The Importance of Ethical and Good Behaviour for your Happiness

 

Among the Living, this guy has probably the most to say on how to be "good": Dalai Lama.

Among the Living, this guy has probably the most to say on how to be “good”: Dalai Lama.

You want to transform your life into something beyond being a pure economic subject that consumes, works, produces, pushes the GDP and ultimately dies to be replaced by the next robot?

Then it is worthwhile to look back in time on what previous big minds have said about self-actualization and living a good life.

The thing is:
While many things change very quickly, the large questions about meaning, sense etc., stay absolutely constant over the centuries. And the “old” masters of happiness and good life (btw: they were called philosophers, not as today “coaches” 😉 ) have one advantage:

Their theories obviously passed the test of time.

If you can still buy and read the books of those persons that lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, there must be a profound truth in what they said. A basic truth that was able to withstand so many waves of change and progress (whatever progress is).

So this reading is what Woodpecker did in a quite difficult time of his life, i.e. long before this blog, at a time where I decided that I am not happy with the average consume-produce-die-approach to life that so many people around us want us to pursue.
At that time I basically went through a whole library of philosophers, starting from the ancient Greeks (Aristoteles, Platon, Epicurus, Diogenes, Stoa), over romans (mainly Cicero), the big Germans (Kant, Schopenhauer), some others (Kierkegaard, and a lot that I forgot). Plus I added some religious and spiritual leaders, because very often there were (and are) intelligent and progressive people among them too.
All of this writers were people who thought way beyond their own ego, who ventured out to picture the big lines.

Plus I also added to my reading the big negative examples in history, to understand the dark side as well: Caesar, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Napoleon.
Being sinister people who in contrast were only interested in themself, their own power and their own ego.

The learing benefit of spending these 5 years or so of reading was nothing less than massive. It definitely changed my life and my view on the world (much to the better!) and it is a treasure that will delight me until the very end.

Why do I write all of this?

Because one fact really struck me as amazing, and it is a good starting point if you do not have the time now for five years of reading:

Through the history, throughout the centuries and over all cultures, be it west or east, philosophers and religious leaders stress the importance of ethical living if you truly want to become a happy and fulfilled person!

Recommending an ethical living is the most common denominator from ancient Greeks over buddhism, from Emanuel Kant to Dalai Lama.

There are only very few exceptions, but if you continue to explore the biographies of those, you quickly see that while intellectually fascinating, you do not want to follow their path (e.g. Nietzsche was one, but he became mad and died alone and in bitterness).

Thus I safely can follow this large minds and recommend ethical living, too.

We all are no mother Theresa, thus we will not always succeed, but I can say that from the day of this insight on, I tried to follow that path, much to my satisfaction so far.

Here is my observation on trying to do so:

1. The benefit of being good

Aristoteles formed a comprehensive theory on happiness and "virtue".

Aristoteles formed a comprehensive theory on happiness and “virtue”.

(a)  My observation is that people who only look for their own benefit, typically expect others to do so as well, thus they seem more often to distrust others.
They seem to lose faith that the world overall is a good place and that humans overall are good. Just because they themself do not care too much about being good, and you always project your own view of the world outward. So you look for the bad in people and will focus on it.

(b) The other way round if you try to be positive.
Trying to life ethical opens your eyes to the many positive and gentle things out there in day-to-day life. Your basic primary belief in others will be that they have good intentions, and very often you will find that, focus on that and be rewarded by your belief.

(c) Helping others without expecting something in return gives a deep satisfaction.
In the end it is not entirely selfless to help, because you feel needed, integrated etc. Good things and no one says you shall not benefit by helping others.

(d) You start to ask others for help, too. And you will see that people love to help.
Actually people deep inside want to have a positive and selfless impact on others. There is a deep-wired social component in all of us to let others around you benefit from your skills. The “market” unfortunately tries to press much of this into economic patterns. But just look at the internet: So many blogs out there, so many great content, all for free! Some of my best reading, some of the best pictures, recipes, travel tips, and many of my best investment decisions: All coming from blogs where nice people put them out there for use! Thank you, dear world!
Why do they do this? Ultimately the same reason than myself: People WANT to give something to the world. For free. Outside of a market and without pay.

(e) Ultimately, people behave reciprocal.
At least subconsciously, people will notice who wants them good and who wants them bad. And they will remember, even over long stretches of time. If you meet again in the future, they will treat you accordingly.

(f) If you behave ethical, you have more luck in life.
Lets be a bit pathetic: You can say the universe is thankful. And if you want to explain that more sober, look at point (e): There is serious theories out there that say that “good” people accumulate positive attitude towards them over time. After decades, so many people around them remember that they behaved positively, that the occasions where this people get something positive back “out of nothing” get more and more numerous. Plus again, behaving positively will automatically make you focus more on the good things happening to you, and just accepting them without doubt.

(g) Other way round with the un-ethical person.
They accumulate negative feelings against them. And beware when the lose their power over others (e.g. the nasty but powerful boss: Once he quits job, he will be surprisingly alone and become bitter despite all money and fame in the past).

