Internet Mental Health


Agreeableness: Acting together for a common benefit

How Would You Rate Your Cooperation?

Little is accomplished alone. To achieve complex goals, we must cooperate with others. Take a look at human evolution. Other animals are stronger, faster, and fight better than a single human. Yet our species survived because humans evolved brains that allowed them to communicate and cooperate to work together. Thus our survival depended on our cooperation, not on our individual abilities. For 99% of human evolution, our ancestors lived in small tribes. In these tribes, they were constantly surrounded by family and friends - by the people they loved. The lives of most of our ancestors were brutal and short. It was only with the help of family and friends that our ancestors survived.

Questions To Ask Yourself

  • Are you a kind, considerate, loving person?

      Cooperation and Generosity:
  • Do you unselfishly help others?
  • Do you do spontaneous acts of kindness?

  • Are you humble (not arrogant, boastful, or excessively proud)?

  • Do you count your blessings?
  • Do you thank and praise others?

  • Do you not bear grudges or seek revenge?

  • Do you trust the loyalty and good intentions of your family and friends?

  • Unselfishly help others
  • Do spontaneous acts of kindness
  • Be humble
  • Be trusting of most of the people you meet
  • Be grateful (count your blessings, praise and thank others)
  • Be forgiving (do not bear grudges or seek revenge)
  • Be friendly, warm and loving
  • Spend time with supportive and loving friends or family
  • Be active and productive
  • Look for points of agreement before stating any disagreement
  • Contribute to your community

Historical Perspective

    Every society produces facilitators - individuals whose role is to increase group cooperation. These individuals may not be the formal leader of the group, but they facilitate coordinating the work of a group.

    An early facilitator was the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius (551-479 BCE). Historically, Confucius was the first to define the "Golden Rule": "What you do not want done to you, do not do to others." Successful group cooperation is based on this Golden Rule.

    Humans are a social species; hence our survival is dependent upon our ability to cooperate. All the world's major religions teach that the rules for cooperation are:

    • Treat others the way you want them to treat you

    • Believe in social equality and brotherhood

    • Be kind, generous, and forgiving

    Historically, until the 20th Century, most people lived in small farming communities. Their lives were materially poor, but were socially and emotionally rich because of their close social supports. In contrast, our modern lives are materially rich, but are socially and emotionally poor because we no longer are surrounded by loving family and friends.


    Research by the psychologists John and Julie Gottman has shown that the key to having a happy, long-lasting marriage is to show kindness. They found that in long-lasting happy marriages, the partners frequently show gratitude by expressing appreciation and thanks. Whereas in short-lasting unhappy marriages, the partners frequently express contempt, criticism, and hostility.

    In happy long-lasting marriages, couples are focused on what their partner is doing right. In unhappy short-lasting marriages, couples are focused on what their partner is doing wrong.

    Kindness glues couples together. Research has shown that kindness and emotional stability are the most important predictors of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and loved.

    What was surprising is that the Gottman's research found that there was a physiological basis to kindness. They found that people with unhappy short-lasting marriages may look calm during interviews, but they had abnormally elevated heart rates, sweating, and blood flow. The more physiologically abnormal the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.

    People with dysfunctional marriages showed physiological signs of arousal (of being in fight-or-flight mode) in their relationships. Interaction with their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing a bear in the forest.

    Even when they were talking with their partner about pleasant or mundane things, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other.

    Thus kindness was characteristic of happy, long-lasting marriages. Whereas criticism and hostility, and constantly being in a physiological fight-or-flight mode, was characteristic of unhappy, short-lasting marriages.

Constructive Disagreements

    Disagreements are unavoidable; however there are rules for constructive disagreements:

    • Don't be mean:
      You don't get anywhere by being mean in a disagreement. Name-calling and hurtful statements made in an argument are disastrous. They cause the other person to get angry and close their mind to your viewpoint. Worse still, it can poison your relationship.

    • Automatic agreement or disagreement doesn't help:
      Needless arguments start when you automatically look for points of disagreement rather than agreement. So instead of always looking to disagree; look for points of agreement. Once you have discussed these points of agreement; you can gently advance your points of disagreement.

    • Always think before speaking:
      If you are angry, count to 10 before speaking. Once hurtful things are said in anger, they are impossible to retrieve.

    • Summarize points of agreement before voicing disagreement:
      You want to reach an agreement, not defeat the other person. You want the best for both parties, and you get that by listening, understanding the other person's viewpoint, and working together to solve the problem.

What Do You Remember?

    Two Questions:

    • Can you remember one entire sentence that this person said?

    • Can you remember what this person did?

Words vs. Deeds

    When you think of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong; few of us can remember one sentence that these important historical figures ever said. But all of us remember their deeds.

    Notice that our deeds are more important than our words. People will quickly forget what we say, but they will remember how we treat them.

    Our memory is hard-wired to remember emotions, and has difficulty remembering words. From an evolutionary viewpoint, this makes sense. Our ancestors were speechless primates for millions of years before they evolved language. So it makes sense that our language memory wouldn't be as evolved as our emotional memory.

    So if you want to be remembered: treat others with kindness, because all they will remember is how you made them feel.


    Closely related to kindness is compassion. Compassion is more than love and respect for others. Compassion is sensitivity to the suffering of others, and a desire to alleviate it.

    Across all cultures, a good person is believed to be someone who is kind, generous, and compassionate. Likewise, a bad person is believed to be someone who is cruel, greedy, and indifferent to the suffering of others.

