Does Practising Goodness Improve Happiness?

Do you practise goodness to improve happiness in your postworksavvy life?

Are you a ‘good’ person?

Goodness is difficult to define as it usually takes meaning from the context in which it is used.   It may refer to generosity and the act of giving to others.  It may also be used to describe something inanimate, such as the goodness of food.  Most often it refers to giving to others.

'nice' Therapists in training
‘nice’ Therapists in training – courtesy of alumroot

Several years ago — while still in my career at a children’s mental health centre, a trainer hired to train staff in advanced family therapy techniques, shocked me with a complaint call.  The therapists taking the training were causing frustration because the therapists were all too ‘nice’ to the clients who came for help  She asked me why I hired people who had goodness in their personalities and who were ‘nice’ people.

And then she challenged me about whether I was also a ‘good’ person.  This feedback about staff members stunned and surprised me. I wondered why therapists would not demonstrate the qualities of goodness.   I was also surprised at the personal challenge about whether I was a ‘good’ person.

This encounter has stayed with me.  I decided that surrounding myself with people who practised goodness and who were ‘good’ people — at work and in my personal life — was a blessing.

I also decided that this trainer, although she was well-reputed, would not get another contract from our organization.

Her comments inferred that she resented working with these therapists. I also wondered how she expected that clients coming for help should be treated. I suspected that she was masking her own anger and unhappiness.

These comments made me realize the importance of ‘goodness’ in a helping relationship.

It also made me realize that spending time with nice people who practised ‘goodness’ can improve happiness.

Goodness and it’s link to Compassion

compassion — courtesy of Susan von Struensee

Compassion involves doing something ‘good’ for others — doing something that benefits others.  Showing compassion can mean making an extra effort and/or acting out of concern for others.  Acts of compassion refer to activities that show empathy, warmth, and caring.

Hopefully the therapists in training demonstrated these qualities. If so, these people were well-equipped to work with families in distress.  Nobody deserves a therapist who lacks compassion.

Goodness and its link with the Superego

conscience — courtesy of fguillen

Superego is a term that comes from Freudian psychology.  In lay terms, superego refers to conscience.  It is often associated with negative qualities such as judgement, punishment and a sense of guilt.

On the positive side, conscience is also associated with the capacity for morality, tolerance, respect and responsibility. These qualities build the capacity to form healthy relationships with others. These are also the qualities that allow development of the capacity to love others.  Capacity to form positive relationships is essential in therapy — as well as in day-to-day living.

Goodness and its link to happiness

So how are qualities such as compassion and conscience linked to goodness and happiness?  When the world is so messed up what good can one person do?  How can goodness improve happiness?

This reminds me of the story of the man on the beach who throws star fish into the ocean as the tide recedes. When his efforts are challenged as fruitless, he notes that his interventions save a few starfish. These few starfish continue to live — so his actions make a difference — perhaps not for all the star fish on the beach, but for some.

Therapy delivered by people who show compassion, empathy, generosity and respect also matters.  It is the basis of goodness and of a positive helping relationship.

Picking up starfish from a beach may not be your ‘thing’.  And there are many ways of showing compassion, respect, responsibility and tolerance in daily life as well as in a therapy room.

You can say a kind word to someone; compliment a child; help a neighbour; love your spouse/partner when they make mistakes; and live your life with regard for the feelings and rights of others. What about picking up litter on your daily walk or giving an extra money to the homeless person begging on the street? These are all simple ways of practising goodness.

Goodness can also mean being kinder to yourself and to others.  It can mean forgiving yourself for mistakes you make. Self love is part of goodness as it involves generosity of spirit in loving yourself first.

Sometimes, when I get caught up in the activities of daily life and find myself acting from selfishness, I pull back and think about whether these actions lead to happiness.

Am I acting compassionately and with good conscience? When I consciously practise goodness, doing things that benefit others or making an extra effort to speak kindly and act with respect, I know that I am happier.  This is a life lesson — from years of supervising therapists and from years of making my own blunders.  When I act with goodness, I am happier.

While I’m not perfect and not all of my actions win accolades for moral excellence, I know that — in my way — I have thrown a few starfish back into the ocean.

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4 Replies to “Does Practising Goodness Improve Happiness?”

  1. I think goodness matters too. I’m sure you have and are doing things that matter for others and deservingly reaping the good feelings that come from it. Reading about others who have compassion helps me remember that it does exist even on dark days when I begin to wonder if anyone cares for anyone else. Thanks for the reminders.

    1. Jeanette Lewis says: Reply

      Hi Glenda,
      You are so right. Sometimes we have to look beneath the surface of human interaction for the goodness and compassion and sometimes it is hard to find it. It’s another take on the old ‘glass half-full’ approach to life. As we grow older, it is more important than ever to stay optimistic and to keep searching for honesty and truth in relationships. It helps us to keep those demons at bay.
      Be well,

  2. This is beautifully stated. I have always thought that goodness was catching. What do you suppose your consultant was thinking? This just puzzles me. I would think that your line of work would require a great deal of patience and compassion.


    1. Jeanette Lewis says: Reply

      Thanks for your insightful comment.
      I’m not sure what the consultant was thinking. Perhaps she was frustrated because the trainee therapists were not confrontational with client families. While therapeutic confrontation has its place, if used recklessly it can drive people away. When used with genuine respect in a relationship that is based on trust, confrontation can be helpful. As I reflect on what happened so many years ago, my belief is that this trainer/consultant was dealing with her own anger and projecting this anger onto the trainees. It was sad for all involved.
      Be well,

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