FOCUS:Jen Ratio

Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Systems Thinking

Jen ratio is a simple but powerful way of looking upon the relative balance
of good and uplifting versus bad and cynical in life.
Dacher Keltner


Jen is the central idea in the teachings of Confucius, and refers to a complex mixture of kindness, humanity and respect that transpires between people. Simply put, the jen ratio is the relationship of positive emotions like compassion, gratitude and sympathy to negative emotions like anger, cynicism, contempt. The jen ratio can be measured in an individual, a family, a neighborhood, a company, a city, or a nation. High jen ratios, whether in an individual or an organization, result in people being happier, living more meaningful lives.

In his book Born to be Good, Dacher Keltner describes the scientific studies now being done at the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, “an interdisciplinary research center devoted to the scientific understanding of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior.” (Check out Greater Good magazine online, which carries stories of this research.) This research is giving credence to a view in stark contrast to the notion that self-interest is what drives and satisfies us. The big news discovery is that what often makes us happiest is bringing the good in others to completion. This is a profound notion – that not only are we happiest when we focus on others – but when we’re in service to them.

The research is cross-cultural, even cross-species. “The right kind of smile brings the good in others to completion. It is one of the first acts of jen in primate evolution.” 


I find myself thinking about this jen ratio in all kinds of practical ways. There are people I know who definitely have a high jen ratio – they are responsive to others and upbeat.  There are others with a low jen ratio. These people tend to be negative and stuck. Similarly, I “feel” the ambience when I go into a store or restaurant. In these terms, the businesses with a high jen ratio are welcoming, inviting me to have a good experience.

The notion of the jen ratio gives new meaning to my profession as a coach. For the last 16 years I have felt so lucky to be in this business. What a delight it is to help others become their best selves, move toward whatever feels like completion for them. How blessed I am to have a built-in jen-raising job!

In my recent illness, I realize that allowing friends to be helpful to me is a gift to them (instead of being fiercely independent). I can give people the opportunity to raise their jen ratios.

I also like to think of the really big ramifications of high jen ratios. “High jen ratios promote a society’s economic and ethical progress. Jen becomes viral through behaviors that spread goodness from one individual to the next, thus setting in motion reinforcing, reciprocal cooperation.” Think of how the world could be changed just by raising our jen ratios!


  1. What is your jen ratio? (Think of emotions that describe you best. Put the positive ones in the numerator and the negative in the denominator. Which is strongest?)

  2. How does your jen ratio differ at home and at work?

  3. What happens when you become aware of jen ratios all around you?

  4. How might you raise your jen ratio?

  5. How might you help others raise theirs?


I'm temporarily suspending the telegatherings, but would love to hear your thoughts on jen ratios. Just e-mail me at

Read an excerpt from Liberating Greatness, the Whole Brain Guide to an Extraordinary Life, the book Hal and I wrote, at

Reach me: 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or e-mail I am a personal and executive coach and would be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session by phone. Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one of the five disciplines of a learning community, and offers a coaching tip and a follow-up telegathering. Please forward it to friends and colleagues. My purpose in writing FRESH VIEWS is to nurture, prod and encourage readers to think and talk about these topics with their families, friends and colleagues. Mine is only one view. Multiple conversations may deliver us to insights only hinted at here. Such a process sustains the vitality of learning relationships, learning families, learning organizations and learning communities.

Sharon Eakes | 720 Maple Lane | Sewickley, PA 15143

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