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"The Path to Happiness": Dr. Shanahan on Living Honorably

“This week, my word is ‘joy,’” said Suzanne Shanahan, the director of the Kenan Institute of Ethics here at Duke, as she pulled out a stack of business cards from her pocket. To kick off this year’s celebration of Integrity Week, which coincided with the 25th anniversary of honor at Duke, Dr. Shanahan shared her understanding of what it means to live honorably. For her, honor is about how you conduct yourself on a day-to-day basis. It is not about grand gestures or impossible moral quandaries. Rather, it’s about going out of your way to see the good in people and never to assume mal-intent.

Since she was a teenager, Dr. Shanahan has written a word on a small business card at the start of each week. This word represents what she wants to focus on for said week, and in the past, it has included words like “joy,” “honor,” and “integrity.” With these words as a guiding north star, she goes about her week, living deliberately and consciously.

The members of the audience at Dr. Shanahan’s talk were fortunate enough to gain a rare insight into her life. As part of her interpretation of honor, Dr. Shanahan asked each of us to think about our lives in order to identify specific instances in which our moral compasses were affected, either positively or negatively. As an illustration of her question, she shared some of her own memories, one of which involved a painful recollection of her childhood in Northern Ireland. At the end of this recollection, she admitted that much of what she does today is to somehow make up for a choice she made when she was a teenager.

Dr. Shanahan’s talk put all of our lives into perspective. She is the director of the Kenan Institute of Ethics, but she didn’t come to preach about academic dishonesty. Instead, she gifted the Duke community with a much-needed perspective that living honorably should be considered synonymous to living well. Only by living well and approaching the people around ourselves with boundless magnanimity can we achieve true happiness.

Read more about Dr. Suzanne Shanahan's work here

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