    The main character defects of all of history's dictators has been their arrogance, selfishness, and total lack of compassion.

The Golden Rule

    Treat everyone with respect and kindness. This is the basis of the Golden Rule ("treat others the way you want to be treated"). The Golden Rule is the fundamental ethical truth taught by all major religions:

    • The Chinese philosopher, Confucius (6th century BCE), said: "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."

    • The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (4th century BCE), said: "We should behave to our friends as we wish our friends to behave to us."

    • In 150 BCE, the Hindu holy books, the Mahabharata, said: "Do nothing to thy neighbor which thou wouldst not have him do to thee."

    • In the Buddhist holy books, the Udanavarga said: "Hurt not others with that which pains thyself."

    • The great rabbi, Hillel, an older contemporary of Jesus, said: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor."

    • Jesus said: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

    • Islamic writ referred to as the Traditions said: "No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself."


    The Golden Rule is based on the observation that people mirror back your own behavior. For example, if you don't talk to people; they won't talk to you. If you smile at people; they will smile at you. In psychology, this phenomenon is called reciprocity.

    "You reap what you sow". If you are antagonistic towards people; they will be antagonistic towards you. Likewise, if you help others; they will help you.

Acts of Kindness

    The Golden Rule should also extend to strangers. Often try helping others without any expectation of personal reward. Many of these deeds should be random acts of kindness directed at complete strangers. One good deed can trigger a chain reaction of more people doing good deeds.

    There is a fundamental law of human nature: if you want to feel good; you have to do good.

      "When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion." - Abraham Lincoln

    Believe in equality and brotherhood; hence the necessity of sharing our wealth with the poor and disabled. Everyone hurts; that's why it's important to be kind to everyone. Even a small gesture of kindness can have a big impact.


    All of the world's major religions teach forgiveness. A famous quote says "holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."

    Justice requires that the wrongdoer admits their wrongdoing and makes adequate amends. If a wrongdoer has admitted her wrongdoing and made adequate amends, it is best to forgive her instead of holding onto the poison of anger. You don't have to forget what that person did to you. However, forgiveness allows you to move on and feel better.

    If the wrongdoer hasn't admitted her wrongdoing, it still is important to let go of your anger so that it doesn't poison your efforts to ensure that justice is done. Once your anger is under control, you can make a concerted effort to ask the wrongdoer to make amends. If that fails, and the wrongdoing was serious, you will have to calmly see what justice can be done. Never attempt revenge; it just escalates the wrongdoing. While waiting for justice to be done, it is essential that you don't let your anger get out of control. If you stay angry, the person suffering the most from these feelings is you. The other person probably doesn't think about it half as much as you do, so let it go. Let justice take its course.


    Psychological research shows that we should show gratitude, and stop taking things for granted. Practicing gratitude is one of the best ways to boost happiness. Try these simple exercises:

    • Write down three new things you are grateful for each day

    • Write for two minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours

    • Write in your journal (but don't send) one quick acknowledgment first thing in the morning thanking or praising someone in your social support network (family member, friend, old teacher)

    Research repeatedly has shown that these simple daily exercises increase happiness and well-being (however they are less effective on depression).

    Gratitude can be increased by taking a minute to contemplate the loss of our friends, loved ones, and dearest possessions - in order to make us realize how much we have to be thankful for.


    Research on successful individuals has found that:

    • They pay close attention to whoever is speaking to them.

    • They smile when speaking to others.

    • They speak in a friendly tone.

    • They are diplomatic so that they don't offend people.

    This research also found that people not showing friendliness usually end up being socially isolated.

A World Without Hate

    Hatred can destroy the world. Strive to stay calm during conflicts, seldom get angry, and never hate. Make the world a better place by forgiving minor transgressions. Only if we forgive those who trespass against us, can we expect forgiveness for our own trespasses.

Hatred And War

    Syria Tried A Military Solution To Its Problems With Poverty
    Now Half Of Syria Is Homeless

    Our recent history is becoming one of endless war.

    In modern war, for every military casualty, there are at least 200 civilian casualties killed by bombing or the disease and starvation that follow the destruction of their cities. Modern wars usually produce "failed states" run by feuding warlords (e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria).

    Once we turn our backs on helping others; aggression and violence usually follow. The world has an endless supply of men with guns that are ready to murder.

    American Suicide Bomber

    This American convert to Radical Islam was taught enough hatred that he blew himself up in Syria as a suicide bomber.

    This is a reminder of how powerful hatred is. Hatred can easily overcome logic, love and even the fear of death. That is why hatred is a weapon of mass destruction.

    Hatred must be made a crime. In Canada, it is illegal to publish anything that expresses hatred.

    War will stop when we learn to resolve our differences without hatred. Otherwise, these endless wars will eventually destroy us.

Best Ways To Increase Cooperation

    • Focus on your family:
      Three-quarters of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2010 said that their family was "the most important, most satisfying element of their lives." The more time people spend cooperating with their family, the more support they can count on receiving from their family. There is no real substitute for face-to-face contact with your family.

    • Make time for friends:
      Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. Just contact for a few minutes a day can maintain a friendship.

    • Find meaning in your work:
      The more you find meaning and purpose in your work, the more motivated you will be to cooperate with others at work.

    • Contribute to your community:
      The more you contribute to your community, the more your community will support you. This contribution should go beyond just helping your family and close friends. Every day, do something that helps your larger community.

Internet Mental Health 1995-2018 Phillip W. Long, M.D.