8 Scientifically Proven Ways to be a Better Person

Do you think of yourself as a be a better person? If you’re like most, you have some beautiful traits but are also aware of areas that might warrant improvement. Fortunately for those pursuing self-development, recent research can tell you plenty about which strategies might be most effective.

Here are eight scientifically proven ways to become a better person today.

1. Reflect on your childhood

A series of fascinating studies on the relationship between behavior and focusing on childhood memories revealed a range of moral benefits associated with dwelling on the distant past. For one thing, participants asked to recall incidents from their childhood were more likely than the control group to assist the scientists in experimenting (and also reported feeling a greater sense of “moral purity”).

This group chose to donate a more significant amount of money to what they perceived as a good cause, offered more negative assessments of others who engaged in morally questionable behavior and experienced more empathy towards people in need (which translated to a greater desire to help).

Regardless of the psychological or neurological explanation, it’s clear that thinking of your favorite childhood experiences could instantly give you an ethical boost—at least for a time.

2. Be conscious of the influence of power

When you’re in a position of authority, being more self-reflective is vital if you want to meditate on the detrimental influence of power. Studies on the highest-paid sportspeople show that increased salary correlates with an increased sense that “misbehavior” is acceptable. Research also proves a link between authority and a tendency to feel less empathy for others (or, in extreme cases, a tendency to dehumanize them entirely).

While it might be a stretch to say that you should avoid advancement to maintain moral goodness, it’s certainly worth being cautious about self-monitoring on your way to the top.

3. Put yourself in the right environment

The environment dramatically influences behavior and beliefs, so it’s possible to be a better person simply by choosing to spend more time in particular settings. For example, religious people who go to church on Sundays while listening to Mass on padded church chairs tend to exemplify their religious norms most dramatically on that day, donating more to charity and generally being more selfless.

That’s not to say you need to change your belief system to benefit from the power of a suitable environment—working in a volunteer centre, joining the staff at a charity store or becoming involved with an organization that encourages random acts of kindness are all ways to place yourself in the kind of context that promotes better behavior.

4. Watch others be kind

Relatedly, being around other people doing good deeds motivates feelings of warmth towards people in general (along with admiration towards those doing the good deeds).

Experiments testing this hypothesis showed that participants were more likely to offer sustained help to the experimenter in the wake of experiencing favorable emotional responses to the morally good behavior of someone else. So, if you’d like to decrease your selfishness and become more altruistic, watching videos of people being kind could trigger positive changes.

5. Don’t be arrogant about your goodness

Interestingly, there is evidence that feeling like a morally good person can lead to immoral behavior. Studies suggest that the relationship owes to thinking that being generally good gives you a “free pass” to do bad things now and again. Consequently, being a better person may require you to adopt a consistent, healthy skepticism towards your morality.

6. Spend time outdoors

Increasing contact with nature is a quick and effective way to enhance your overall goodness. An experiment that immersed participants in natural environments showed that these people were more likely to make generous decisions and to place a higher value on aspirations related to meaningful relationships and personal growth.

7. Ensure you feel like you’re being watched

An infamous study investigating the circumstances under which people contributed money for drinks in a coffee room found that nearby images influenced honesty. In particular, a picture of a pair of watchful eyes prompted people to pay almost three times more (when compared to the amount contributed by those who saw a neutral image).

The researchers concluded that a sense of being observed is intimately linked to cooperative behavior. So, you never know—placing a picture of your eyes or an observant person near your computer could reduce procrastination to encourage more pleasant conduct on social networking sites!

8. Be happy

Finally, taking the time to do the things you love doesn’t just improve your quality of life. It can also make you a better person. Those who are happy typically qualify as “better citizens”—they are more trusting, create more social capital, are more likely to vote, tend to do volunteer work and respect law and order to a greater degree.

In contrast, stressed people are more likely to engage in infidelity, and if you’re not getting enough sleep, you may be more inclined to take the path of least resistance instead of the way that leads to moral goodness.

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