(h) You will get into contact with good people very easily and all around the world.
People have an amazingly good sense if a foreigner is truly friendly to them or a potential threat. They will recognize you as an ethical person, you will recognize them and you will have a good time. And you will save money if you trust. (e.g. the laptop I am writing on this moment: It was bought via telephone from a Turkish guy living 500km away from Munich. After a chat on the phone we both decided to trust each other, I transferred 500 EUR to this total stranger and two days later this wonderful and very cheaply sold computer was here. Saved me 150 EUR compared to offers close-by…)

(i) To some extend, there emerge two worlds.
As ethical people will go out-of-the-way of un-ethical people in the long run (see below), and thus the latter are forced to deal among themselves to some degree, both groups somehow get what they expect: The non-ethicals will be surrounded by other non-ethicals (confirming their pessimistic view on the world) and the ethical people will have large networks of other ethical people around them. Both groups, to some degree, being separated from each other, at least in private life.

(j) Philosophers claim, that behaving good, apart from all fact above, is absolutely necessary to unfold your true human nature, to fulfill all of your potential.
Simply because the human nature is to help and to support others, and if you act against it, you life an unnatural life, a life that can never succeed.
I absolutely agree to this one, too. Seems to fit all observations I make.

2. What is the disadvantage of behaving “good” and ethical

I can tell you, because there are a few:

Immanuel Kant, who formulated what acutal "good" and "ethical" behaviour means.

Immanuel Kant, who formulated what actual “good” and “ethical” behaviour means.

(a) You will be called “Gutmensch” (german negative word for people trying to do good. Is it “do-gooder” in English?) from time to time.
You will be called “dreamer”, “naive”, and so on.
Just ignore that. It is mostly people who are bitter or envy you for you being able to have a positive view on the world. These people somehow feel that their approach to the world is incorrect, but to safeguard their mental system they try to argue that behaving good is actually bad. This effect was already described by Aristoteles 2500 years ago.
Don’t get in a defensive position about that. If the other person continues to insult you that way, just go out of their ways. One human contact more he/she lost. Too bad.
But in my opinion, your humanistic attitude does not require you to take all the hits. In the end, most of us are still small humans down here and neither Siddharta or Jesus nor Mother Theresa.

(b) You will get exploited from time to time.
This is the most imminent danger. As you will always go out open and expecting the good, some “bad” players can more easily exploit you than if you go out sceptic and cautious.
This will happen in private life (but not that often to my observation), and in job-life: more often, as unfortunately often the powerful people came to their position not by competence, but by playing ambiguous political games. And you will never be good in political games, because political games by nature require dishonesty and opportunism or at least concealing information. All of this is not your métier as an ethical person and should not be strived for.

(c) You can shield yourself to some extend by playing tit-for-tat
This comes from game theory and says that you always start out positive or “good”. But if the other persons responds with “bad”, you react with “bad” as well. In the end, ethical yes or no, you do not want to be exploited all the time. But that’s no fun game, so on the long run you better break off the contact if possible: Find new friends, other business partners or a new job.

(d) Economically you will do a bit worse
In the end, there is no talking around it: On the economic side, you pay a certain price for behaving “good”. It is no secret that you will miss out some career move, a bit of higher salary, some dirty earnings here and some evaded tax there, compared to the ruthless self-maximizer.
This loss is partly mitigated by the reciprocity that will also bring you additional job opportunities or small favours from others.

But all in all there is a certain economic cost, so you have to make a decision.

3. Conclusion

If you are uncertain yet, please go back up in this post, and really think what is important in life: One career step more? A few thousand bucks more on your account?
Or the priceless feeling of living in a great world surrounded by friendly people?
You can also look at old people. See who is happy and who not. Think about how all of this persons might have behaved in their past life and what is the respective result. You will see the pattern.

Or read one of my favorite books:
The life of Dorian Gray (who, by some magic, is able to transfer all the negative results of his bad behaviour to a picture of him).

I hope I was able to convince you to join the “club of the naive, dreaming, ethical living people” (Woodpecker trademark, haha) !

If yes: Welcome! Let’s have a good time!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Downshifters! Avoid to get a Rich but Boringly Selfish Person!

Ammersee 096_bearbeitet-1

Sunset over lake Ammersee, near Munich, while having a beer with a friend.

The “Rich Guys Trap”

Collecting money, securing your material well-being and planning Financial Independence are important building blocks for any downshifter around. Financial Freedom is a great asset to have.

But we must not forget that the ultimate goal is not downshifting or FI per se, but leading a happy and fulfilled life and develop ourselves to the fullest extend possible.

In other words:
Climb up Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs up to the top and it is very likely that you can truly say yes, when asked if you are a happy person and have a fulfilled life – no matter if you are FI or have a job, are young or old, have a huge villa or a small flat, have kids or not.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

And as we have learned, in Maslows pyramid only the first two steps are dealing with “material” needs.

The three advanced steps are about your mental/spiritual/psychological (call it whatever you like) development.

I think this is important to remember:

All the financial thinking, all your investments, all the blogs about frugal living, or financial independence can only help you to climb two out of five steps. These two are of course very important, as they set the base for the following steps. Also, downshifting and a maximum of independence and freedom are in most cases very helpful to have sufficient time and “muse” available for working on the subsequent steps.

