Are you a good person?

Are you a good person?

Why striving to be good will help you be happy.

Humanism: What does it mean to be a good person?

Being good is a moral judgement. And the funny thing about morality is it is all about how we judge other people.  Other people either help us or hurt us. If they help us – we deem them good. If they hurt us – we deem them bad.  These moral judgements are entirely subjective based on our own feelings and perspective centered on what is good for us.

This is why it’s so darned difficult to define what it means to be good.  We know how we would like to be treated, but that doesn’t mean other people want to be treated that way.

We also have an additional problem to consider. Other people’s moral judgements of us as people impact us. Those judgements may not be fair, but if another person judges us as bad – they will respond to us as if we are bad. And while that may not be fair, it would be bad for us.

As a Humanist my goal is to live life fully, and leave the world a better place, if I can. Like most Humanists, I seek to live a life of personal fulfillment that aspires to the greater good of humanity. 

In order to leave the world a better place, I have to be a good person. And not just good as judged by my perspective, but as judged by others.  Because while I might think I’m doing good – if other people think I’m hurting them, then my intentions don’t matter. They are going to judge me as being good or bad based not on my intentions, but on whether I helped or hurt them.

This is why, in my book, The Humanist Approach to Happiness, I define being a good through what I call the Holy Trinity of Humanistic Goodness: ethics, compassion and responsibilty.

To be a good person, you need to be all three.  You need to be: Ethical, Compassionate and Responsible.

Why – well let’s consider what happens when someone isn’t.

If someone isn’t ethical, compassionate or responsible to you, they will harm you.  So that would be bad.

If they are ethical and responsible but not compassionate, well, they will be honest about hurting you but they won’t hesitate to hurt you if they think it will serve a higher cause –Hitler was like this.

If they are ethical and compassionate but not responsible, they may want to do well by you and mean to do well by you but if they aren’t responsible, you can’t trust them to do what they say and that will hurt you eventually.  

In order to be a good person you need to be all three, at once.  And the good news is that being good is actually really easy! For me it is way easier to be good than bad because in order to be bad and not suffer too many bad consequences takes a lot of energy. I’m lazy.  I’d rather try to be good and not have to work so hard.  Additionally, being good feels good. It leads to happiness and satisfaction in life.

The problem most people have isn’t motivation. Most people want to be good and to do good. The problem actually knows what the good thing to do is in any given situation. Morality, after all is situationally and subjective.

This is why Humanists spend just as much time learning how to think well as we do in encouraging ourselves to be moral, ethical and responsible. We know that to be good we have to think well. Being ethical and compassionate is all about how we think. Being responsible is how we act.  The weight is 2/3rds towards thinking and 1/3rd toward acting.

To learn more about how to think more effectively about the choices you make – consider purchasing The Humanist Approach to Happiness or taking Living Made Simpler – the life skills course.