Some people think that the way to get ahead in life is to be a pushy jerk, and those people are wrong. What you should be is nice. Yup, that’s all it takes. Don’t be like that stereotypical Gordon Gecko wannabe, instead just be.
There is now more research that being a nice person can make your life happier and even more productive.
Notwithstanding the prominent examples today in political and popular culture, the best available research still clearly shows that in everyday life the nice people, not the creeps, do the best at work, in love and in happiness.
Let’s start with the job market. This has been another brutal year in which to graduate. Research from the Economic Policy Institute finds that young college graduates’ underemployment rate is nearly a third higher today than it was in 2007. Everyone is looking for an edge.
That edge is being pleasant and friendly. In one 2015 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, a team of scholars from France and the U.S. looked at the impact of civility and warmth to colleagues on perceived leadership and job performance. In addition to being seen as natural leaders by co-workers, nice employees performed significantly better than others in performance reviews by senior supervisors. For those who make it to leadership, niceness is also a key to success. A 2015 NBC poll found that most people would take a nicer boss over a 10% pay increase.
That’s right – people are good! You might think that the world is a dangerous place or what have you, but, when you get down to it people just hate violence. Indeed, we as a species are measurably opposed and troubled by violence against other people.
The implications of this seemingly obvious result are really interesting. The idea of physically harming someone right in front of you is considered to be the most potent moral circumstance. Sarah McLaughlin talking about dog adoption behind sappy music might make you change the channel, but kicking a stray dog in the face will seriously mess with your conscience. How about a better example. Take the following moral dilemma:
A runaway trolley is about to run over and kill five people, but a bystander who is standing on a footbridge can shove a man in front of the train, saving the five people but killing the man. Is it permissible to shove the man?
Across cultures, genders, ages, and races, the result is essentially the same and has been replicated countless times: over 90% of respondents consider this act impermissible. People just don’t want to have to do the pushing themselves. When a “lever” is added to the problem, and the person questioned can now drop the bystander onto the tracks without physically touching him, the result is flipped and 95% of people find it permissible.
For some reason there are stereotypes out there that imply that if you’re not part of the middle class then you are a jerk. Well, it looks like that maybe half true. New research has come out that started with the question why statistically do poorer people give a higher portion of their income to charity compared to the rich has now concluded with the idea that rich people are not as empathetic as the poor.
It would be nice if people who were better off gave more of their income to charities and to other worthy causes. I hope this inspires all of you to give.
Michael W Kraus, of the University of California, San Francisco, is one of a number of social psychologists who have recently been busy demonstrating that lower socioeconomic status (SES) is intricately linked to all sorts of prosocial behaviours. Everything else equal, the less wealth, education and employment status we have, the more charitable, generous, trusting and helpful we appear to become. In interactions with strangers, poorer people are more likely to use polite, attentive, respectful gestures. Most recently, in a paper just published in the prestigious journal Psychological Science, Kraus et al report that lower SES subjects show significantly greater empathy than their richer, better educated counterparts. He argues that this tendency to empathise may at least partly explain the other observations of prosocial behaviour.