We’re cheerful optimists (just talk to anyone in our call center) and we’re interested to know how many others see the world that way too. So, we decided to ask a question that has puzzled thinkers and philosophers for centuries: Are humans inherently good and loving, or are we programmed to be bad? This classic Hobbes-versus-Rousseau argument is a tough one to crack when doom and gloom are constantly broadcast on the news while the world experiences its most peaceful time in history.
To get to the bottom of this fascinating dichotomy, we surveyed the opinions of over 1,000 everyday Americans. Do they believe people are fundamentally good? What positive traits do they see in others? Do most people give to charity or keep their time and money to themselves?
Read on to learn the truth behind our perceptions of ourselves and each other – the results may surprise you!
OUR COLLECTIVE GOODNESS
With all the gloom broadcast on the evening news, you’d be forgiven for adopting a slightly pessimistic view of humanity. This type of negative cherry-picking didn’t fool our respondents, though. A whopping 83% said they believe people are fundamentally good – a very rosy outlook given some of the fearmongering and distortion that frequently unfolds on our phone and TV screens.
While men and women had nearly identical opinions on fundamental human decency, female respondents were slightly more optimistic than men. However, when we sliced the data by generation, a much starker difference was revealed.
The percentage of people who felt that people are inherently good was inversely correlated with age. While just 9% of baby boomers had a negative opinion about human decency, that figure skyrocketed to 25% among Gen Zers, the youngest of the bunch. Gen Xers and millennials found themselves right around the average of 83% reporting people to be good as a whole.
If we know news and media content is often very negative, this age disparity might be rooted in exposure to news-related content: While every age group’s social media use has gone up in the past 10 years, younger people are consistently more plugged in than older demographics. Social networks are a key source of news, so if Gen Zers and millennials are on these sites more often, they might end up adopting more jaded views over time. To top it off, optimism actually increases with age – another good reason to look forward to the future.
SELFLESSNESS IN ACTION
According to our respondents, everyone has a responsibility to help others by volunteering their time and effort (80%) and financial support (72%). The good news is there’s essentially no limit to the number of ways in which we can offer up our time and resourcesto make the world a better place.
It’s easy to say that everyone should do these things, but you also need to practice what you preach – and our respondents most certainly did. More than 80% said they had donated to charity at some point, and another 56% had given their time. Seventy-one percent volunteered their time to people in need, and 78% had donated money. Just 2% hadn’t engaged in the forms of charitable giving that we asked about.
In all of these categories, a higher percentage of women than men gave their time and resources. It was also common for baby boomers to give the most out of all generations, although they are likely to have more time and money on their hands if they’ve worked for decades or are retired.
If you’re having trouble self-motivating, don’t forget that volunteering has benefits to offer you as well. Giving your time to a worthy cause is strongly associated with a positive ripple effect on your life, including improvements in mental health and increased overall health.
THE GOOD AROUND US
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably heard someone say that you can’t love someone else without loving yourself first. Based on how our respondents evaluated positive traits in themselves and others, that hypothesis may actually hold water.
Without exception, the percentage of people who said they possessed a given positive quality was higher than the percentage of people who saw that same quality in others. For example, 53% saw compassion in other people, while 68% saw it in themselves. Save for resourcefulness and forgiveness, more than half of our respondents said they possessed each of the positive traits in our survey.
If misery loves company, this data also proves the inverse: Happiness loves company (and it’s contagious). Those who attributed a higher number of positive traits to other people were much more likely to be satisfied with their life (83%) compared to people who weren’t as generous with attributes (65%). They were also more likely to bring home bigger paychecks.
Is there anything more terrifying than experiencing a medical emergency in the middle of a restaurant? Or a shopping mall? Or on the main street? In the event of a worst-case scenario, 87% of our respondents said they were confident a stranger would come to their aid. Have no fear – you are never alone.
