Net positive is a philosophy that is based on trying to maintain a positive balance in your life, by doing more good than you do harm and by contributing more than you take. For example, when it comes to your friendships, the net positive approach means that you should try to help your friends more often than you ask them for help.
Implementing this principle has some notable moral and practical benefits, so it’s worthwhile to understand it. In the following article, you will learn more about the concept of net positive, see why applying it is beneficial, and understand how you can implement it yourself as effectively as possible.
Examples of net positive
You can apply the net positive philosophy to all areas of life: from how you behave in relationships, to how you treat the environment, to how you take care of yourself. Some examples of ways in which you can implement the concept of net positive in your life are the following:
- You can try to contribute to your community more often than you ask for help. For instance, if you’ve frequently asked for help from members in your community, whether that community is a sports team or an online crafts group, you could try to make a notable effort to help others in that community whenever you can.
- You can try to help the environment more than you harm it. For instance, each time you go hiking, you could take a small bag with you, and pick up a few small pieces of trash to clean up the trail as you go along.
- You can try and finish each day a little further ahead than where you’ve started. For instance, if your goal is to improve your health, you can try to add another healthy habit that you want to maintain each day, such as doing a bit more exercise, or drinking a bit less soda.
The concept of net positive initially gained prominence through its use in the corporate landscape, where it signified the idea that companies should put more into society and the environment than they take out of them.
However, this concept has been formulated in various forms throughout history. One notable example of this is attributed to Robert Baden-Powell, who inspired the world’s Scout Movement, and who said that you should “leave this world a little better than you found it”.
Note: a related concept in the environmental context is ‘net-zero energy’. Though this concept is defined in various ways by different organizations, a simple way to explain its core idea is to say that the term ‘net-zero energy’ signifies that an entity, such as a building, company, or community, should produce, using renewing energy, at least as much energy as they consume.
Why maintaining a net positive is beneficial
There are several reasons why implementing a net-positive approach can be beneficial.
First, pursuing net positive can be seen as the right thing to do from a moral perspective, since it involves trying to make a positive impact on the world, and since it often involves acting in an altruistic manner, by helping others even when you don’t benefit directly from your actions.
The moral value of this approach becomes apparent when you contrast it with the possible alternatives, and namely with the concept of net negative, which is the approach of striving to do more harm than good in life, and with the concept of net neutral (sometimes also referred to as no net loss), which is the approach of striving to directly offset anything negative that you do by doing something positive in return, while aiming for an exact balance between positive and negative actions.
Furthermore, beyond the moral benefit of pursuing a net positive, there are also several practical benefits to abiding by this principle:
- You can get satisfaction from knowing you did the right thing. Simply put, implementing the concept of net positive can help you feel better about yourself and about your actions, which is a beneficial outcome from a psychological perspective.
- You can get the motivation to take action. Wanting to implement a net positive could motivate you to take action in areas where you otherwise wouldn’t, and give you an idea of what sort of action to take.
- You can make a good impression on other people, and connect with them better. People are often impressed by those who appear to act for selfless reasons, so by helping others you can create a positive image for yourself, and improve your reputation and connections.
- You can encourage others to act in a similar way, which will lead to a better living environment for you. Essentially, when people see you setting a good example, this encourages them to do the same, which leads to a better environment for you to be in.
How to implement the concept of net positive
In general, implementing the concept of net positive is relatively simple. Essentially, you should try to have an overall positive impact on your environment, by contributing to it more than you take from it, in any way you can think of.
However, when pursuing a net positive, there are a few important things that you should keep in mind:
- Net positive isn’t an excuse for bad behavior. Don’t use the fact that you do good in some domains in order to justify bad behavior in other domains, and don’t use the fact that you have an overall positive impact in order to justify actions that you shouldn’t perform. For example, picking up trash at the beach doesn’t mean that you should litter at the park.
- Net positive shouldn’t cause you to intentionally limit how much good you do. Don’t try to quantify exactly how much “good” and “bad” you do, in an attempt to try and do just a tiny bit more good than bad. Rather, your focus should simply be on making sure that you give more than you take, and when in doubt, err on the side of caution, and try to do more good.
