5 Scientific Ways to Trick Yourself into Being a Good Person

#2. Getting Something You Don't Deserve Makes You Want to Help Others


One of the most despicable beings in every workplace is the freeloader -- the guy who lucked his way to the top while others were using a slightly different strategy called "actually working." The Homer Simpson to everyone else's Frank Grimes, if you will. Which one of those two types of worker do you think would be more likely to take others under their wing and help them advance in their careers? The hard worker, right? Well, science says you couldn't be more wrong.

"Sure, I'll help you get ahead. Step one is to watch out for the foreman while I take a nap."

In one study, participants had to take a quiz and were told that the ones who got good scores would receive money. However, some of the participants who got low scores were given money, too, even though it was clear to everyone that they didn't deserve it.

"And the top prize goes to Gary, a dead possum we found on the street."

After they received their money, deserved or undeserved, the participants were asked to give advice to someone. Then, in another experiment, researchers pretended that they had dropped some erasers as they were leaving the room to see if the participants would pick them up or look away and whistle. So what happened? Those who received money they didn't deserve were more likely, in both cases, to be excellent to one another -- they gave time-consuming advice to someone else and picked up the erasers.

Meanwhile, the ones who actually worked for the money they got were most likely to do squat.

"Bitch, I got a good score on a math quiz. My debt to society is paid."

This is all about how humans deal with being envied. According to researcher Niels van de Ven, who organized this experiment, there are two types of envy: benign and malicious. Benign envy is when everyone knows you deserve what you have but they envy you anyway, whereas malicious envy is reserved for those who don't deserve what they have and, honestly, have it coming.

That second guy might look like a jerk to the world, but according to van de Ven, the fear of being envied actually drives him to be helpful to other people. That fear isn't present in those who deserve what they have, so they feel they can get away with being bigger total assholes.

"I have three Ph.D.s. I spend my weekends spitting into open caskets."

#1. Counting Your Blessings ... Is Actually a Bad Idea


"Count your blessings." Our whole lives we're told that -- to be grateful for what we're given. After all, when you truly appreciate all of the gifts you've been given in life, you'll see how important it is to give back. But science, in its never-ending quest to turn everything you know into a lie, has set out to prove this one wrong, too.

"Next, we'll show mathematically that your mother doesn't love you."

This time, the study was performed on two fundraising groups. Members of both groups had to call people by phone and ask them to donate; they were told they'd all be paid by the hour, so the guy who made 200 calls was paid the same as the guy who made one and spent the rest of the day making booger sculptures. Then, one group was asked to write journal entries reminiscing about times when they were given something -- the "count your blessings" group. The other group wrote about times when they had given to others -- the "Look how awesome I am!" group.

After two weeks of that, it turned out that the group that wrote about giving gifts made 29 percent more phone calls than they used to, while the "count your blessings" group remained unchanged. So while counting their blessings may or may not have made them happier or given them more inner peace, it sure as hell didn't motivate them to help people more. The ones who celebrated their own prior generosity are the ones who stepped up.

"No need to thank me. I know how great I am."

In a second study, college students had to list three ways they had been given help or three ways they had helped others. When the students came back to pick up their $5 payment for the experiment, they were asked if they wanted to donate part of it for earthquake relief in Japan -- again, those who had to list their own good deeds were twice as likely to donate as the people in the other group. Bear in mind that we're talking about college students here, a group for whom $5 actually means something.

The researchers theorize that when we think about times when someone helped us, we might feel like we owe something to that specific person, and that gratitude fails to extend to everyone else. What's more, some might feel more indebted and dependent, so they become less inclined to help others. On the other hand, if you think about all the good you've done for others, you want to do more, because it felt good. So pat yourself on the back and think about how awesome you've been, champ. Success breeds success.

XJ is a freelance writer who talks about writing on his blog, and if you follow him on Twitter, he'll try to say something witty in your honor.

For more on what science has to say on our behavior, check out 6 Reasons Assholes Are Healthier (According to Science) and 5 Reasons Women Are as Shallow as Men (According to Science).

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Musicians Who Took Insane Risks to Play Awesome Gigs.

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