Among those who had seen this type of event unfold, 59% said they noticed multiple people intervening. Another 53% said they had helped the individual having the medical emergency. Just 1% of people said they bore witness to a medical event during which absolutely no one offered to lend a hand.
If you do witness a medical issue unfold in public, you can take certain steps to avoid falling victim to the bystander effect: Stay calm, call your local emergency number (or designate a person in the surrounding crowd), start CPR if applicable, and place the injured person on their side in the recovery position if a neck injury has not been observed.
WORKPLACE = HAPPY PLACE
When co-workers get along, office life is simply better. Happy employees are linked to increased collaboration and improved morale and, on the business side of things, higher retention rates and enhanced productivity. On this particular front, our respondents live their best lives.
An impressive 93% reported having good personal relationships with their colleagues and believed they were fundamentally good at heart. The same percentage said they could see their boss as a whole person, not just an authority figure, and 91% believed their boss had good intentions. If you’re on your way to having a solid relationship with your superiors but not quite there yet, here are a few pointers on how to cement yourself as a standout employee.
It’s a bit of a “chicken or the egg” scenario, but one thing is for sure: People with sunnier beliefs about human nature were better off in their career. More than 70% of respondents who believed that people are inherently good said they were satisfied with their job, compared to 50% of less-optimistic folks. Additionally, 63% of optimists had received a raise in the past year, compared to 52% of people who weren’t convinced that human nature is fundamentally good.
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
We share our world with more than 7 billion other human beings, and whether you live in an urban or rural area, interacting with others is most likely a daily occurrence. It’s no wonder, then, that respondents who believed people are fundamentally good reported much higher life satisfaction rates overall – 83% versus 64%.
This rule also held true when the data was sliced by different aspects of life: People with a positive outlook on human nature were significantly more satisfied with their family and romantic lives and slightly more satisfied with their finances.
They also associated much more strongly with positive statements about self-actualization and life in general, such as “I am proud of who I am” and “I am optimistic about my future.” Respondents who believed human nature is inherently bad were less likely to agree with these types of statements.
Not feeling those statements either? Affirmations could change that. MRI evidence has shown that repeating positive mantras every day can increase certain neural pathways: According to the study, “the ventromedial prefrontal cortex – involved in positive valuation and self-related information processing – becomes more active when we consider our personal values.”
So the next time you find yourself in front of a mirror, kick-start a great habit and whip out some positive affirmations!
OPEN YOUR EYES TO THE GOODNESS AROUND YOU
The jury is in: On the whole, most people believe humans are fundamentally good. From forging positive relationships with their co-workers to observing strangers jumping into action during a medical emergency, respondents seemed fairly convinced that human nature isn’t so bad after all. Our survey also revealed that a sunnier outlook is linked to increased overall life satisfaction – a great reason to adopt a more optimistic point of view!
A sunny worldview influences how 1-800 Contacts sees the world and both our associates and our customers. We’ve always believed that if you treat your associates well, they will treat your customers well. The ripple effect of a big-hearted approach is that we always assume best intentions and we’re proud those happy employees and happy customers stick around with us and let us take care of their vision. We’d love to help you out, too—from our online vision exam to quick delivery to the friendliest customer care team you’ll ever meet—we got you. And we promise we do it with a smile.
METHODOLOGY AND LIMITATIONS
We surveyed 1,012 people using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform. To ensure that all respondents took our survey seriously, each respondent was required to identify and pass an attention-check question. Our average respondent was 38 years old. 562 of our respondents were female, 447 were male, and three did not identify as either gender.
These data are intended for entertainment purposes only, and strict statistical testing has not been performed. In some cases, questions and responses have been rephrased for clarity or brevity. These data rely on self-reporting, and issues with self-reported data may include but are not limited to the following: exaggeration, telescoping, selective memory, and attribution errors.
Fair use statement
We believe in the goodness of others, so please don’t let us down! We encourage you to share this article with friends, family, and colleagues for noncommercial purposes – all we ask is that you link back to the original source so everyone can get the full story.