Live Through This

Being Nice

A user’s guide.

Illustration by Cynthia

Being nice is kind of my thing. I need only the faintest hint of a reason to bake a batch of cookies, and a day doesn’t pass without my exclaiming compliments all over Twitter about other people’s books/blogs/outfits/faces. I do all this because I get pleasure out of it, and because I am naturally enthusiastic, and because I am addicted to sugar. This behavior caused a blog to call me “the nicest person on the internet,” which I found completely flattering, and like I had won the secret Olympic sport of reverse-intimidation, which comes with a diamond tiara that only I can see. Of course, being nice is not a one-size-fits-all solution, nor should it be. It’s not always the way to go! Niceness is something I struggle with often, and I know other people do too, so I thought I’d go through a handy-dandy list of some sticky situations below.

1. Being Nice to Get What You Want
It does not make you an evil and calculating person to be nice with a goal in mind. Have you ever heard the phrase “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”? Meaning, if you’re giving your teacher an attitude, they are less likely to give you an extension. This holds true throughout life, with cable-installation professionals and mothers and boyfriends and girlfriends and bosses and friends. Some people might call this being manipulative, but that’s because they’re not as nice as I am—it’s only manipulative if you’re being fake nice to get what you want. Remember that being fake nice and being polite are different things, and that the latter is always better than the former.

2. Being Nice Because You’re a Nice Person
My husband and I babysit a friend’s daughter once a week. Some people think this is very sweet, and some people think we’re being taken advantage of, but we’re not—sometimes people actually do need your help, and friendship sometimes requires a sacrifice of your own time. This is a tricky one for me, because I will often overextend myself so much that I have no time to get my own work done/go on a date with my husband/sit on the couch and sing songs about my cats. So while you’re at it, remember to be nice to yourself, too. Which leads me to…

3. Being Nice Because You’re Afraid to Say No
Are you a vegetarian who routinely goes to dinner at burger joints? Then you might be afraid to say no. Being nice should not make you a doormat. No one wants to put someone else in an awkward or uncomfortable situation, so you should always be clear about your own limits and needs. If you find that your friends still insist on going places where you can’t eat anything on the menu, then your friends are jerks, and you should rid yourself of them.

4. Being Nice Because You’re a Girl
How are we not past this one? But we’re not. When I go to a dinner party at someone’s house, I will always spring up out of my chair to help clean up. Societal norms for femininity still include grace and deference, both of which sound like things out of a Jane Austen novel, but here we are in the 21st century. The next time you catch yourself offering to help just because you’re the only girl, find a boy and make him do it.

5. Being Nice Because You Don’t Want People to Get Mad at You
This is the one that I struggle with the most. I don’t like being on anyone’s bad side, and I want everyone to like me, all the time. Is this possible? No. So this means that I have to learn to deal with occasionally letting people down, and causing conflict, and having uncomfortable conversations. I’ve been getting better at this recently, and here’s what I’ve discovered: it is always worse inside your own brain. Most other people in the world are sympathetic, and if you approach a conflict with a calm voice and a good attitude, things usually work out in the end. You are allowed to have an opinion. And here is the secret truth: someone who is always perfectly nice is also perfectly boring. Some of the most generous, kind people I know are also the sharpest, and I take their criticisms seriously. When someone is always miserable and angry, it is purely a reflection of their internal state, and their comments are easy to write off. But when a really nice person tells me that some third party is a snake filled with nothing but pus and bile, I believe them.

It’s taken me a long time—I’m 31, at the moment I’m typing this—to make these kinds of distinctions. There really is a difference between the kind of niceness that will endear you to other people, and enrich your life, and the kind that will make you cry for hours while petting your cats because they’re the only ones who never let you down. (Note: I do not do this. But I probably did when I was 15.) The real key is this: being a nice person includes being good to yourself. The nicest people I know are also the most confident, which is to say: don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, and to draw boundaries when necessary. Let’s hope that you, dear Rookies, are the first generation of women not to need this information, because you already know it so deep in your sturdy, glorious bones. ♦


  • cherrycola27 February 27th, 2012 11:19 PM

    This came at such a great time for me. I’ve been struggling with being nice lately. I’m a NICE person and, I’d like to think, a good one. I’m having a hard time learning how to stand up for myself and what I want and need while still… I don’t know… being me? I’ve lost some friends lately because I’ve decided that I don’t want to be walked on or be the person that everyone thinks will always be there no matter how badly they’re treated.
    I want to understand how to better balance these things now, while I’m in college and learning what I want to do with my life so that later on I’m happier. Because right now I’m a little in the “cry with your cats” stage.

