How To Be A Better Person, According To Science


how to be a better person

Nice people finish last. But do they really? Being nice is a trait that not everyone possesses, but a virtue everyone can develop. When you know how to be a better person and focus on self-improvement, life gets better.

We often consider nice people as weak, gullible and vulnerable as it is widely believed that they lack the ruthlessness to survive in this cut-throat world. However, being nice enables us to share positivity, compassion and kindness with the world. So if you want to be the best version of yourself, then here’s how to be a better person.

What Makes A Person Nice

Being your most authentic self and being concerned about the welfare of others makes someone nice. Nice people are self-assured and confident which makes them caring, compassionate, and kind towards others. They are sensitive towards others’ emotions and are pleasant to interact with. They are honest and truthful without offending others. They are also aware of their behavior, recognize their own flaws and insecurities, are responsible for their action and deliberately work on their self-improvement. They understand how to be a better person and deliberately work on improving themselves. In psychology, “niceness” is identified as agreeableness, which is one of the Big Five Personality Traits. Agreeableness is a personality trait that involves cooperation, warmth, sympathy, politeness and kindness.

Related: Bookworms Are Nicer, Kinder, And More Empathetic, According To Studies

However, contrary to popular belief being nice does not mean agreeing with everyone, suppressing your own needs & feelings and trying to please others. Kind people have a strong sense of self which empowers them to care for others without seeking any validation or approval. They openly express their emotions and needs without creating conflict or hurting anyone. Although the concept of “being nice” is subjective, people who know how to be a better person typically possess the following personality traits, according to psychology –

  • Politeness
  • Compassion
  • Empathy 
  • Altruism
  • Supportiveness
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
  • Responsibility
  • Honesty
  • Considerate
  • Sensitivity 
  • Fairness

How To Be A Better Person

If your goal in life is to thrive and succeed, then the key is to be your most authentic self as it can allow you to function well and feel good about yourself. And the truth is, we are all born as kind and caring individuals. Unfortunately, as we go through the trials and tribulations of life, we eventually become jaded and self-centered, which leads to stress, anxiety and unhappiness. Whether you are naturally a nice and kind person or not, we can always develop certain traits and characteristics that can enable us to improve our social and interpersonal interactions and be nicer to others.

If you want to be genuinely nice, but don’t know how to be a better person, then here are a few ways to get started based on scientific research:

1. Regulate negative emotions

Learning to manage difficult feelings is a crucial step in trying to be a nicer, kinder and better human being. Although negative emotions like anger, jealousy and depression are perfectly normal and natural, when we hold on to them for extended periods it can make us miserable & selfish. Emotions like hate, jealousy and anger can adversely affect our self-esteem, confidence and life satisfaction. Moreover, it can make us irritable and pessimistic, causing a downward spiral. It affects how we choose to express our emotions and interact with others – whether to respond or react. It can also make us a lot more aggressive, abusive and violent in our behavior towards our loved ones and strangers alike. However, when we become aware of such difficult emotions, we can learn to let go of all the negativity and behave more rationally.

Studies show that successful emotion regulation is a crucial aspect of psychosocial functioning, changes in relationships, conflicts with parents and finding supportive peer groups.The way we regulate our emotions has important implications for our well-being and our social relationships,” explains a 2020 study. Although letting go of hatred, uncontrolled anger and sadness may be extremely difficult, being aware of your triggers and knowing how to manage your emotions can enable you to better control how you react to people and situations.

Related: How to Stop Taking Things Personally: 8 Steps

2. Be kind and helpful

There is no doubt that compassion is one of the most fundamental traits of being a nice person. According to a 2020 study, compassion is a virtue that allows us to feel the suffering of another and willingly relieve their suffering. It involves various attributes like deep awareness, sensitivity, respect, dignity, listening, understanding, involvement, connection, responding and altruism. It allows us to have an active empathic presence and practice random acts of kindness, like –

  • Helping someone carry their groceries
  • Assisting an elderly person cross the road
  • Giving your seat to a pregnant lady on the subway
  • Donating to charity

If you want to learn how to be a better person, then being helpful is the most obvious step. Every time I try being helpful at random, I feel nice and better about myself. In fact, research shows that altruistic emotions and behaviors are associated with happiness, health, greater well-being, longevity and self improvement. So if you want to improve yourself as a person, then make sure to give more than you receive. 

