reducing suicide rates, alcoholism, and drug use (NAMI, 2016).

From the perspective of Christianity, there are four pillars or virtues that can guide life choices and potentially lead to a better life. The cardinal virtues are four virtues of mind and character in both classical philosophy and Christian theology (Wikipedia, 2023). These include: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance (Wikipedia, 2023).

  • Prudence: is the ability to discern the appropriate course of action in a given situation at the appropriate time, with consideration of potential consequences (Wikipedia, 2023).

  • Justice: involves fostering sound discipline within each facet of our being, enabling us to live with others and extend the same regard to every individual (Wikipedia, 2023). Additionally, justice pertains to a state’s aptitude to equitably allocate resources based on individuals’ deservingness, as determined by their merits (Wikipedia, 2023).

  • Fortitude: is the ability to exhibit courage, strength, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation (Wikipedia, 2023).

  • Temperance: also known as restraint, the practice of self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation tempering the appetition.

When assessed individually, each virtue offers different characteristics that when mastered by the individual, can lead to a better quality of life and personal fulfillment. That being said, some virtues have traditionally been considered superior to others. According to Plato, temperance or translated in Greek “εγκράτεια” is the most important virtue. Nonetheless, in the United States in particular, strengths of temperance are infrequently endorsed and seldomly praised (Worthington & Van Zyl, 2023). Some real-life examples of temperance include: alcohol consumption in moderation; abstaining or withstanding from overeating; and avoiding excess involvement with social media. Generally speaking, many of the behaviors and activities that we practice as human beings can be done in excess and lead to the detriment of the individual.

There are four behaviors or characteristics that make up temperance including: humility, forgiveness and mercy, self-control, and prudence and patience.

1. Humility: is the ability to view oneself accurately, identifying one's strengths and developmental areas (Worthington & Van Zyl, 2023). It occurs when individuals let their accomplishments speak for themselves and actively refrain from distorting information to defend, verify, or repair their own personal image (Worthington & Van Zyl, 2023). Essentially, humility refers to the person’s own sense that he/she is not the center of the universe (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Humility elevates other people. It allows for credit to be spread, which acknowledges the importance of the individual's external environment and its’ participants (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).

2. Forgiveness and mercy: occurs when one's attitude toward a transgressor becomes more benevolent and less vengeful or avoidant (Worthington and Van Zyl, 2023). Forgiveness is morally valued. Practicing forgiveness can be liberating and free the individual from negative associations that they may have with a transgressor or their environment. Opportunities to exhibit forgiveness can arise at any point in one's daily life. Examples include: driving altercations where you feel the other driver is at fault or in the context where someone has been unjustifiably rude and is now exhibiting remorse.

3. Self-control: is an ability to exert control over his or her own responses so as to pursue goals and live up to standards (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Examples of self-control include: the individual that decides to stay home for the weekend and study for midterm exams when his/her friends are out partying or in the context where you are at a party, and you resist drinking alcohol as you are the designated driver.

4. Prudence and Patience: is a form of practical reasoning and self-management that helps one to achieve long term goals effectively by considering along the way the consequences of actions taken and not taken (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Essentially, the prudent person does not forgo long term goals for short term pleasures. Examples of prudence include: the individual that brushes his/her teeth at the end of each day to avoid tooth decay or in the context where you know that your child has made a mistake, but you don’t want to be overzealous in disciplining your child as it could lead to them being unconfident or indecisive in future events. Patience is the propensity to wait calmly in the face of frustration, adversity, or suffering (Worthington and Van Zyl, 2023). Examples of patience include: refraining from becoming agitated when your child is taking too long to put their clothes on in the morning or waiting in a long line in a grocery store.

Therefore, by improving or strengthening these character traits, the likelihood for abstaining from over-indulgence increases and this can lead to well-being and a higher sense of self-perceived quality of life.

Interventions for improving humility focus on increasing ones’ self-awareness, openness, and empathy (Van Tongeren, 2020).

Self-awareness can be improved by seeking feedback from your peers, friends, and/or relatives (Van Tongeren, 2020). Questions that you may want to ask include: how humble do you think I am? Are there areas that need improvement or situations where I have lacked humility? Do they have any suggestions on how I can be more aware? (Van Tongeren, 2020).

In order to build humility, one must understand what their strengths and weaknesses are. How successful one is at using feedback to improve their self-awareness will be dependent on how open they are to receiving feedback and making positive changes in their behavior.

