How To Be A Good Person And Why It Matters

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated December 9, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

What makes a person a “good” person? Should we strive to be good—and if so, why? If you asked twenty people what it means to be a good person, chances are you would get twenty different answers. What individuals perceive to be good character traits can vary depending on several factors. Religion, culture, and family dynamics, for example, can all play a part in forming one's viewpoint on a topic like this.

Note that human beings are complex and that sorting all people into the strict binary of “good” or “bad” is generally not possible or particularly helpful. Attempting to do so can even result in distorted thinking, which can sometimes lead to mental health concerns like low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression. Here, we’ll use being a “good” person as a general term that refers to behaving in ways that are broadly considered to be considerate and kind, but it can be helpful to keep in mind the deep nuances of a topic like morality.

Being A Good Person Does Matter

What Is Goodness?

The word "good" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "virtuous, right and commendable; kind and benevolent." Henry David Thoreau was quoted as saying, "Goodness is the only investment that never fails."

Ultimately, though, “good” is a subjective term—but in general, it can very broadly be defined as a person who acts in ways that are perceived to be morally positive or upstanding.

A “good” person often has certain habits or characteristics that reflect their efforts to be a considerate individual who avoids harming others. While, again, these can vary from person to person and culture to culture, a few general examples of these traits can include the following.

Empathy

The empathy definition in psychology is the ability to emotionally understand another person's feelings by imagining yourself in their position. An empathetic person tends to be able to express an understanding of how others feel and treat them accordingly.

Honesty

An individual who wants to be a good person might also strive to be honest with themselves and others. Dishonesty can damage trust between two people and potentially lead to distance or conflict within a relationship.

Fairness

Someone who practices the principle of fairness might aim to be aware of their biases and avoid letting those negatively affect others. This could manifest as a belief in justice or equality, for example. 

Responsibility

Responsibility or accountability for one’s actions is also considered by many to be a sign of a good person. It usually involves an effort to make decisions that aren’t harmful to others and to take ownership of them if they are.

Why Being A Good Person Matters

One’s motivation for being “good” can vary widely. Research suggests that altruism—or the act of showing selfless concern for the well-being of others—is a uniquely human trait, of which there are many examples. Biologically, evolutionarily, or on some other level, many may feel generally driven to be kind and not harmful—a trait which many people equate with being a good person. 

However, there are many other complex factors that go into how humans decide to behave, and our actions can have effects in many areas of our lives. If you’re in the process of deciding what values you want to live by, you might consider some of these potential outcomes of who you may choose to be. 

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Effects On Your Career And Opportunities

Your actions and behaviors help build your reputation which, among many other factors, can help to create the opportunities you encounter in life. Behaving in ways that are generally respectful of others may help others develop a positive opinion of you. This could lead to benefits in your career and other opportunities that may help you achieve what you’re looking for in life.

Effects On Relationships

The way we behave can also impact how others see us and relate to us, which can affect our relationships overall. For instance, many people are looking for friends and romantic partners who are “good” people in that they’re honest, caring, respectful, etc. People who are looking for healthy, supportive relationships often tend to seek out others who make them feel safe rather than uneasy or disrespected.

Feeling A Sense Of Purpose 

Deciding on a set of values that you want to live by and then sticking to them as best you can may help give you a direction and a purpose in life. This may even correlate with less loneliness and better overall health.

Seeking Support Related To Being A Good Person

The idea of being a “good” person can affect a person’s mental health in a variety of ways. For instance, a person might have trouble coping with mistakes they’ve made in the past and how they may have affected those around them. Or, they could hold themselves to an impossible standard of perfection, which could lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. If you’re looking for support in discovering your values or changing the way you relate to morality, a therapist may be able to help.

Being A Good Person Does Matter

If you’re interested in therapy but prefer to receive this type of care from the comfort of home, you might try online therapy. In one study published in World Psychiatry, researchers examined the effectiveness of online therapy in treating a wide range of mental health disorders. Their research indicates that online therapy can be as effective as face-to-face counseling in many cases, which reflects the similar findings of other studies as well. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging. See below for client reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

Counselor Reviews

"Michal has been very supportive. Her techniques are very handy and have really helped me switch my negative thoughts to positive ones. Looking forward to learning more from her to become a better version of myself. Thank you Michal."

"Krysten has been an immense help in dealing with and confronting my anger and depression issues. I started to notice immediate changes in my general disposition within a week of working with her. My friends and family have even said I seem less bitter and jaded. And the fact that I can communicate with her frequently has done wonders in keeping me on track and progressing forward. My time working with Krysten and being on BetterHelp has been a positive experience and done much more for me than traditional in-office therapy ever did."

Takeaway

Being a “good” person is a complex topic, since each individual may have a different idea of what this looks like. In general, however, empathy, consideration, and accountability are broadly associated with being a good person across many cultures and belief systems. If you’re having trouble coping with past actions you’re not proud of or are looking for balance in your perspective of what a good person is, you might benefit from meeting with a therapist—either in person or online.



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