3. Build healthier relationships

Studies reveal that the quantity and quality of our social relationships affect our mental health and behavior. Whether consciously or subconsciously, our relationships leave a strong impact on us. When we share positive and fulfilling relationships with our parents, siblings, partners, friends and coworkers, it can make us feel happy and inspire us to become better versions of ourselves. We strive harder to make our loved ones proud of us and inspire them like they inspire us. However, when we are entrapped in toxic, unhealthy and abusive relationships, we become extremely stressed, anxious, depressed and angry. All this inner dissatisfaction leads to low self-esteem and frustration which in turns leads to more conflict. “High quality close relationships contribute to mental and physical well-being; poor quality close relationships create stress and undermine health and well-being,” explains a 2011 study.

Hence, working on improving your relationships is a vital aspect of learning how to be a better person. Self improvement involves becoming a better family member, a better partner, a better parent and better friend. When you become someone your loved ones can rely on and the driving force of a relationship, you not only make your own life better, but also help your loved ones find happiness and satisfaction. And the best way to become that person is by learning ways to resolve conflicts, such as active listening, emotion regulation, having empathy etc. Moreover, healthy relationships can also help us develop conflict resolution skills which can help us grow as human beings. There is no doubt that strengthening our relationships can take us on an upward trajectory to becoming our authentic selves.

Related: How To Improve Your Relationships With Mindfulness

4. Choose yourself

In case you are unsure about what exactly choosing yourself means, it means doing things that makes you happy and saying “no” to things that make you unhappy. And no, it does not mean being selfish or ignoring others’ feelings. It means living the life you want to lead and focusing on the positive aspects while acknowledging the negative ones. Choosing yourself means being kind to yourself first. It means setting strong personal boundaries and walking away from toxic, abusive relationships. It means being committed to fulfilling your needs & wants and making yourself a priority while lending a helping hand to those in need. 

It means making self-care a daily practice and making sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising regularly, learning new skills, pursuing your dreams & passions and working hard to achieve your goals. It means not making excuses about things that you need to get done. When you choose yourself, you love yourself and that love permeates through to create a positive impact on people around you. Loving yourself helps you shut your inner critic and engage in positive self-talk. Then you become deliberate about spreading this positivity to the world. Studies show that “Positively biased self-views are argued to be a key component of healthy psychological functioning, influencing self-esteem, motivation, and determination.” On the other hand, negative self-images are associated with low self-esteem and social anxiety, according to researchers.

Related: Personal Boundaries: 9 Core Boundaries To Live By

5. Live mindfully

Mindfulness is the practice of living in the present moment. It allows us to actively observe and be aware of everything around and within us. It increases our attention and enables us to overcome preconceived mindsets. Being mindful can be especially helpful when you are learning how to be a better person. According to a 2018 study titled “Mindfulness increases prosocial responses toward ostracized strangers through empathic concern,” being mindful allows us to better regulate our emotions and be nicer, more kind and helpful towards others. The researchers found that living mindfully can motivate us to be empathetic towards people who are being victimized.

Mindfulness is a psychological trait, a state of awareness & non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment. Studies have found that regular mindfulness practice can also help to increase empathy and compassion. One 2020 study found that mindfulness meditation can increase “compassionate love and situation-appropriate empathic concern” even in novice meditators. So if you are focused on self-improvement and being a nicer person, then mindfulness meditation can help you gain the awareness and kindness you need.

