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#67: The Most Important Things in Life

#67: The Most Important Things in Life

Welcome to Mindf*ck Monthly, a newsletter that doesn’t suck. If you’re not already getting these in your inbox each month, well what the fuck?! Sign up below now.

Welcome to another Mindf*ck Monday, the only weekly newsletter that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Each week, I send you three potentially life-changing ideas to help you become a slightly less awful human being.

1. The most important traits to have in life – Every few months, I sit down and spend most of an afternoon answering reader questions on video. I then post these videos on the website for site members. But recently, I’ve been taking one or two of the best questions and answering them publicly in full-length posts on YouTube. 

This past week, I answered the question, “What do you believe are the five most important traits a person can develop in life?” 

My answer is up on YouTube now and you can watch it by clicking here: 

Watch: These Five Traits Will Help You the Most in Life 

If you’d like to see me answer other reader questions, go ahead and subscribe to my YouTube channel where I answer your questions every once in a while. Or, even better, you can become a member of The Subtle Art School and ask me questions live every month, plus get access to 6 brand-new video courses, 3 bonus courses, and a ton of other bonus materials. Learn more here.

2. The difference between “good” and “not bad” – In last week’s newsletter, I discussed research that showed that the majority of the awful stuff in society—e.g., violent crime, medical malpractice, online trolling—comes from a small minority of bad actors. My point in that newsletter was to provide data that reminded people that “most people are good” and to not get so down about the state of the world.

A number of readers replied with small disagreements and clarifications, the most interesting of which was the point that “not being an asshole” is not necessarily the same thing as “being good.” 

In fact, many readers pointed out that while it is true that most people do not do bad things, most people also fail to do good things when given a chance. Therefore, to claim that “most people are good” simply because most people don’t do awful stuff isn’t quite accurate. 

Well, shit… the one time I try to bring a little ray of sunshine to this newsletter and you guys had to go and piss on my parade. 

But allow me to nitpick your nitpicks, dear readers. Because, as usual, it gets complicated. 

First of all, there is a lot of truth to this point. While most people don’t do bad things, many people also often fail to do good things when given the opportunity.

That said, good deeds also suffer from the negativity bias that I discussed. Negative information travels further and sticks in our memories harder. Everyone hears about the guy down the street who got robbed and remembers it long after it happened. Yet, few people hear about the little girl who was able to cure her chronic condition after years of treatment, or the under-privileged boy who just received a life-changing scholarship to college, or the garbage man who saved a kitten from the trash compactor. And even if you do, you quickly forget about it. 

Therefore, I disagree that good rarely happens. I think it’s almost always happening around us. It’s simply that it rarely crosses the threshold of our attention. Think of the millions of nurses around the world right now. Or the teachers who stay late to help struggling kids. Or the bus drivers who stop and wait for someone running to catch the bus.

These things are so common that we hardly even notice them when they happen. In fact, they are expected in so many cases that we forget that they are actually people willingly doing good. 

I also would argue that we overlook good because good is harder to identify. Harm is easy. Destruction is obvious. Yet, good can be debated and disregarded. 

Unlike hurting someone, helping a person is often complicated and difficult. You have to be aware of context. You have to listen to their desires and needs. You also have to be skillful and effective. 

Good requires far more attention and skill than bad, therefore good is often done poorly. We all know tons of people who have tried to do something good for us but failed despite their best intentions. And we’ve all had the experience of attempting to do something good for someone only to have it backfire and blow up in our faces. 

Bad is simple. Good is complicated. Bad grabs and holds attention. Good loses attention. Bad is memorable. Good is forgettable.

3. The best way to do good – It’s for the reasons above that a new philosophy around “doing good” has arisen in the past ten years known as “Effective Altruism.”

The effective altruism movement scientifically measures charitable action and donations. They ask fundamental questions of what charitable causes alleviate the most suffering (or generate the most well-being) for the most people (or animals) as possible. 

They then attempt to measure these outcomes and rank them in terms of cost effectiveness. Basically, they attempt to remove the irrational sloppiness that often occurs when we want to help people and replace it with tested and measured actions that we know help people. 

Given that bad behaviors have natural advantages in terms of social influence, I think consciously attempting to optimize good behavior as much as possible is an important way to counterbalance the disproportionate reach and notoriety that bad behavior has in the world right now. I encourage you to look into the movement and its ideas. 

Until next week, be good.

Mark