Your thoughts please: What’s an example of doing the right thing gladly?

There’s a long-recognized distinction between

(a) doing the right thing “gladly and with pleasure,” and

(b) doing the right thing “reluctantly and with a sense of pain and loss.” [1]

This is sometimes referred to as a difference between full excellence, on the one hand, and mere self-control, on the other hand.

Self-control is still good to have, since you are doing the right thing. But excellence is even better, since your feelings “endorse the action” as well. [1]

It’s a common-sense distinction, not just a theoretical technicality. And that means we should be well familiar with it, in our own lives at least — although it might take some reflection to connect your experience with this way of talking about it.

(Thinking about qualities that make one a good person might help get the reflection started.)

So, what are some examples of this distinction?

How would you illustrate what it means to do a good thing gladly and with pleasure, as distinguished from doing the same thing with reluctance, pain, and a sense of loss?


(Philosophic Advisor Cleveland’s website and blog can be found here.)

[1] These quoted phrases are from Julia Annas, The Morality of Happiness, 1993.

18 thoughts on “Your thoughts please: What’s an example of doing the right thing gladly?

  1. for me, being a caregiver for my dad (and mom earlier) versus a paid caregiver…I was my dad’s caregiver until the dad he died – at home. I did this gladly! He – and my mom – took care of us as babies when we couldn’t care for ourselves. It only seemed right that I take care of him (them) when they could no longer do so. Yes, it was hard but I wouldn’t change anything. No one could have offered me enough money to leave…
    After my dad passed away, I was hired at a local senior in home care facility. The caregiver would go to the seniors home and “take care” of them. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, it came to a point that I absolutely hated my job, reluctantly going in every day because my clients needed me. I stuck it out as long as I could, not wanting to get up in the morning, hating my life and ending up physically sick… so I had to quit.
    Does that make sense… on the one hand, I took care of my parents with love, and affection even though I didn’t have to with nothing in return; on the other hand I was paid to take care of my clients but hated it.

  2. A good question. Often I do low-level “right” things resentfully. I should probably work on that. The big things though, I think I’m all right on. Perhaps the difference is in the type of task? Perhaps the difference is love.

      1. It is, isn’t it? My resentment, at times, of the small obligations is utterly disproportionate.

  3. The first thing I need to say is I am a Christian since 1999. Before that I did everything in self control, you are right about that. I was always willing but still I wouldn’t do things with cheerfulness. After 1999, I learned to do for Jesus instead of the ‘persons’ I would help. The difference in happiness in doing thing for others is awesome! That’s all I know. It was a learning road but it gets things done with little to no pain. Mary

  4. Have a servants heart. Not easy but think of the ultimate reward.
    For yourself.
    Even if that person doesn’t appreciate what you do you will know in your heart you did the right thing. Be sure to pat yourself on the back and “Fist Bump!”

  5. Good day. I do things for the pleasure of achieving and the joy is augmented when I believe in what I am doing, and I choose to do it. It often happens in that order.

  6. This is a great question and even though it’s an overused word, I believe authenticity is by far the most important quality. If a person is authentic, so many other positive traits branch out from that.

    I don’t like when I feel someone is giving me a controlled or altered version of who they are or when I feel like someone is trying to psychologically outsmart me with feigned innocence etc.

    All human beings are deeply flawed in my opinion. No person is without negative traits or moments but authenticity allows us to accept ourselves and others as we/they are. Authenticity is difficult for many of us but when we practice it, others appreciate it. Best wishes.

  7. Ooops. My apologies. I just wrote the above in response to a different post on this site and I’m not sure how to remove it. I will put it where it belongs now and feel free to delete this and the above reply. 🙂

  8. I’m hoping to write more about this later, but I think pleasure vs. pain might not be the best way to think of it, though there’s definitely something here. I think that all people are in “behavioral loops” of sorts. Basically, your behavior boils down to a virtuous cycle or a vicious cycle. We have all of these structures, habits, and attitudes in our life that act as the structure of those cycles.

    So framing this a different way, you do the right thing gladly when you have a set of systems and habits in your life that support the behavior (doing whatever we’re talking about). When it is “part of your virtuous cycle” or is at least compatible with it, you do the right thing with gladness.

    When you have to violate systems, habits, attitudes, or your existing behavior loop, you do it reluctantly with a sense of pain and loss.

    So in a sense, if you want to do things gladly, maybe the task is not to “feel differently about what you’re doing”, the task is to integrate it into your life, or otherwise change your structures & habits so that the thing you want to do is a natural part of that.

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