    • Juniper February 27th, 2012 11:30 PM

      Your comment is like you read my mind…

      • cherrycola27 February 27th, 2012 11:47 PM

        :) Well if you’re working to change things, too, then good luck!

      • Juniper February 28th, 2012 12:02 AM

        I am, and it’s hard. It’s like I identify myself with being nice, but when I try to break away from that because I get taken advantage of, I feel like people don’t think of me as being nice anymore.

      • lorobird February 28th, 2012 5:25 AM

        Good on you both! If people take advantage of you, people need to F*** off.

  • Bree3572 February 27th, 2012 11:27 PM

    Great piece! In the interest of being nice I would also like to say that I just finished reading your short story collection “Other People We Married,” and it was wonderful! I loved it.

    • Emma S. February 28th, 2012 7:54 AM

      That IS nice, Bree3572! Thank you so much. I’m so glad you liked the book. xoxo

  • Juniper February 27th, 2012 11:29 PM

    I love this so much! I have a problem with saying no, and letting myself get walked all over.

  • anisarose February 27th, 2012 11:30 PM

    This article brings up something interesting— being nice only works if the people around you are also being nice. If we lived in a world with only one nice person, everyone else would either take advantage of that person or disregard them. It is crazy to think about how each virtue is reliant on another one and how everything works out for the better when people behave with kindness and sincerity.

  • Mariana February 27th, 2012 11:39 PM

    YES this is something i struggle with, especially the last one. i fear i’ve grown boring because i never want to cause conflict and speak my opinions, so thanks for this! also, i’m glad you addressed “being nice because you’re a girl.” my family is cuban, which often means (but certainly not for all cubans/latin@s) the women are left coddling the family, asking if they need anything, helping with domestic work, etc. while the other family members (read: the men) lie around. in short, the article was spot-on.

    • all-art-is-quite-useless February 28th, 2012 12:22 PM

      I feel the same about the last point. I often end up not voicing my opinions, or just going along with others even though I don’t really want to because I want them to like me… My friend recently became close to another group of people and the friends who we’d been friends with forever reacted quite badly, because it sometimes feels like we’re a “second group of friends for her” (also, in the beginning she sometimes stretched the truth about what she was doing and why, which made us angry, but I now see she was doing it because she also suffers from needing-to-be-always-nice). Although I originally felt the same as them, now I’ve found that unlike my original friends, I get on well with some of the new friends. I really want to remain friends with my original friends but I also want to get to know others more and spend time with them, however I don’t want my old friends to think I don’t like them and to talk about me behind my back…

      I didn’t even realize I had a problem until I read this article, so thanks, this has been really helpful!!

  • Nomi February 28th, 2012 12:12 AM

    Thank you so much for this! Being nice is so underrated nowadays. However sometimes you do just have to be a bitch.

  • Susann February 28th, 2012 12:32 AM

    I tell myself to be nice and not as sarcastic every day, haha.

  • Sea goddess February 28th, 2012 1:44 AM

    This is so accurate, very well explained *:)

  • hazeleyedgirl February 28th, 2012 2:50 AM

    I have never offered to do the washing up just because I’m the only girl O.O

    But a handy article all the same :)

  • lorobird February 28th, 2012 5:27 AM

    I’ve done the washing up thing. Pretty annoying if you think about it.

    Thanks for writing this :)

  • I.ila February 28th, 2012 8:07 AM

    I love this. My dad always says I’m too nice; “don’t let people take advantage of you, blah, blah.” and I found an article in a magazine once that said “Is being nice making you fat?” But I really do like being thought of as a sweet person. I still won’t do stupid things for people though, and getting water in the cafeteria for other people is crossing the line.

    • Anaheed February 28th, 2012 10:04 AM

      hahahhaha at “is being nice making you fat”!

