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.
What Is Goodness?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
"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."
How can you become a good person?
There isn’t a consistent definition of what makes a good person. Even rules that seem constant and rigid, like “Good people don’t hurt others,” can become flexible under the right conditions. For instance, most humans condemn murder and believe it is morally wrong, yet there are often exceptions that allow for taking a life in the case of self-defense or during war.
Deciding what makes you a good person requires understanding your moral identity. What do you believe to be morally right? When can the rules be bent or broken? Do small actions, like holding the door open for someone, make you a good person, or does it take a more substantial effort, like volunteering for charity work?
Becoming a good person means understanding your moral code and improving yourself until your actions consistently reflect your values. While that journey is different for everybody, there are some common tips that may help you:
- Don’t make excuses. Becoming a good person is a personal responsibility, and no one can achieve your goal besides you. Be wary of pointing the finger at others; becoming a good person often means examining your mistakes and making peace with your shortcomings.
- Use honest and direct communication. Lies and deception are rarely seen as traits kind people possess. Learn to articulate your thoughts and feelings openly and honestly.
- Help others. Take time to assist others when you can; helping others through tough times will likely improve your reputation and self-perception. Good deeds and kindness are commonly considered a foundational part of being a good person.
- Become a good listener. Knowing how to listen actively can make it easier for you to understand and empathize with others. Empathy is commonly associated with goodness, and demonstrating empathy is likely an important skill to have.
- Always be respectful. Your words and actions should always demonstrate respect for the people around you and the environment that you’re in. Take time to learn how to control your negative emotions. You don’t have to agree with everything or appease everyone, but even when disagreeing, you should maintain a respectful tone and demeanor.
What is the point of being a good person?
Philosophers have debated the reasons for being a good person for centuries. Today, there are several philosophical and sociological arguments that justify good behavior. One of the longest-running unsettled arguments is the egoism/altruism debate. The egoism/altruism debate examines what motivates humans to be good to each other.
The altruism side of the argument asserts that humans have an intrinsic drive to help others. The existence of an empathetic connection between humans supports the altruism argument. For example, if a person comes across someone who is injured, they are likely to try to assist them, probably because they empathize with their position. In the altruism argument, empathy motivates good and helpful behavior, allowing for self-sacrifice with no prospect of receiving a reward.
In contrast, the egoism argument suggests that people tend to be motivated to help others for self-serving reasons. It may elevate their status in society, make it more likely they can receive help from others, or put others in their debt. Furthermore, some proponents of the egoist perspective assert that even when someone helps another with no intention of a reward, the warm feeling of satisfaction that commonly comes after helping someone else may serve as its own reward. From an egoist perspective, helping behavior is inherently self-serving, no matter whether an external reward is expected.
How do you feel like a good person?
Feeling like a good person is often related to self-improvement and self-acceptance. You will likely feel good when your behaviors align with your core values. No matter what your exact definition of a “good person” may be, if your actions match your beliefs, you will likely feel like a good person.
You may want to consider building your self-esteem and recognizing your strengths. You likely have much to offer the world around you, and recognizing your inherent goodness can help you feel better about yourself. Self-examination may also be helpful. Taking time to analyze your understanding of what is morally right may offer insight into how you can be a good person on your terms.
How can I be a better person and happy?
Self-improvement is likely one of the most critical steps toward becoming happier. People with good personalities who understand their place in the world and surround themselves with a support network tend to be much happier than those who do not reach those goals. Achieving those goals requires committing to self-improvement and growth. It requires a willingness to examine your moral identity and develop an understanding of how you conceptualize the difference between good and bad.
Many people begin by identifying their strengths and improving their self-esteem. You likely have strengths to offer, and utilizing your natural strengths can make becoming a better person much easier. Early in your self-improvement process, you should decide on reasonable goals that will continually make you a better person. Goal-setting can be challenging; it is important that you stay within your limits and grow into a better person at a reasonable pace.
How can I improve myself every day?
Committing to daily positive change is likely a worthwhile goal. Improving yourself daily lets you take small steps towards a larger personal goal. Many people find setting both long-term and short-term goals to be helpful. Long-term goals should represent relatively large aspirations related to your self-improvement, and short-term goals should represent steps you can take to achieve your larger goals.
Ensuring that your long-term and short-term goals are reasonably achievable is important. Your goals shouldn’t take so little effort that you don’t have to work to attain them, but they shouldn’t be so hard that you risk burnout trying to accomplish them. Appropriately balancing your goals is likely to help you stay on track and motivated as you incorporate daily self-improvement into your life.
How can I change myself to be better?
Bettering yourself requires time, effort, and dedication. When you set goals and work toward them, you are physically changing the pathways in your brain, which requires consistent effort and repetition. If you are trying to rid yourself of bad habits or develop better ones, you may need to commit days, weeks, or months to the process. That is why choosing achievable goals is so important; if you go too long without reaching a goal, you may experience depleted willpower and burnout.
When deciding your goals and how you want to achieve them, it may be helpful to study your successes. You likely have many strengths you can leverage on your self-improvement journey, some of which you may not realize you have. Consider paying close attention to the positive feedback you receive from others.
Reflect on what strengths are apparent and how you can use those good qualities to achieve your goals. If feedback from others in your life is sparse, consider asking those around you for feedback directly. Don’t expect everything to be positive; you should be prepared for some (hopefully constructive) criticism. You can reflect on the criticism, too, especially if it conflicts with your goals, but be sure to come back around to the positive.
How do I get better at something?
No matter what skill you are trying to develop, getting better at something requires willpower and persistence. Self-improvement requires actions that physically change your brain as your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors change. Sticking to your goals is arguably the most challenging part of getting better at something, especially at the beginning of the process.
Here are some basic steps to help you remain committed to your self-improvement journey:
- Develop a growth mindset. A person with a growth mindset sees failure as a necessary part of success. You may want to work on accepting the trials and tribulations of personal growth. Doing so may make it easier to avoid burnout and stay committed to your goals.
- Develop refined goals. Goals that are too broad (e.g., “I want to get better”) are difficult to achieve. It is important that your goals be attainable. Each time you achieve one of your goals, the reward center in your brain reinforces the behavior that got you there. Refined goals are balanced; they aren’t so easy that you don’t have to work to achieve them and aren’t so hard that you burn out trying to attain them.
- Keep your focus. It is easy to get distracted from whatever improvement goals you have. Vices and bad habits are potential distractions, but so are the demands of daily life. Other people’s poor behavior can distract you as well. Consider learning to forgive people quickly, for your sake, instead of theirs. Make sure you are reminding yourself of your goals and tracking your progress daily.
- Maintain accountability. Monitoring your progress towards your goals lets you analyze how your journey is coming along. If there are areas where you are struggling to progress, take time to figure out where the challenges are and how you can overcome them. Take responsibility for your own progress; only you can make yourself a better person.
How do you keep growing in life?
Consistent personal growth requires dedication and commitment. As you become a better person, you will need to identify new growth areas and goals to move forward. It is likely prudent to engage in self-evaluation regularly. Take time to learn yourself, understand your moral identity, and determine which goals you should set next in your improvement journey.
It may also be helpful to seek feedback from others. Friends, family, and coworkers can all be valuable sources of insight into your strengths and weaknesses. When seeking feedback from others, ask that they be open and honest with you. This means that you will need to prepare yourself to receive negative as well as positive feedback. Although criticism can be unpleasant - even if it’s constructive - listening to negative feedback can help illustrate areas for personal development, while positive improvement-oriented feedback is likely to improve your performance overall.
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