So many of us admit—at least to ourselves—that we want to be a better person. In fact, “be a better person” was the most popular New Year’s resolution for the first time ever in 2017 (according to a Marist poll). Interestingly, the number of Google searches for “be a better person” has been steadily increasing since 2004, and typically peaks around the holidays each year.
To help you refine your personal definition of being better, there are a few universal guidelines that can help. Because sometimes it’s helpful to get a clearer grasp of what something is by defining what it’s not, let’s start with what being a better person doesn’t mean.
It is NOT about:
- Being perfect. Or beyond reproach. We humans are inherently a little jacked up. It’s what makes us so darned interesting! There is no escaping from your imperfections, and more importantly, no need. They help make you who you are.
- Being wrong or bad. As the author of the soon-to-be-released book How to Be a Better Person, I have had some people tell me, “Oh, I wouldn’t want to be seen reading this book or give it as a gift—I don’t want anyone to think I’m not a good person, or that they’re not!” I get that, I do. Some people could take it as a slight. But no matter how much better you could theoretically get, there is nothing wrong with you as you already are. You are not a problem, and you don’t need fixing. Wanting to be a better person is merely feeling a pull to turn some potential energy into kinetic energy; to live more fully into who you are capable of being. Everything that’s alive has it built deep into its genetic code to evolve. Your wanting to be better is primal and it is loving (not punishing).
Being a better person IS about:
- Allowing yourself to see where you could use some help. Learning anything new requires you to recognize what you currently don’t know. If you want to learn to ride a bike, you don’t just hop on and ride away, you’ve got to have that moment of seeing how bad you are at balancing at first. It’s humbling, but it’s part of the process; it also helps you really want to be better. And where there’s a want, there’s a way.
- Getting rid of stuff that’s holding you back. Whether it’s old ideas, beliefs, or habits, each of us has some combo of things aren’t serving us. Just like cleaning out your closet is refreshing, weeding out some of the traits that are weighing you down frees up a lot of energy that you can then put toward things that make a positive difference in yourself and/or in the world.
- Opening yourself up to wonderful new things. Maybe some people want to be a better person simply for the sake of being better, but I think at the heart of it is a desire for something more—more connection, acceptance, respect, fulfillment, happiness. You name it. It’s actually quite brave to want something for yourself that perhaps you’ve never experienced before. It’s easy to look at someone else—your kid, or your sister—and want for them to have all their desires met. But when it comes to doing it for ourselves, we can chicken out by telling ourselves it’s selfish. Wanting to be a better person is ultimately about wanting to feel better and have more of something that is deeply important to us.
I’d love to know what being a better person means to you. What thoughts pop in to your head when you think about being better? Leave a comment! It’s one thing to privately resolve to be a better person, but that desire gets way more powerful when we start saying it out loud to people who share that desire (even if the specifics vary).