I Am Not a Nice Person. But I am working toward A Change of Heart

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.

  1. 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.)
  2. Wrote to each of the missionaries serving from my ward, monthly.
  3. Sent birthday cards in the mail to friends and told them what they meant to me.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. I have written and sent my son a letter every Sunday.
  8. 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).
  9. Helped my husband learn to do family history online and we went to the temple and completed some of our family’s work.
  10. 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

Kindness is the essence of a celestial life. Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others. Joseph B. Wirthlin

 

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

 

When I make Jesus Christ the center of my life, my day goes better, I'm kinder to my loved ones, and I am filled with joy. quoted by Mary N. Cook
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”)

Please share something nice you have done for another, for another has done for you. I would love to hear your experiences.

11 Comments

  1. I love this! I tried it for awhile last year and gave up. Sometimes I just couldn’t think of something nice to do! How pathetic is that?! I’m somewhere behind you on the path to niceness and a change of heart. But this has inspired me to start again. And I’m counting this comment as my nice thing for today. (Phew! Done with that chore.) I look forward to future essays.

    • Thank you, Lauren, for your comments! I love it! Thanks, too, for being the very first comment on my very first blog–I should send you a prize!

  2. I just love this! This right here makes me so happy. To know that something I have done had an impact enough to change someone’s behavior. I know, it took you actually acting upon Angela’s idea. But honestly, I was just thinking this week if my Christmas party had run its course and a burden instead of a treat to my friends. Thank you Tanja. You can count today’s blog post as your kind act!

    • Do not stop hosting that Christmas party–we all love it and look forward to it. You’re a wonderful hostess that brings out the best in everyone.

  3. I put a stocking in my office last year after hearing you talk about it once. When some of my employees asked about it, the began doing things for others or recording what they had done for patients. In nursing therapeutic storytelling is encouraged as it helps renew and remind us why we chose the profession. Your story Tanja has helped me and many people whom you may never meet! Love you.

    • Thank you, thank you, Ramona. I didn’t even know you knew about my new blog. Thank you for sharing–I didn’t know that you had started doing the stocking as well. That is awesome.

  4. I realized I was a recipient and it made me so happy, not just what you did for me, but also because I made your list!!! : ) I felt doubly special! (I am an exclamation point addict. If I only put one down I feel barely above suicidal. Clearly I have a problem. Sorry.: /)
    You are so real!! I just love that about you. We can learn so much more from people who are honest than from those who only show their public selves. Now I know we need to show some propriety (haha, which is why I can’t share much from my life) but seems like life can be better if we stop trying to pretend we are all perfect. You may think I am naturally nice. If you only knew. Most of my life I considered myself a cross between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford – and actually thought that was a good thing. Well, becoming a nice person for me has taken quite a long time. Sounds like you are on a fast tract with those fabulous ideas. Prayer was a huge component for me. I knew I needed help from a source of incredible power to overcome my nasty “natural man.” And, what do you know?! Jesus and His atonement to the rescue!!! You WILL reach your goal and in a few years you will look back and realize how far you have come. At first it felt soooo unnatural and uncomfortable and FAKE to act nice, for it was just acting in the beginning but I knew that was where I had to start. I look back now and can’t believe I was THAT person. You will too!!!

  5. OK, I put down one exclamation point but I was trying to be in control and then I made the statement about being suicidal. Can you say hyperbole?

  6. Hi Tanja,
    I just read an article about how you and your husband adopted your son and then I followed a link to your blog and read this post. I just want to tell you that I think you are absolutely WRONG. You are a VERY nice person!!! I know plenty of “nice” people who have never done anything meaningful or substantial in their entire lives and from reading a couple of paragraphs about you I can tell you are a fantastic person who truly cares about those around you – even if you may need to work on showing it a bit more 🙂
    Thank you for taking the time to share this story and to share your love and kindness with others in such a warm, humble and non-judgemental way.

    Your new Canadian friend,

    Erin 🙂

    • Erin, Thank you for your kind words and for finding and reading my blog. It is most appreciated. I love Canada, by the way. Beautiful country and people. Thanks again, your new friend, Tanja

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