Practicing empathy is key to improving humility. Empathy consists of two parts: the ability to take someone else’s perspective and a genuine concern for the wellbeing of another person (Van Tongeren, 2020). Humility can be strengthened by increasing one's self awareness and this can be accomplished by not only being open to feedback, but by incorporating this feedback into making behavioral adjustments that to large extent, lead to increases in empathy.

Improving forgiveness as a means for increasing one's ability to be more balanced in their behavior becomes clearer when considering the consequences of withholding forgiveness. Dwelling on events related to wrongdoing by a transgressor and reliving them over and over can fill your mind with negative thoughts and suppressed anger (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021). This can undeniably trigger a need to suppress such unwanted emotions with alcohol and/or drug abuse, binge eating, or over-exercise.

Practicing forgiveness can have powerful health benefits including: reducing depression, anxiety, and hostility; reduced substance use; higher self-esteem; and greater life satisfaction (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021). Ways that one can improve their ability to forgive include: practicing small acts of forgiveness on a day-to-day basis and using a strategy to forgive (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021). An example where you can practice a small act of forgiveness could be during traffic altercations where you feel that the driver of the other vehicle is in the wrong. In this context, you could think of the altercation as a mistake made by the driver of the other vehicle, that the mistake wasn’t personal, and forgive him or her on the spot.

A second strategy for improving one's ability to forgive could be to use a systematic approach. An example of an organized method for practicing forgiveness is the REACH method (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021). To practice forgiveness using the REACH method, proceed in the following:

Recall: the first step is to recall the wrongdoing in an objective way, without referring to the other party in a negative way or practicing self-pity (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021).

Empathize: try to understand the other person’s point of view as to why he or she hurt you, but without minimizing the wrong that was done (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021). Sometimes the wrongdoing was not personal, but due to something that the other person is dealing with (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021).

Altruistic gift: this step is about addressing your own shortcomings (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021). Recall a time that you were treated harshly and then forgiven. Recognizing this helps you realize that forgiveness is an altruistic gift that you can give to others (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021).

Commit: in this process, you commit yourself to forgive. This can be accomplished by telling a friend that you have forgiven someone or writing it as a journal entry (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021).

Hold: finally, hold on to your forgiveness. This step can be tough as forgiving a transgressor doesn’t mean that you have erased the memory of the transgression and the negative feelings associated with it (Harvard Health Publishing, 2023).

The characteristics of self-control and temperance are inseparable. To exhibit temperance is to demonstrate self-control in your decision-making process.

Fundamentally, there are two properties that determine one's ability to exert self-control when making decisions. This involves the ability to exert self-control versus the desire to exhibit self-control (Emamzadeh, 2022).

To increase the ability to exert self-control, you need to make it easier to be patient so that oppressing short-term rewards for long-term success becomes less difficult (Emazadeh, 2022). Some of these strategies include:

1. Distract yourself- if you have this strong impulse to shop yet you know that financially, you are not in the position to spend, you can intentionally occupy your time with other things like: spending time with family; recreational activities (i.e., sports, biking, hiking, fitness); or reading more/studying.

2. Do not make big decisions in a need state (i.e., feeling excessively hungry, being really tired)- For instance, do not do your grocery shopping when excessively hungry as you may find yourself buying more junk food or buying too much food. Another example could be in the context where your employer is asking more of you at work but you feel like if you were to take on more, this would leave you depleted, potentially sick, or mentally unhealthy. You should wait to respond to your boss until you feel energized as you may be more willing to accept such a request and “get it over with” when feeling tired.

3. Pre-commit to being patient- For example, you are feeling mentally exhausted secondary to a long, stressful work week and would like to take the day off however, you have already committed to working through the week and taking the weekend off.

4. Use reminders- for the steps you must take to receive the larger reward. For example, you need to buy a car now but know that the vehicle that you want will be going on sale 6 months from now. In this context, you should remind yourself that it’s alright to take public transit for the next 6 months as you will be saving money in the long run by waiting to buy the car.

5. Put yourself in a positive mood- research shows that you are easier to be patient when happy than when sad.

6. Reframe- you want to reframe the thing you are waiting for so that it reduces its emotional appeal. If you really want to have a beer but it’s a weekday and you normally allow yourself to have a drink on the weekend, re-identify the beer as something that doesn’t taste very appealing and that can be easily replaced with flavored soda.