Related: Mindfulness And Emotional Intelligence

Practices To Boost Your “Niceness”

If you are still wondering how to be a better person, then here are some additional practices that can help you to be your best version:

Things to do

  • Be humble and polite, not arrogant and egoistic
  • Start everyday with positive affirmations and by complimenting yourself in the morning
  • Listen to others when they really want to share something, ask questions and pay your undivided attention
  • Say “thank you” and “please” more often
  • Develop mental flexibility and open yourself up to change
  • Practice gratitude and be grateful for everything you have in your life
  • Learn to respect others and their opinions even if you don’t agree with them
  • Learn new skills and educate yourself on various topics like human psychology, different cultures etc
  • Pause when you feel overwhelmed and breathe consciously for a few minutes to relax yourself
  • Smile a lot more
  • Respect mother nature and connect with nature and animals 
  • Follow the pay it forward principle – do good for someone else when you receive an act of kindness
  • If you love someone, say it and compliment people when you mean it
  • Volunteer for a cause you believe in, your local soup kitchen or in your community

Things to avoid

  • Avoid making excuses or shifting blame on others and take responsibility for your actions
  • Don’t hold on to grudges or regret. Learn to forgive others & yourself and let go of pain
  • Avoid or limit your access to social media and engage with positive content online
  • Avoid assuming what someone may be thinking or feeling, instead communicate openly with them
  • Avoid criticizing or belittling others or saying things like “I told you so”
  • Don’t pretend to be nice for your own personal gain

Related: How To Take More Personal Responsibility and Stop Making Excuses

It Pays To Be Nice

To become what we wish to be, we need to be better. Some people have the inherent ability to be nice and be the best they can be, while others, like me, need to put in effort to be nicer and be intentional about self-improvement. Regardless, kindness, compassion and empathy are traits that can be learned if it does not come naturally to you. Now I have no shame in admitting that I am not the nicest person I know and at times, I behave in ways that I am not super proud of. But thankfully I have the awareness that I need to grow and learn how to be a better person in order to become the individual I want to be, for myself and for the people I love. 

Although I may not be as nice I would like to be, I am happier and more at peace with myself knowing that I am putting in the effort to be a better me. Psychologists have found that prosocial or “nice” behaviors, like sharing, being compassionate and empathetic can help to improve our mental and emotional health. According to a recent 2021 study, “prosocial acts have been shown to boost a number of mental states including life satisfaction, well-being, and psychological flourishing.” Moreover, it can also “prevent or mitigate the negative effects of stress.” Further studies have also revealed that selflessness leads to “authentic–durable happiness”, while having a self-centered mindset can cause “fluctuating happiness.” In fact, research indicates that people with higher prosocial behaviors tend to experience “a high level of mindfulness.” Focusing on self-improvement and being a better human being can also enable us to build better relationships and social connections

Related: 9 Things All Happy People Know About Being Genuinely Happy

But that’s not all. Being nice and learning how to be a better person can also make you more likeable. One 2019 study revealed that being a nice person can make someone appear more attractive in mate selection. In fact, kindness was found to be a more important predictor for attractiveness for choosing a life partner than physical attractiveness, sense of humor and social status. Niceness is beneficial not just on an individual level, but it is also essential for our communal development. One 2014 study states that even though cooperation and fairness may “restrict immediate self-interest,” it can be exceptionally beneficial for others in need and for our society at large.Social norms, such as treating others fairly regardless of kin relations, are essential for the functioning of human societies. Their existence may explain why humans, among all species, show unique patterns of prosocial behaviour,” adds the study.

Be The Best “You”

We may be motivated to become a nicer and a better version of ourselves for various reasons. Regardless of what our motivation is, when we take the right steps towards self improvement we can finally become who we want to be – our most authentic selves. Understanding how to be a better person starts with treating ourselves with kindness and compassion like we do with others. This means not being too hard on yourself when you fail at times and being patient and loving with yourself when the chips are down.

The research-backed strategies mentioned here are great ways to get started, but there are many other ways that may work for you depending on your personality, lifestyle, needs and goals. Simply do what makes you happy, be as helpful towards others as you can be, build healthy relationships, love yourself and spread that love into the world. That’s the best any of us can do.

Related: 4 Things A Little Girl Taught Me About Being A Better Man

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