What does it mean to be a good person? Most would agree that good people are kind, caring, and put others first. Therefore, it seems logical to assume that behaving like a good person would make you good. But that’s not always true.

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What’s important to understand is that your behavior alone does not define your character. How you act is only part of the equation.

To truly evaluate someone’s character, you must also understand their motive. That’s because there are many reasons why people are good, and not all of them are virtuous.

Character = Behavior + Motive—Are You A Good Person
Character = Behavior + Motive

Ultimately, acting like a good person for the wrong reason can harm yourself and others.

In this article, I’ll begin by explaining what motivates people to be good for the wrong reasons. Then I’ll share some ideas you can use to become a genuinely good person.

The Ulterior Motives

There are two other reasons someone might act like a good person.

1. Pretending To Be Good

People who pretend to be good are intentionally acting that way because they have something to gain. This behavior is problematic because it doesn’t make you a better person. Deep down, nothing changes because the entire act is a lie.

Wolf In Sheep's Clothing
Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

For example, have you ever watched a bully pretend to be good when the teacher entered the room? If so, did you suddenly believe they were a good person? Of course not.

In this case, the bully only pretends to be nice to avoid detention. But unfortunately, this facade doesn’t change who they are. The minute the teacher leaves, the bully reverts to their old ways.

In general, people stand to gain two things by pretending to be good. First, like the bully, they get to avoid something they don’t want. Second, it helps them obtain something they want.

For example, a sales rep might pretend to be supportive to land a sale, then suddenly become unhelpful after the sale. Or, a man might convince a woman that he’s kind and caring but disappear after they sleep together.

Unfortunately, other people pay the highest price when someone pretends to be nice. When the bully, the sales rep, and the unfaithful husband pretend to be nice, it’s the other kid, the customer, and the wife who pay the price.

While pretending to be nice can give you what you want in the moment, don’t forget to consider the cost. Long-term, this behavior burns bridges, ruins your reputation, and often leads to regret.

2. Thinking You’re Good

When you think you’re being a good person, you’re not intentionally being deceitful. Instead, you believe you’re doing the right thing. Generally, people fall into the trap of thinking they’re good for three reasons.

  1. Their behavior makes other people happy
  2. Their behavior appears to be associated with a desirable trait
  3. Their behavior helps them avoid negative or unpleasant emotions

For example, maybe you have no interest in taking over the family business. However, you know it will break your father’s heart if you don’t. In this case, it’s easy to think you’re a good person by saying yes. That’s because doing so makes your father happy, appears to be honorable, and prevents you from feeling guilty.

Here’s another example. Maybe you have a difficult business partner who quickly becomes confrontational when you don’t agree with them. In this situation, it’s easy to think you’re a good person by letting them have their way. That’s because doing so satisfies your business partner, appears to be generous, and helps you avoid a disagreement.

Many people can be affected when you think you’re good. But, ultimately, the person who pays the highest price is you. That’s because you lose sight of what matters when you focus on making other people happy and avoiding difficult emotions.

Ultimately, taking over the family business to make your father happy is pointless if it makes you miserable. And agreeing with your business partner to avoid a confrontation is useless if it contributes to the failure of your business.

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How To Be A Genuinely Good Person

Genuinely good people act that way because they are led by values, morals, and the belief that they are doing the right thing. They aren’t interested in harming people to get what they want. But they’re also unwilling to neglect themselves to keep others happy.

Knowing this information, here are four ideas that can help you become a genuinely good person.

1. Take Note Of Behaviors That Lead To Punishment

There’s a reason why bullies get expelled, criminals go to jail, and unfaithful husbands end up divorced. That is, our society considers those behaviors to be wrong.

In general, if your behavior leads to some form of punishment, you’re probably not being a good person. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s time to rethink what you are doing.

2. Ask If Your Behavior Is Harmful

You can evaluate your behavior by asking yourself the following question.

Is my behavior negatively affecting someone’s life?

As you’ve seen, someone pays the price when you pretend to be good or think you’re good. The other student still gets bullied after the teacher leaves the room. The customer gets burned when the sales rep pretends to be supportive. And, you feel unfulfilled when you take over the family business to avoid guilt.

In general, if you discover that your behavior is affecting someone’s life, you’re probably not being a good person.

To elaborate on this point, I know this question won’t always be easy to answer. That’s because the best decisions can appear to be harmful.

For example, you could easily conclude that ending a relationship with someone who loves you will negatively affect their life. That’s because heartbreak is painful to experience. When you find yourself in situations like this, it helps to consider what is best for the greater good.

Yes, heartbreak is brutal. But it’s better than being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t love you. In time, ending the relationship can positively affect your life and your partner’s life. That’s because doing so allows both of you to build relationships based on mutual love.

3. Consider Life After The Chase

Your brain has a built-in reward system that motivates you to take action. Anytime you do something that increases your odds of survival, your brain releases chemicals that produce feelings of pleasure. This explains why we find eating, sex, and making money so enjoyable.