      • tellyawhat February 28th, 2012 4:54 PM


  • Alexis February 28th, 2012 8:08 AM

    One time I was like “Guys, what if I were really sweet and nice all the time?” and then everyone laughed. :(

  • Emma S. February 28th, 2012 8:15 AM

    Juniper and Cherrycola, it is really hard to navigate, I know. And when new people come into your life (for example, college), you have to do it all over again–is this person taking advantage of me? Is this person deserving of my friendship and niceness and all-around goodness? It can be really tough. The real trick is to make sure that you are getting pleasure out of being nice, or that the person you’re being nice to is genuinely appreciative. Good luck! And we are here for you, too, if you ever need a little help…

    • cherrycola27 February 28th, 2012 4:05 PM

      Yes, that’s the thing! I like being nice and I like who I am, but I don’t like feeling like crap because of it (and other people), sometimes. It is very tricky. But thank you, for both the article and your kind words.

  • hollz February 28th, 2012 8:45 AM

    I was WAY too nice and quiet in high school. It didn’t lead me to have many friends. I could stand up for myself to a person I don’t like, but I always found it difficult to stand up to my “friends” in high school.
    I’m in college now, I have learnt to be more bitchy, and it has to be said, I do have a lot more friends. However, I do try to be a decent person still and I don’t talk about people behind their backs or anything. I’m really sarcastic a lot and I actually think I’m hilarious. I do worry sometimes that people think I’m a doormat when I’m just trying to be a good person.

  • Luzi February 28th, 2012 9:21 AM

    I loved the “Being nice because you’re a girl” :)

  • zombiesockmonkey February 28th, 2012 9:48 AM

    As the constant nice sweet girl, it was great to be reminded of how truly beneficial being nice can be since it can also be really frustrating to keep up sometimes

  • Dagmara February 28th, 2012 10:57 AM

    I can’t agree with this more. Being nice has always been my “thing,” but losing myself in being too nice and not stating my opinons has always been something I’ve struggled with.

  • KayKay February 28th, 2012 1:26 PM

    I’ve always considered myself a nice person, I’m friendly and smile a lot and treat other people with respect. I’m also extremely polite, and as my dad would say, “too polite”, because when we went skiing the other day all these people cut in front of me at the ski lift and I didn’t do anything. I was just like “let it be, just let them go in front and carry on, don’t make a big deal about it”.
    But I’ve never been a pushover. I do have an opinion and I stand up for it loud and proud, because I can sometimes have a huge mouth. I’m also terribly lazy and a tad selfish/conceited/egocentric, so being nice can be a challenge sometimes, since I don’t like doing things I don’t want to do.
    I’m nice because I don’t want people to hate me, you know?
    I don’t really care what they think of me, I just don’t want them to hate me.

  • sttefaaa February 28th, 2012 1:40 PM

    I am usually really nice, sometimes i loose it, but not for long. :)

  • Mila February 28th, 2012 1:52 PM

    haha, I guess this is really strange but I say it anyhow: EMMA, YOU ARE SO NICE ! <333

  • Stephanie February 28th, 2012 1:57 PM

    As someone who has always worked to be nice, but sometimes over extends and gets take advantage of, I ADORED this piece, Emma. It’s another (of the many!!!) on Rookie, I know I will keep revisiting. Thank you!

  • isabellehungryghost February 28th, 2012 2:14 PM

    thank you for these awesome tips! I want to be nicer to people, because i often give my opinion, and they misunderstand that. maybe its my charisma. most people who dont really know my think and say im arrogant. i hope ill get a more friendly charisma!

  • moonchild February 28th, 2012 2:44 PM

    On some issues, especially social issues, like gay marrage (woop woop ny!) and abortion (I am a LIBERAL) (My social studies teacher told me MULTIPLE times that I am the most liberal person he ever met) I am extremely opinionated, so if I’m arguing with someone, I am not nice AT ALL. I have been known to say things like “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard” more than once during a conversation.

  • Violet February 28th, 2012 3:36 PM

    —->>> ‘The next time you catch yourself offering to help just because you’re the only girl, find a boy and make him do it.’

    That is SOOOOO hard to do ! ! ! ! :D

    I can’t even start imagining how I would make that happen. ‘Hey, You. Hum. You’re a boy. You’re sitting in that niiiice chair. I’m a girl, see, and I’m already up with plates in my bosom.
    How’bout we make the balance of the world right, and switch places?’

