Do you think of yourself as a be a better person? If you’re like most, you have some wonderful 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 start to be 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 offer assistance to the scientists conducting the experiment (and also reported feeling a greater sense of “moral purity”).
This group chose to donate a greater amount of money to what they perceived as a good cause, offered more negative assessments of others who were 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 spending some time 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, working to be more self-reflective is vital if you want to meditate the detrimental influence of power. Studies on the highest-paid sportspeople appear to show that increased salary correlates with an increased sense that “misbehavior” is acceptable, and 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 in order 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 has a dramatic influence on 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 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 good environment—working in a volunteer center, 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 seems to motivate 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, even just watching videos of people being kind could trigger positive changes.
5. Don’t be arrogant about your goodness
Interestingly, there is some evidence that feeling like a morally good person can actually 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, be a better person may require you to adopt a consistent, healthy level of skepticism towards your own morality.
6. Spend time outdoors
Increasing your contact with nature is a quick and effective way to enhance your overall goodness. In 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 eyes or an observant person near your computer could do everything from reducing procrastination to encouraging 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 be 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, people who are stressed are more likely to engage in infidelity, and if you’re not getting enough sleep then you may be more inclined to take the path of least resistance instead of the path that leads to moral goodness.