(Emazadeh, 2022)

To increase your desire to exert self-control and be patient, you can:

1. Wait before making a choice- for example, you have reservations at a restaurant, and you really want to order something good, but you know that it may take longer to prepare your meal versus ordering a more common item. You can read over the menu at home so that you get a better appreciation of the choice so that you are more motivated to wait for its preparation.

2. Increase your level of certainty and trust in the belief that you will receive the larger reward if you wait- undeniably, your desire to wait for the larger reward will be dependent on how certain you are that you can actually attain it.

3. Improve your personal connection to your future self- a stronger psychological connection to this future self increases motivation to be patient and wait for the larger goal, like avoiding partying while you are in school so that you can focus on studying and increasing your likelihood of attaining a good job later on in life.

4. Change how the options are framed so that the delayed outcome appears more valuable- for example, if you are trying to decide whether or not to buy an item of clothing but have the long-term goal of saving money, you can reframe the situation by saying that if you buy the item, you will have a piece of clothing that would probably not look the same after you wash it.

Finally, the last characteristic making up temperance is prudence. Prudence means making wise decisions based on principle or specifically, using reasoning before making a decision (Jain, 2023). We can strengthen our ability to exercise prudence by:

1. Learn to make good decisions- essentially, the primary skill required for exhibiting prudence is the ability to make good decisions (Jain, 2023). Some of the components for making good decisions include: avoid making decisions when feeling overly emotional; calculate the benefit/consequence ratio and identify potential options; and consider the welfare of others when making decisions (Jain, 2023).

2. In the context where you are forced to make a decision when overly emotional, there are strategies to calm your emotions- practicing deep breathing when feeling stressed/anxious can calm your emotional state. This activity can be done by inhaling through your nose for 5 seconds, holding your breath for 6 seconds, and then exhaling through your mouth as you count for 7 seconds (Jain, 2023).

3. Identify the problem- identifying the problem is essential to developing a good plan and making prudent decisions (Jain 2023).

4. Gather information and way your options- gather as much information that you can about a given situation and list different solutions (Jain, 2023). List the positives and negatives about each choice so that you have all the necessary information before making a decision.

5. Make a decision- based on the information that you have gathered and the possible outcomes, make a decision (Jain, 2023). Other things you can consider when making a decision include: How would this decision affect your life? how would this decision affect other people? how would this decision affect your family? Try to choose a course of action that feels right, that is in line with your values, is logical and likely to succeed (Jain, 2023).

The ability to show temperance or prevent over-indulgence is a life-long process that requires paying attention to your behavior, thoughts, emotions, and external environment. Certainly, you need to “know yourself” in order to govern your actions or processes so as to prevent self-destruction and malevolence.

According to Friedrich Nietzche, “you yourself will always be the worst enemy you encounter; you yourself lie in wait for yourself in caves and forests”. Demonstrating mental fortitude can lead to better self-control. It all starts with having a process that leads to better self-awareness (i.e, mindfulness meditation, spirituality) and having strategies for improving your ability to make decisions as the decisions we make have eternal effects carrying consequences that, to some extent, are irreversible.


1. Emamzadeh, A. (2022, April 12). How to increase your self-control. Psychology Today. How to Increase Your Self-Control | Psychology Today

2. Harvard Health Publishing. (2021, February 12). The power of forgiveness. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from

3. Jain, K. (2023, October 10). How to be Prudent. WikiHow. How to Be Prudent (with Pictures) - wikiHow

4. National Alliance on Mental Health. (2016, Dec 21). The Mental Health Benefits of Religion and Spirituality. NAMI blog. The Mental Health Benefits of Religion & Spirituality | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness.

5. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press.

6. Van Tongeren, D.R. (2020, August 18). How to become more humble. Psychology Today. How to Become More Humble | Psychology Today

7. Wikipedia. (2023, Sept 27). Cardinal virtues. Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia. Cardinal virtues - Wikipedia.

8. Worthington, E., Van Zyl, L. (2021) The Future of Evidence-based temperance interventions. Frontiers Psychology, 12. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.707598.

9. Xiao, Q., Yue, C., He, W., Yu, J. (2017). The Mindful Self: A Mindfulness-Enlightened Self-view. Frontiers Psychology, 8, 1752. Front Psychol. 2017; 8: 1752. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01752.

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