How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

Finding the Will to Be Good

How to win the struggle over evil impulses

Most of us keep striving to be a better person. But it’s not easy to always have the discipline to do the right thing or even to follow Google’s motto: “Do no evil.”

Perhaps one or more of these might help.

Being good makes you feel better

Giving usually does feel at least as good as receiving. When I feel resentful that others don’t return my kindnesses, I try to remember that goodness is its own reward. True, we may feel a moment of revengeful pleasure in doing something hurtful but that pleasure is usually replaced by longer-lasting self-loathing.

Being nice isn’t the same as being good

It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’re good people just because we’re nice. In fact, a person can be preternaturally cheery, positive, ever offering a toothy, “How ya doin’?” yet do some pretty awful things.They might even use niceness so others won’t suspect them of any nefariousness or gives them a pass on their poor work performance. Nice isn’t the same as good.

Dangerous situations

If we do want to behave better, we need to be particularly vigilant in these situations. Easier said than done.

  • Your life sucks. Especially if you’re resentful of the hand the world has dealt you, it can be tempting to make others’ lives miserable. After all, misery does love company. Of course, the kinder we are, the less likely our lives will suck.
  • You’re feeling jealous. Even if your life is pretty good, it’s common to envy others who are richer, smarter, or better-looking. Of course, devoting our efforts to being our best, building on our strengths, will benefit us and others more than trying to hurt those we deem superior.
  • The failure of someone or something will prove you right. We all love to be right. For example, I have a morbidly obese friend. For decades, she has tried to lose weight by dieting, to no avail. I’ve begged her to get a consultation on weight-loss surgery but she refuses. If she gets a weight-related disease, it can be tempting to feel or even say, “I warned you.” I need to remember that most people are doing the best they can, even if it’s inadequate, and that reminding her of my correctness likely will only hurt her and our relationship. It may even harden her resistance to losing weight, unconsciously thinking, “Screw him. He can’t tell me what to do. Who does he think he is?”
  • You’re under-the-influence. Millions of people have done hurtful things they never would have done if they were sober. If you’re getting sick and tired of your substance abuse’s effects, this article may help.
  • You dislike an organization or person. For example, many of us can be dismissive of people who hold certain political, economic, or policy views. We need to remind ourselves that wisdom truly can reside across the spectrum.
  • When you stand to gain. Let’s say you’re vying for a promotion with a co-worker. Of course, stakes are high here and, in turn, the temptation to sabotage the competitor. But your antics could well be transparent or discovered, which could cost you the promotion. Besides, lowering ourselves cheapens us as a person, which ultimately is more important than the promotion.
  • When you know you’re unlikely to get caught. The same reasoning applies here: staying on the high road makes us feel better about our life.

Of course, it’s far easier to urge high-mindedness than to practice it. So special kudos to those who can.

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to his articles here on PsychologyToday.com, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on www.martynemko.com. Of Nemko's seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. His bio is on Wikipedia.

 

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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