3 personality traits genuinely good people have, according to psychologists

Have you ever pondered over what truly defines a ‘good’ person? 

If you are reading this, I’m sure you have. 

And as you might have guessed, there is no one-size-fits-all answer here. This elusive concept has captivated philosophers and great thinkers for centuries. What constitutes ‘goodness’ is undoubtedly complex and layered, varying across cultures, contexts, and personal beliefs. 

However, if anyone is qualified to tackle the issue, it’s the group of professionals who delve deep into the human psyche, gaining insights about our behaviors and intrinsic qualities – psychologists.

Today, we dive into three key traits they say make a person ‘good.’How many of these do you see in yourself?

Let’s find out. 

1) They have a growth mindset

Award-winning psychologist Dolly Chugh wrote as follows: 

“We redefine what it means to be a good person as someone who is trying to be better, as opposed to someone who is allowing themselves to believe in the illusion that they are always a good person.”

Pay attention to “someone who is trying to be better.” This contradicts how many of us would define a good person. That is, it’s not a destination but an evolving journey. 

Chugh expanded on this concept in a conversation with Max Bazerman, a Harvard Professor, during which she explained that being virtuous is an unachievable task because of how narrowly we define a ‘good person’ and that being set on such a rigid ideal can even cause us to overlook our own weaknesses. 

She instead encourages those of us who strive to be good to embody a growth mindset, as popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck. Essentially, this means believing that we can get better through hard work and good strategies. It means acknowledging and working on our shortcomings. It means understanding that mistakes are invaluable learning opportunities. 

So ask yourself: are you “trying to be better”?

If you can say “yes,” you might already be a better person than you think

2) They are empathetic

If you are a regular reader here at Ideapod, you will know that we often write about empathy. It’s such an important trait. But did you know that researchers in the psychology field have also identified it as a trait of ‘good’ people?

I didn’t. At least not until I dived into research for this post. 

Anyway, why is empathy central to being good? 

Well, researchers have come up with at least three reasons this is the case.

Firstly, when we empathize, we often feel a sense of concern for those who are suffering. This isn’t just a mere acknowledgment of their pain; it’s an emotional response that results in a desire to help. I think most of us would agree it’s what a “good” person would feel. 

Secondly, this concern usually translates into actions aimed at helping. It could be as simple as offering a listening ear or as involved as going out of our way to provide support. Empathy compels us to assist those in need. 

Consider a friend going through a rough patch; our empathic understanding might lead us to spend time with them, offer comfort, or even help them with practical tasks like cooking a meal or running errands.

Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, they noted that empathy acts as a deterrent to harmful actions. That is when we truly empathize with others, it becomes harder to act in ways that could hurt them. Empathy inhibits aggressive behaviors, fostering more compassionate and harmonious interactions. 

Have you ever been in a situation where understanding someone else’s struggles stopped you from snapping at them over minor issues? Or have you refrained from making hurtful comments after seeing their impact on someone? These moments showcase how empathy can make us better

So basically empathy is an emotional bridge that connects us to the feelings and experiences of others. It’s an emotional muscle that, when flexed, leads to acts that most of us would consider ‘good.’ 

This next one is controversial but perhaps the most thought-provoking. 

pic2027 3 personality traits genuinely good people have, according to psychologists

3) They are capable of being cruel (but choose not to be)

This notion has quite infamously been put forward by Jordan Peterson in a number of interviews as well as lectures. He refers to it, somewhat dramatically, as “becoming a monster.” 

Basically, he argues that being harmless and being “virtuous” is not the same thing. His perspective suggests that true virtue and goodness stem from the ability to cause harm but choosing not to. 

Whether you are a fan of Peterson or not, it begs a key question: Might possessing the capacity for ‘bad’ or harmful actions, yet consciously and ethically choosing not to act on these impulses, be a true show of goodness

Furthermore, it raises an even more compelling thought: might having the potential for harm actually be necessary to foster good? I know some will disagree with this line of thought, but stay with me. I’m not advocating harm; quite the opposite, in fact. 

Consider the scenario of bullying in a school setting, a situation many of us can relate to. Often, the targets of bullies are those perceived as harmless or unable to defend themselves. 

However, we all know the dynamic changes when someone who is capable of standing up to the bully steps in. This person might have the physical or social power to inflict harm or intimidation but chooses instead to use their strength to protect and defend. This intervention is not born from weakness but from a conscious decision to use power responsibly and ethically.

Let’s take another example. In many countries, police officers carry weapons, a symbol of potential harm. However, their duty is not to cause harm but to protect and serve. They possess the means to be forceful and even violent but are trained to use this power judiciously and ethically.

Now, imagine a society where police are unarmed. Would good still prevail? 

While it would be nice to think so, I think most of us would agree that the presence of armed police can be a deterrent to violence and crime. It’s not the use of weapons that defines their goodness, but their ability to use their power responsibly to protect rather than harm. 

It could be said that these controlled uses of strength are examples of Peterson’s idea of virtue – having the capacity for harm but choosing to uphold justice and protection.

Ask yourself: Does true goodness stem from naivety and harmlessness, or is it the result of being capable of harm and choosing to act with kindness and empathy? What does it say about our personal growth and moral compass when we acknowledge our potential for both good and harm yet consciously strive to contribute positively to the world around us?

I don’t know the answers, and I am certainly not here to preach. I’ll leave you to come to your own conclusions on this one. 

The bottom line 

So there you have it – a few psychological perspectives on what makes a person ‘good.’ 

This post was not intended as a definitive guide to being good or bad, and I hope it doesn’t come across as such. Instead, I hope you see it as an invitation to ponder and reflect. 

Until next time. 




Mal James

Mal James

Mal James Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business. As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys. In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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