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Why Being Accountable for Your Actions Is So Important

Several years ago, I authored a book about happiness and meaning in life titled Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. I’ve heard from many people who read it, liked it, and said they would rethink how they conduct themselves, develop lasting friendships, interact with loved ones, and improve the general welfare of themselves and others. In other words, my book motivated them to think about how their actions affect others and their general wellbeing.

Being for Ourselves and Others

My book focuses on being a better person—an ethical person. In doing things for others, we become happy, fulfilled, and realize our true potential. Happiness is all about treating others the way you wish to be treated —The Golden Rule. As a society, we have gotten away from this especially over the past decade or so. How else can we explain the never-ending violence in our streets, schools, workplace, retail shops, and so on? How can we explain the increasing incidents of “smash and grab.”? What about fights that routinely break out on airlines now? Happiness book

The rabbinic sage Hillel the Elder famously said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14).  It encapsulates a philosophical perspective on personal responsibility, self-care, self-advocacy, and the importance of taking action. It also emphasizes the importance of empathy, compassion, and acting in a timely manner to bring about a difference in our lives and the lives of others. These are ethical values that I embrace in my book and aspire to in my life.

Living a Meaningful Life

Writing in the Journal of Positive Psychology, Roy Baumeiser and his colleagues, contend that meaningful lives generate positive emotions, and they deepen social connections, such as by allowing us to devote time to worthwhile causes, which increases our satisfaction with life and leads to more lasting happiness. 

I recently read an interesting article by Tracy Brower. The title caught my eye: “To Achieve Work-Life Happiness, Stop Trying to be Happy.” I had to read on to understand her basic premise. Brower writes:

“If you are seeking happiness for its own sake, you’re focused on what you’re missing or what you lack. This negative tilt can cause greater dissatisfaction. In addition, when you’re on the hunt for happiness, you’re generally focused on yourself—which is also negatively correlated with happiness as compared to an emphasis on helping others.”

Her point is that instead of chasing happiness, create an environment that encourages happiness. She gives the following ways to do so.

  • Focus on Gratitude and Generosity.
  • Focus on Purpose.
  • Focus on Connections.
  • Focus on Learning.

I would add to focus on individual responsibility because we have a responsibility to ourselves and others to do the right thing; treat others with compassion and empathy; and something that is missing in our society today, to be remorseful when we do something wrong. All too many people accept responsibility for their actions but only after they get caught doing something wrong.

I’ve written about happiness, meaning, wellness, and self-worth quite a bit during the 15 years that I have been blogging. During that time, I’ve wrestled to find one word that encompasses all of ethics—a daunting task at best. For me it’s accountability. We need to be accountable to ourselves and others for our actions. If we make a mistake, and who hasn’t in life, we should admit it, promise to never do it again, make amends, and move on.

Accountability helps us to accomplish goals. It calls out for us to improve others around us. It creates a strategy to help accomplish what we set out to do. It means to be prepared to have our actions judged by others. It means to be answerable for our actions and be willing to care for the well-being of ourselves and others.

How Happy Are We?

The 2022 World Happiness Report surveys populations to determine how happy they are with their life’s circumstances. It’s an interesting report to read. The top four countries in happiness, in order, are as follows: (1) Finland; (2) Denmark; (3) Iceland; and (4) Switzerland. These four countries are always at the top of the list with each passing survey. What about the U.S.? We are rated #16. Nothing to write home about. Happiness 2

After reading this survey, I decided to take “The Happiness Index Survey” that was developed by the Happiness Index Alliance. It’s a comprehensive survey that you can take and find out your score and compare it to others who took the survey. I was delighted to find out that I score quite high on happiness. I credit those in my life for these good results. I recommend you take the survey.

I worry a great deal about the mental illness infecting our country. As previously mentioned, all too many people are out for themselves, not others. It’s a pursuit of self-interest society. Can we turn it around? I’d like to say ‘yes,’ but don’t believe it. Where can we look for guidance? Social media all too often projects negative images and dialogue, and most people spend hours on it each day. [That doesn’t mean it has no value; it does. But it attracts some folks who will do and say anything to get noticed; their15 minutes of fame.

Looking for Happiness in All the Wrong Places

I find it almost impossible to find ethical leaders today. Years ago, we looked to our Presidents. But now, I don’t think so. We used to have ethical leaders in business and finance. But now, all too many are out for themselves. What about educators? It’s a mixed bag at best.

If you have read though the entire blog, think about what you can do to better the lives of others. It could be a simple thing like saying ‘thank you’ when someone does something for you or ask whether you can help someone—carry their groceries, watch their house when they are on vacation, help an elderly person cross the street, and so much more.

I’d love to learn what you do to build your happiness and the barriers you face in doing so. Feel free to write to me at: [email protected].

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 29, 2023. Visit Steve’s website and sign up for his newsletter. Follow his activities on his website and sign up for his newsletter.