You probably know someone who might get described as nice.
“Oh, do you know so-and-so? They’re so nice.” “They are the nicest.”
Oh, she’s the nicest.
Isn’t she the absolute nicest?
Oh my god, she is just the nicest person.
In a world where much is uncertain, here’s something I’m certain about: That person being described as “the nicest,” or “so nice” is never me. And probably will never be me.
To my knowledge nobody has ever accused me of being nice.
And I’m ok with that. In fact, I don’t want to be nice.
Before I explain further, let me step back to say that not being “nice” used to bother me. A lot. I perceived, perhaps correctly, that the “nice” people got opportunities that I didn’t get. In high-school, they got picked to be advisors for incoming classes. In the workplace, they got picked to be on committees. The “adults” in the room always fawned over them.
I hated those “nice” people. Well, hate is a strong word, but there was definitely an aversion, a charge that would arise within me whenever I heard people talk about the nice people, or when I saw those nice people in action, being nice
The Problem With Nice
What was irritating me was an incongruity in their behavior. What I saw seemed fake. They were nice on the surface, but they weren’t always so nice underneath.
They might make snide remarks behind someone’s back or express resentment about people they were nice to.
They were nice, but they weren’t really nice. They simply said what people wanted to hear. They played by the rules of the “social game,” saying the things you’re supposed to say. They appeared to be “team players.”
You know, all that “nice” stuff.
But it was hollow, surface-level niceties.
Even though it used to bother me that other people received all this love and adoration for being “nice,” I couldn’t bring myself to be “nice.”
Truth is, I didn’t want to be “nice.” And I think that bothered me more.
Shouldn’t I want to be nice?
As it turns out, maybe not.
Nice isn’t always so nice. In fact, it’s better to be kind.
Nice is not (always) kind. Kind is not (always) nice. Sometimes they align, but they’re not the same thing.
What’s the difference?
Nice vs Kind
Kindness doesn’t expect payback or even acknowledgment. Let’s say you hold the door open for someone. If you’re doing it just for the recognition, or to earn favor, that’s nice, but not necessarily kind.
But if you’re holding the door open for people and not expecting a “thank you” or you don’t get offended when they don’t acknowledge your actions, that is kind.
Kindness seeks to be genuinely helpful. As Yaholo writes on Medium, it may require you to say difficult things, although without being mean or falling into the “tough love” trap, as Yaholo writes in a great post on Medium.
Telling someone what they want to hear, rather than the truth, just so you can avoid an uncomfortable conversation, is nice. But it’s not kind.
Holly Brown, LMFT offers an example of hearing someone mistreating another person. Perhaps you don’t butt in because it’s “not nice” to intrude. Kindness dictates that you speak up, even if it’s uncomfortable.
Being nice is about trying to look good, but being kind is about doing good. Nice often feels like an obligation, whereas being kind is a choice.
Cost of Niceness
It turns out there’s a cost to being nice.
Nice people are often exhausted and resentful, feeling like they did too much for others at their own expense. Not receiving recognition for their actions just fuels their resentment.
Some “nice” people have told me that they admire the way I set strong boundaries and prioritize my needs — traits I was conditioned to believe were “selfish,” with a negative connotation of that word.
Like I said: nobody has ever accused me of being nice.
Kindness doesn’t drain your energy in that way. So it’s good for your energy to be kind.
But, of course, that would defeat the purpose. Because kindness is something your practice without any expectation of what you might get in return.
The point is to be kind no matter what. That includes being kind to yourself.
And as it happens, today is World Kindness Day, so it’s a good time to be kind.
PS: Fun fact: I always love to track the stats on which of my blog posts is receiving a lot of traffic. Traffic to this piece listing 5 Reasons to Be Kind to Others and Yourself, which I wrote 2 years ago for World Kindness Day, spiked by 829% the day after Election Day. Seems like we all need some kindness right now.