But the true story and the real greatness of being a human being starts only beyond materialism!
It is the upper three steps where we distinguish ourselves from an animal!

Thus if you get stuck in the financial thinking, in the accumulation race, in pushing your financial independence further and further beyond real need, then you creat you own new rat-race, and in fact you more are not much more than an intelligent animal. In that case all your striving becomes simple boring greed, camouflaged as “I want to be independent”.

I think it is important to ponder on this, as the danger to end up in this greed trap seems very real to me when I look around.

After years and years thinking about material things (during climbing the lower steps), it is not easy to recognize once you actually got where you wanted to get, and to subsequently let go and turn to other goals. Instead, most people who get wealthy get gridlocked in fear of loosing their wealth, many lose sight of the needs of others, many simply got so used to judge everything in monetary terms that they lost the ability to see things in the world otherwise than in economic terms. This is why there is a strong measurable correlation between richness and selfish behaviour (Article here).

Some however escaped that trap.
So there are encouraging positive examples out there. But honestly, they are rare. Sad, but not surprising, as the highest parts of Maslows pyramid are certainly thinly populated, and climbing them needs character, humbleness, inner strength and social values – money is by no means sufficient, or even more: The abilities needed to climb the top are very different from those needed to make money (we come to that later).

But if you look, you can identify the positive examples easily:
They will not talk about themselves or about their needs anymore (because they realize their own needs are fulfilled anyway), but they talk about the needs of others and how they can contribute to make the world a better place.
E.g. Bill Gates would come to my mind. Not the so much praised Steve Jobs, who seemed to circulate around himself only in my perception. But I am no expert in studying wealthy guys’ biographies, because in my view you cannot learn much from them. You are neither Bill Gated nor Steve Jobs, and you should not pretend to be them. You are simply yourself.

So what are the ingredients you need to hover yourself beyond the material steps?

I think this can easily be answered, as since the dawn of men the most intelligent people of the human race pondered this question and, driven by their inner need to help the human success story, they luckily shared a lot, spoke about it, wrote it down.

Thus you can go through the great works of philosophy and religion worldwide, and you will find a striking set of common values. As they repeat themselves so often I tend to declare them as:

The Critical Values of a Good Life.

In this post I will start by looking at one of those:

1) Compassion and Giving

What is compassion? Why should you give in this cruel, though and competitive world?

I read something very clever about this that I’d like to share:

“You should always act in a way that is not led by enforcing your rights, but so that our all common life on this planet is made as pleasant as possible”.

You see the different focus?

In contrast to economic thinking, the focus is not on maximizing your own wellbeing (e.g. by enforcing your rights) but on maximizing the common wellbeing. A very noble thing, as everybody will benefit: The others obviously as you give in, and yourself because this will lift you in a way that is actually difficult to understand for a more science and rational driven  person like Woodpecker 🙂 . But you know what I am speaking about, and if not, try out.

What is the downside of this?

There is a chance that you get exploited from time to time by other, more selfish, persons.

Persons that mis-use your “softness(as this behaviour is called among economic thinking people) against you. In fact, this happens from time to time. Interestingly that happens less often over time, because no-one said you have to let others exploit you permanently. So what you do when you recognize somebody is playing the selfish game, is reducing contact. And you increase contact to other non-selfish persons.
And there are plenty of non-selfish persons around! (If you don’t see any, you should check if you shied them away by playing selfish too often yourself!)

That way, something magical will happen:

The circle of non-selfish and helpful people around you will grow (you will attract them and be attracted yourself), and your life will get richer, deeper, more and more harmonic and with fewer and fewer fights. You draw increasingly self-esteem from this selfless interactions, and you will get more and more immune against the “hit” to your self-esteem when you are “losing” in a “battle” (thats what they think life is) with selfish persons.
This is what I call the social dividend and your social capital. You invest time and gentleness into others and you will get back manifold in the long run.

What if I cannot avoid the selfish guys?

Good point, as sometimes it is not possible to go out of their way. E.g. in the job you cannot always choose whom to work with. (sidenote: This seems to be the true reason of many looking for FI. To simply get rid of a job they hate)

For that annoying cases, I’d come back to economics at last, in that case game-theory:
Play “tit-for-tat”.
Always start the nice way, but if the other person does responds in a selfish/negative way, then you will switch to selfish behaviour too, to avoid getting exploited permanently. However, you should be always open to forgive and switch back to cooperation if you see the other person came to his/her senses. But don’t be too naive either. If somebody mistreated you two or three times, it is unlikely that he/she will ever become a true friend.

Anyway, let’s be frank:

To some extend, your more “soft” attitude will be exploited from time to time.

This is the price you pay.

But after thinking a bit about it, I came to the conclusion that a bit of getting exploited is still much better than becoming a hard and selfish person, mistrusting every move of others.

The rewards you gain by building up an environment of caring and helpful people around you, plus your own personal growth is much greater than what you lose by sometimes being pulled over the table. Especially if you learn not to take this personal.

Any thoughts from your side? Let us know!

Cheers,

Woodpecker