If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” Sounds familiar, right? How about “Share your toys with others!” or “Play nice!” No matter where you come from, we all remember hearing those sayings when we were growing up. That’s because being nice is a quality that’s instilled in us all from the very beginning from our mothers, teachers, and elders.
While being nice, or rather polite, is a prized quality and even expected quality in a society that values altruism, the truth is that being “nice” can actually be very bad for you. Actually, being nice could even kill you! Now, let me explain myself… For starters, being nice and being polite are not the same as being kind and compassionate. More on that later…
So how do we define nice? Merriam Webster defines the adjective “nice” as pleasant or agreeable. Yourdictionary.com defines a nice person as someone who is friendly and whom everyone likes. At first glance, all of those things sound pretty harmless — and even qualities we all hope to strive for. The complications come from something much deeper than the surface level of pleasantries: they come from the psychology of “nice.” According to experts, people who are considered “nice” usually struggle with self-esteem issues. The reality is that they seek approval and validation from others, manifesting their deep-rooted internal issues in their external social interactions. In other words, these nice people are essentially people pleasers who measure their self-worth by pleasing others.
Worried this may describe you, or someone you may know? Fortunately there are a handful of ways to tell if being “nice” should spark concern.
7 Recognizable Pitfalls of Being Nice
1. People take advantage of you. Nice and agreeable people usually put their needs last, thus opening the door for needy or opportunistic people to prey on their niceness. Whether it’s your boss asking to come in on the weekend to work on that project that no one in the office wants to do, or your neighbor asking you to help her move, know the warning signs. Are you putting others before yourself, knowing the gesture is not often reciprocated? Are you canceling your own plans or priorities? Is this favor convenient for you, or troublesome?
2. People perceive you as being weak. When you are overly agreeable or “nice” people will undoubtedly think you have a weak personality. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, ”Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” That’s because, through the ages, people have thought that nice people are probably simple-minded fools who can be taken advantage of. This is probably the reason that nice guys don’t get the girl, why women like the bad boys. They perceive the “nice” guys as being weak. Know the difference between vulnerability and weakness — it will go a long way.
3. You put others’ needs above your own needs. This is connected to the first sign of people taking advantage of you. When you’re overly nice, you put others above yourself. Your mother asks you to drive across town to see her sister, your aunt. No problem. You put down whatever you’re doing or cancel your own plans to do this for her because you cannot say no. Your child’s parent group volunteers you to bake 200 cupcakes for the bake sale and you agree, knowing full well you have a huge report due the next day. But somehow you make it happen and burn yourself out while you’re at it. Which leads me to my next point…
4. You neglect your needs. When you put everyone else above yourself, you neglect your own needs and desires. This can lead to a mental and even physical burnout because you’re always there for others but are failing to practice self-care. You fall into the martyr or victim mentality because you compromise your own needs for the sake of others. Remember that you suffer as a consequence, not those around you. They won’t know or care that you missed your morning meditation, favorite TV show, or treasured alone time.
5. Your expectations are not met. Unmet expectations can lead to disappointment in others. No one will or can live up to your expectations because you give, give, give, and receive nothing to little in return. People just know that you’ll be there for them, that you’ll pick up the slack, that you can be the punching bag, but who’s there for you? Truly think about who’s there for you time and time again… Those are the ones who are worth sacrificing and compromising for from time to time.
6. You build up resentment. Falling into a polite and nice vicious cycle can lead to resentment. You may not express it outwardly but you may start to resent your friends and your family for taking advantage of you. What you need to realize, however, is that this is often self-inflicted if you’ve set yourself up as the picture of niceness only to end up feeling used and abused.
7. You may shorten your lifespan. Science has proven that high levels of stress can reduce longevity. When you feel burned out, tired, neglected and stretched to your limits, your body produces high levels of cortisol. High cortisol levels lower your immune system and weaken the heart. High levels of stress may also predispose a person to engage in unhealthy habits such as excessive alcohol consumption, drug usage, overeating, and lack of sleep.
Try Being Kind and Compassionate
So what’s the difference between politeness and compassion? The problem with niceness is that nice is a form of external reward or extrinsic gratification. Wanting to be nice comes from a need to be liked. While practicing or having compassion and kindness are intrinsic motivators that don’t necessarily manifest themselves outwardly through conventional rules of politeness and etiquette. You donate to a charity you feel strongly about, you bake a casserole for a grieving friend, you make a cup of tea for your mother when you know she’s had a rough day. The difference is that those are gestures of genuine compassion that come from within. Nothing is asked or expected of you; rather, you provide something that you feel comfortable with. Your comfort is key. Know what works for you, and go from there.
Instead of being nice, try being kind instead. You’ll love yourself more. You’ll be happier and less stressed. And that’s the nicest thing you can do for yourself.