- Net positive shouldn’t cause you to let others take advantage of you. Though this concept is inherently about helping others more than they help you, that doesn’t mean that you should let others actively take advantage of you. If it’s clear that someone is taking advantage of your generosity, and if this is causing you problems, then stand up for yourself, and stop helping them.
Implementing net positive toward yourself
Remember that it can be highly beneficial to implement the concept of net positive with regard to your own personal development. Essentially, this means that you should constantly try to improve yourself, and finish each day/week/month/year as a person who is better than the person you were before.
For example, if you feel that your bedroom is messy, you could challenge yourself to finish each day with it a bit cleaner and more organized than it was before, until you can get it all cleaned up. Similarly, if you want to get in better shape, you can decide that each day you will do at least one set of exercise, so you will slowly become more fit over time.
Implementing net positive in groups
In addition to implementing the concept of net positive by yourself, you can also encourage its use as a policy in groups that you’re a part of. Leading through personal example can often be a good way to accomplish this, since it can help convince others in your group that maintaining a net positive is important.
Note that in cases where the philosophical benefits of net positive don’t appeal to other members of a group, you can encourage the implementation of this concept by emphasizing its practical benefits. For example, many companies choose to adopt large-scale net-positive policies simply because they believe that it will improve how their brand is perceived by customers, which will increase their profitability.
This form of pragmatic motivation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since even though some might argue that it’s preferable for people to help others out of the goodness of their heart (i.e. due to a moral motivation), from a practical perspective what matters most is the end result, which means that it’s more important that people help others than that people will help others for the right reasons.
For example, if you can’t convince a corporation to care more about the environment than about their profits, it’s still more beneficial to get them to adopt greener practices such as the net-positive initiative because they think that it will be better for their brand, than to have them not care about the environment at all.
If you can’t reach a net positive
There might be times in your life where you won’t be able to reach a net positive, for whatever reason. For example, it might be that you’re struggling financially, or that you’re new to a hobby so you find yourself constantly needing help, without being able to give much in return.
This is completely understandable, and you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself for it. Simply accept that at the present moment, you might need more help than you can give others, and try to do the best you can, given the circumstances. Later, when you’re in a better place, try to pay others back for all the help that they’ve given you when you needed it.
As one eminent stoic philosopher said:
“Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?”
— From “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius (Book VII, Passage 7)
The same applies when encouraging others to reach a net positive. Specifically, you should accept the fact that different people under difference circumstances have different abilities to give back to others, and so you shouldn’t view others negatively for failing to reach a net positive, if it’s clear that they are trying to make a positive impact.
Finally, there are two more things worth keeping in mind in situations where you feel that you can’t reach a net positive:
- Just because you can’t reach a net positive, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make an effort entirely. For example, even if you’re a beginner at a certain hobby, and it’s clear that you need more help from others than you can currently give back, you can still try to make a positive impact on the community by being a good member.
- If you can’t reach net positive in one area, you can make up for it in others. For example, if you find yourself needing a lot of help from someone, without being able to help them in return, it can still be worthwhile to try and help other people instead.
Summary and conclusions
- Net positive is a philosophy that is based on trying to maintain a positive balance in your life, by doing more good than you do harm and by contributing more than you take.
- This concept applies to all areas of life, from how you behave in relationships, to how you treat the environment, and to how you take care of yourself.
- Pursuing a net positive can be beneficial not only from a moral perspective but also from a practical one, since it can improve how you feel about yourself, give you the motivation to take action, help you make a good impression on people, and encourage others to act in a similar manner.
- When implementing the philosophy of net positive, it’s important to remember that doing good in one domain shouldn’t serve as an excuse to do negative things in other domains, and that this concept shouldn’t become a reason to let others take advantage of you.
- If you’re trying to get a group that you’re a part of to implement the concept of net positive, you can lead with personal example in order to get them to do the same, and if necessary, you can also emphasize the practical benefits of implementing this concept.