Because this pleasure feels so fulfilling, people can easily become fixated on the reward. As a result, they fail to consider the consequences of their actions. This can lead people to behave in less than desirable ways.

For example, a sales rep might promise a customer the moon to receive a commission check. Or, a man might go to great lengths to win over a date for the opportunity to feel accepted and desirable.

Unfortunately, when overcome by the intoxicating nature of rewards, we forget to think about what life looks like after the chase. Landing a big sale leads to years of customer service. And committing to one woman requires that you give up some freedom.

So, if you’re leading people on just to receive a reward, you’re being deceitful. And in doing so, you end up hurting those people.

Given this information, here are two ways you can prevent yourself from making this mistake.

  1. Ask yourself if you want what comes after the chase. For example, if you don’t want to provide years of customer service after the sale, find something else to chase.
  2. Make your intentions clear. For instance, if you’re only interested in a casual relationship, make that evident.

4. Learn How To Be Assertive

Being assertive has a lot in common with Goldilocks and the three bears. What you say can be too hot, too cold, or just right.

When you’re too hot, you become aggressive. You speak your mind without considering other people and only want what’s best for yourself. This leaves others feeling disrespected, angry, and upset.

When you’re too cold, you become passive. As a result, you rarely speak your mind and feel obligated to put other people first. This can leave you feeling taken advantage of, unheard, and unappreciated.

However, when you are assertive, you’re just right. You feel comfortable voicing your opinion and, at the same time, remember to consider others.

Ultimately, being assertive helps other people feel respected, understood, and appreciated. And, it allows you to maintain control of your life.

Given this information, here are six ideas that can help you become more assertive.

  1. Be clear and direct when making your point
  2. Be respectful
  3. Avoid blaming others
  4. Make sure your request is reasonable
  5. Keep your emotions under control
  6. Be less concerned with being right and more concerned with doing what’s best
Effectiveness vs. Delivery Graph
Effectiveness vs. Delivery Graph

How To Overcome Problems When Following This Advice

It’s common to believe that doing good things will also make you feel good. But that’s not always the case. I’ll explain this point with a personal story.

For about a decade, I was the co-owner of FLO Cycling. We manufactured high-end carbon fiber race wheels for road and triathlon bikes.

We used 1% of all sales to fund a charitable program we created called Bike for a Kid. The donations were used to purchase bikes for underprivileged children.

Before making any donations, I thought that donating bikes to children would give me the ultimate high. But that wasn’t the case.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that donating thousands of bikes brought me no joy. Of course, there were many special moments that I’ll never forget. But how I thought I’d feel and how I actually felt were very different.

At first, this was disappointing. I couldn’t understand why donating bikes didn’t feel amazing. For a while, my lack of feeling elated made me question if we were doing the right thing.

Eventually, I realized something very important. That is, things like donating, volunteering, or being kind aren’t for you; they’re for the cause.

Ultimately, doing good things for others with the expectation that you’ll benefit is really just a form of being selfish.

If we had ended Bike for a Kid because of my lack of excitement, thousands of underprivileged children would have paid the price. Instead, we continued the program simply because we believed it was the right thing to do.

In the end, the lesson here is simple. Do good things because they matter, not because you expect to benefit from doing them. And if, by chance, doing good things also makes you feel good, then consider that a bonus.

How To Know When You’ve Taken These Ideas Too Far

I said above that you should rethink what you’re doing if your behavior leads to punishment. If you’re harming other people, this is good advice. But this is terrible advice if you’re the victim of unjust punishment. Let me explain.

If a husband abuses his wife because she burned dinner, telling the wife to rethink her behavior is harmful. That’s because it influences her to accept the abuse—which is something she should never do.

So, if you’re being punished, don’t automatically assume your behavior is the problem. Instead, ask yourself a simple question.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

If it does, change your behavior. But if it doesn’t, change your environment.

A special thanks to Dr. Aziz Gazipura for influencing this article. 1

In A Nutshell

Here are the key takeaways from this article.

  • Behavior alone does not define a person’s character. To truly evaluate someone’s character, you must also understand their motive.
  • People pretend to be good to get what they want or avoid what they don’t want.
  • Other people pay the price when you pretend to be a good person.
  • People fall into the trap of thinking they’re good for three reasons, (1) it makes other people happy, (2) it appears to be associated with a desirable trait, and (3) it helps you avoid negative or unpleasant emotions.
  • In general, you pay the highest price when you think you’re a good person.
  • To be a genuinely good person, (1) take note of behaviors that lead to punishment, (2) ask if your behavior is harmful, (3) consider life after the chase, and (4) learn how to be assertive.
  • Do good things because they matter, not because you expect to benefit from doing them.
  • Don’t automatically assume your behavior is the problem when your behavior leads to punishment. Instead, ask if the punishment fits the crime.

Books That Influenced This Article

The following book links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase a book after clicking one of the links, I will receive a commission.

The Confidence Gap
Book | Audiobook | Kindle

Not Nice
Book | Audiobook | Kindle

  1. Dr. Aziz. SocialConfidenceCenter.com


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