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Is being nice a good idea?

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

When I first came to the US as an exchange student at the age of 17, for the first time I heard the word “nice” being mentioned so often. High school girls would say “She is really nice” or “Those girls are mean”. It was one of those words that you don’t learn in foreign English classes. I was confused about what “nice” meant. Back then, I used to learn new English words by direct translating them into Vietnamese rather than trying to learn the true definition of the words. There is not a direct translation of “nice” in Vietnamese. The closest word similar to “nice” is “tot bung” (kind) in Vietnamese and for the longest time, I thought they meant the same.

I understood what kindness means as it was rooted in our family and cultural beliefs. Kindness to me means helping others who needed help, being there for a friend who needed you, being gentle and respectful. When I came to the US and started confusing nice and kind, I started adding more to the definition of kindness. Things like: don’t let others down, always eager to say yes like, put on a smiley face most of the time to please, avoid any conflicts that would hurt others’ feelings. I somehow believed that I needed to please others to show my core value of kindness. I slowly became more and more of a people pleaser.

It was far into my wellness journey when I discovered these two words do not mean the same. Being kind simply means having a good heart, helping others, and treating others with respect. I now draw the line to stop the definition of kindness there. On the other hand, being nice means pleasing others, putting on your happy mood all the time, always saying yes, sometimes as an expense of your needs and desires. Being nice means having no boundaries. And most of the time, being nice to others resulted in not being nice to yourself.

This is how pleasing people manifested for me. I was too fast to jump to a yes because I felt like I had to, but later on feeling resentful for saying yes when I get stressed out and overwhelmed with all the things on my plate. I could not scratch the surface of my to-do list and kept on taking more to-do in. I was also willing to drop whatever I was doing to help others, if anyone messaged asking for help. I then procrastinated on my long to-do lists, feeling frustrated that some shouldn’t be my responsibilities but no one else stepped in. I started blaming others for not stepping in and I always had to do it all. I got stuck in a circle of being a victim. I blame others for being overworked and my exhaustion. The guilt and resentment made it harder and harder to show up being kind, my core value. It got harder and harder to be my authentic self.

One day, I came across a meditation about setting boundaries on the Simple Habit app. The concept of setting boundaries was new to me, and I realized I had no idea how to say no. I had a belief that it is not okay to say no, and the meditation opened up another perspective, a permission that it is okay to say no.

Setting boundaries means loving yourself while you love others too. Boundary setting is a courageous act of self-love.

I decided that I need to change to get out of the circle of being a victim to be more aligned with my authentic self. I practiced setting boundaries.

It was very difficult at the beginning. Instead of jumping to a ‘yes’ on a project very fast, I started with pausing first, then saying “let me check on a few things and get back to you”. I then use the time to ask and answer some questions.

- Will taking on this task cause me resentment later?

- Do I realistically have time for this task?

If the answer is no, I then gather all the courage to say no. At the beginning, I felt the need to create a million reasons why I say no. I was afraid that people would judge me for saying no.

Things actually turned out better than I thought. Most of the time my boss accepted the no without questioning and moved on to the next thing. I realized that I overthink and put too much pressure on myself than anyone else. I started setting focus time during the day to complete my tasks and not letting anyone or anything bother me during the focus time. If anyone asks for help, I start saying “I am not available right now, but I can help at this time”. To my surprise, my colleagues were totally fine with waiting until the time I set out. I was able to focus on my work, and be more present to help others when I am ready.

Learning to set boundaries has been a big leap in my wellness journey. It got me out of the victim circle to gain control back of my time and energy. It has not been an easy process. I still find myself constantly working to rewrite the old mental habits, but it is a crucial part of self care for me to show up authentically myself, being kind and not being nice.

Do you also define nice as kind?

This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, and is not intended as medical advice.

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