Being Nice is Hard Work
I am not a nice person by nature. I do not intuitively think of others and their needs. I do not automatically cross a room to ask about someone’s day, or offer to sit with them at lunch or during a meeting. I do not regularly call people to find out what’s going on in their lives.
For me, being nice requires conscious effort.
I used to love the slogan, “If you don’t have something nice to say about someone come sit next to me.” I reveled in gossip because for a moment, it made me feel a little less inadequate in my own life and struggles.
By now, you are either horrified or, sadly, feel a bit commiserative. I hope it is the first, but either way, stay with me, because…
I am trying to change my heart into a softer, kinder one by performing daily acts of service.
Two inciting incidents in my life collided and put me on a path toward change.
The first happened at my friend Nanette’s annual Christmas party for her girlfriends. As is tradition, she poses a question and each person responds before selecting a gift from the exchange pile. This past year’s question was about unexpected outcomes. I was particularly struck by our friend Angela, who shared she started and kept a gratitude journal, making an entry every day that year. When she shared the unexpected blessings that came into her life from her daily expressions of gratitude, I thought “I want some of that in my life.”
Over the next couple of weeks I thought more about what Angela had said and even telephoned her to hear more about the changes she felt in her heart from daily recording what she was grateful for.
The second incident grew out of forgetfulness.
For five wonderful years, I have taught seminary: a 6:00 AM scripture study class for high school students. On December 1, I hung a stocking for Jesus in our seminary room. I know that line sounds strange, like an off-putting slogan, so let me explain. Each day of December, I encouraged my students to perform an act of kindness or service as a gift for the Savior and write them down on a slip of paper and put them in the stocking. The stocking served as a reminder to put Christ back in Christmas and to express our gratitude for His love for all of us. On the last day of class before the holiday break, we held a Christmas breakfast and read the gifts our class had given.
This year, I did not teach seminary and so the stocking remained packed away with my seminary decorations. A few days before Christmas I realized I forgot to hang the stocking and continue the tradition on my own. Hearing my dismay, my husband found the stocking and hung it on the door to my office. I stared at it for a day or two. I reasoned it made no sense to do anything now, Christmas was only days away. What would be the point (yes, that’s how my mind works sometimes—if I can’t do it for the entire month, what difference does a few days of kindness make? See, I’m not naturally good at being nice.)
Each time I went into my home office that stocking caught my eye. I swear it began to taunt me.
I continued to ponder what Angela shared about her year of gratitude. Then, an idea began to take shape: why not give a gift for the Savior every day of 2015? I quickly dismissed that idea. Seriously, what was I thinking—being nice for an entire year would be really hard.
As I write this, I am nearing the seven month mark of daily service, acts of kindness and love, offered as a gift to Jesus Christ. I have done something every day of 2015, so far. I had to repeat that because it’s hard for me to believe I’m over halfway to my goal.
Some acts have taken time and effort to accomplish and some have been smaller, simple things, but each day I have done something—sometimes multiple things. Some nights I have realized it is the end of the day and I have nothing to write down and so I have sat in my office and written to a missionary or called a family member I don’t talk with as often as I should and I’ve just listened for an hour.
I have learned it is not always the size of the sacrifice, it is the consistent doing something to show love and concern for someone else.
The miracle is, my hard heart is softening and changing. I sometimes, not always, see someone who needs a boost and I try to help by doing what I can. It is making me see and appreciate the good in others, the daily service and acts of love that they do that might go unnoticed—but I see them now and I try tell them so in-person, on the phone, in a text or by writing a “thank you” note.
I am not yet a “nice” person, but I am nicer than I used to be.
I may not rehang the stocking in 2016, but I will definitely continue to try and do something each day and find a way to document them—it keeps me honest and accountable. I think that is part of why my friend Angela felt such a difference: because she documented her gratitude in writing.
I challenge you to do something: today. You are probably already a nice person, but even the nicest person can do a little better—we can all do a little better.
To give you some ideas, here are of few things I have done (several are ongoing):
PLEASE NOTE: I do not share this list to boast, but to give anyone like me a few encouraging ideas. Most people will probably find these easy, but for me, some were definitely outside my comfort zone.
- Telephoned the landscaping company who looks after the building I work in and thanked them for the beautiful flowers they planted, and told them how happy it makes me to see them when I come to and from my office. (They claimed no one had ever called before to say “thank you.” I hope that’s not true. Landon told me he wrote down the names of the flowers they planted and will do the same ones next year.)
- Wrote to each of the missionaries serving from my ward, monthly.
- Sent birthday cards in the mail to friends and told them what they meant to me.
- I called my oldest brother and told him that I love him and I was proud to be his sister. I proceeded to tell him some of the things I appreciated about him being my brother. (This was a big deal because we don’t say those things out loud to one another.)
- After reading a statement from a Catholic priest about his stance on marriage, I googled and found an address for him and wrote of my support and appreciation for what he said.
- I have called several friends, some that I have been intimidated to just phone, and complimented them or asked how their day was—I tried to genuinely show them I care about them.
- I have written and sent my son a letter every Sunday.
- We had some friends over for dinner. (For most people, this would not count, but my husband and I are reluctant socializers. This was outside our comfort zone, but we wanted to have friends in our home. The experience turned out good, so we repeated it and are planning to do it again).
- Helped my husband learn to do family history online and we went to the temple and completed some of our family’s work.
- Participated in our ward and stake activities to provide meals for homeless (I bought and delivered paper goods, I didn’t actually go down to serve. I’m trying here!)
Henry James wrote: “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” I’m working on it.
Being nice is hard work. But, I am beginning to have A Change of Heart.
Find you inspiration here:
“The Virtue of Kindness” by Joseph B. Wirthlin, Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
“Remember This: Kindness Begins with Me” by Mary N. Cook, First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
“It’s Not That Hard To Be Nice To Other People” by Danielle Lavieri, Thought Catalog (I love what she says about saying “Thank you”)