In a world that always seems to be about “me first,” it can be hard to see the value of niceness in the business world. It turns out that there may be more to altruism than vague moral brownie points: being nice and helpful can pay off more than being selfish and cutthroat.
Stefan Klein, author of the best-selling book “The Science of Happiness,” recently wrote a new book entitled “Survival of the Nicest: How Altruism Made Us Human and Why It Pays to Get Along.” In it, Klein convincingly argues that folk wisdom such as “nice guys finish last” and “greed is good” are flat-out wrong. In fact, he claims that humans are actually hard-wired to be cooperative and generous.
This bold claims begs the question: “if humans are supposed to be so nice, why are we so mean?” It seems that there are two major reasons. The first is that most of us overestimate the value of money. Many people, especially in our society, perceive money as an end in itself. However, multiple studies that Klein cites show that money is a poor substitute for what people really want: happiness. This is found through relationships and caring for others. Kindness is the means to those ends.
The second reason why humans are mean is simple fear of exploitation. We are worried that the cheaters and bullies will take our things away, so we resolve to be the takers instead. The solution: helping others anyway, in small ways we’re comfortable with doing. Over time, Klein claims, the fear of exploitation fades away, until finally it is replaced with courage.
Klein believes that, over time, altruists will prove to be the stronger, happier humans who will “win out” over selfish people. People who share profit from increased resources, connections, and information. In a world increasingly more connected, those benefits will only get bigger, and the risks of helping will get smaller as costs of communication and information shrink.