by Alexander Anghelou
Many people I see for therapy have negative beliefs about people. Some believe that people are not to be trusted as they will not miss a chance to harm you or steal from you. One hears many stories about people getting robbed in front of bystanders that just look and do nothing. On the other hand, one rarely hears stories of good people which often lead one to doubt their existence.
This is why I chose to write about something that happened to me today. This morning, I lost my wallet. Inside it, I had: money, ID, driver’s license, credit cards, bank cards, medical insurance cards, gym card and business cards. As I realized that I had lost it, I also realized what a nightmare it will be to cancel all the cards and to renew them.
As all this is going on in my head, I get a phone call from a man who found my wallet. He was on his way to hospital as his wife was in labour when he found my wallet on the sidewalk; it had fallen out of my jacket as I was holding it. In my wallet he found my business card and called me. He said that everything was in it and that he could bring it in the evening or I could go to the hospital to pick it up. I then borrowed some money from a friend and headed off to the hospital. At the hospital, I got some flowers for the mother on this very special day and this kind man returned my wallet and saved me.<
In evolutionary psychology, we often hear that human nature is negative and that people are selfish and short-sighted in the pursuit of selfinterest. Dacher Keltner goes against this dark view of human nature in his new book ‘Born to be good: The sciences of a meaningful life.’ The publisher summarizes the book nicely in the following way ‘Born to Be Good is a profound study of how emotion is the key to living the good life and how the path to happiness goes through human emotions that connect people to one another.’
One part that I particularly liked is on the Confucian concept of Jen which I quote ‘refers to a complex mixture of kindness, humanity and respect that transpires between people.’ The Jen ratio can be calculated by counting the number of good actions one does to others divided by the number of bad actions one does to others. For example, you help a friend move into his new apartment, you smile to the waitress taking your order, you laugh three times, you treat your nephew ice cream and you help an old man up the stairs. Then you yell at someone who cut you off in traffic and you sigh twice. Had these events happened to you, your Jen ratio would be seven divided by three which equals 2.33.<
The higher this ratio or devotion to bring good to others, the more meaningful one’s life is and the happier they are. So not only do good people exist, they also live happier and more meaningful lives.
Alexander Anghelou is a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist working in Brussels and London.