  • Abby February 28th, 2012 3:39 PM

    This is so me!! The other day, I was talking to the teacher I aide for, and she just looked at me randomly and said, “Abby, anyone who doesn’t like you… they’re just a bad person, because you’re just so sweet.” I was so taken aback that it brought tears to my eyes. I always try to be nice and give people the benefit of the doubt. But I also try to not let people step on my toes. It’s been hard, since I’ve let people do so for so long… but I try hard. Now, if people don’t respect me, they don’t get my respect either.

  • brynntheredonethat February 28th, 2012 4:55 PM

    About the societal feminism norms thing, it’s not even just with doing things — saying things, too, or acting a certain way, or even standing up or yourself or trying to be a leader. A lot of the guys in my class, when I’m put in a group with them, call me “mean” or act overly intimidated when I tell them to stop getting distracted or to be quiet and do the work. It’s really irritating and restricting and it makes me feel like a horrible person for trying to be productive, whereas if one of them did it, it would be totally “fine.”

  • MissKnowItAll February 28th, 2012 5:33 PM

    I remember in middle and elementary school, we use to give out student of the month awards. My friends won awards for best reader or most improved in math. Meanwhile, I won the award for random acts of kindness. I remember my friend Jackie saw it and asked “well, what the hell is that supposed to mean?”. I always tried to be nice becuase I’d once been in the position where I was made fun of for not wearing the right clothes or wearing my hair right. It made me sad to know that kindness was so rare while being snarky and vicous was easier. In elementary school, being nice was what got you friends. But in middle school, when ever you didn’t know what to say about a person, you called them nice. It was like a veiled insult. Like being nice was the only thing they had going for themselves. Over the years, I’ve tried to be nice to everybody because I’ve learned that no matter how much you dislike a person, being nice will make their day. I’m never one to be quiet, but I try not to offend other people. However, if I do get pissed off, prepare for a full on assault…

  • moonflower February 28th, 2012 5:43 PM

    Rookie, why are you so perfect? I love these morale-enforcing posts, it’s good articles without numbers on them, just feelings.

  • Madness February 28th, 2012 7:06 PM

    My policy in life is to treat everyone as if they’re broken. We all need love

  • Mary February 28th, 2012 7:29 PM

    I have had a hard time with being too nice. I have actually had to teach myself to put off bitch vibes because I got stepped on all the time. The bitch face tutorial helped with that!

  • stellar February 29th, 2012 12:26 AM

    helping others help themselves may be a way out of the imbalance…it’s nice and a win-win for both parties

  • MichyMich February 29th, 2012 7:02 AM

    Emma, you wrote an amazing article that touches my heart. Girl, that is the way to go!

    I have to admit that being nice is definitely the BEST thing in the world and what you wrote also touched my heart, which reminds me of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I have to admit that I used to have a mean streak and it was just plain evil. I started to become nicer after reading Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and realizing that the hurt I caused was the thing that never got me anywhere. Your post is another reminder that we also need to be genuinely nice to others despite who they are.

  • Pashupati February 29th, 2012 7:22 AM

    With people I reallytrulywholeheartedly care about, it just seems as if I’m too afraid they won’t like me to be nice… Avoiding them or keeping “cold” relationships just seems easier. I always think people who are nice with everybody are really brave.

  • gaia February 29th, 2012 12:33 PM

    This comes at a really good time for me because I’m usually nice to everyone, especially teachers. But today I had a teacher who was making fun of me for being OCD and mocking me. I found it really hurtful and if it had been another student I would have lashed out.
    But I kept a calm voice and told him if it made him feel better to make fun of me, he could do so as much as he wanted. He left me alone after that and I felt good that I had stood up for myself in a way that people would listen to.

  • Nishat February 29th, 2012 2:20 PM

    My boyfriend is RIDICULOUSLY nice to everybody. To make things fair, he is nicest to me, but still. He lets people come into his room when he’s trying to study and cleans up after all the boys who live in his house (he lives with his fraternity.) Sometimes it gets to be too much but we’ve definitely talked about not letting people walk over him. Nice people don’t finish last! (I think we’re both nice… haha.)

  • MichelleC February 29th, 2012 2:56 PM

    I LOVED this post because I felt so related…
    I constantly make an effort to be nice to people, because I feel that it is a sign of respect, and treating others nicely (regardless if you don’t initially like them) brings the best out of people…
    Of course this doesn’t mean being a doormat, I often struggle with people who think that because I’m nice, I am weak…seriously, most times I think that being nice is a sign of strength because it means that the negativity in the world hasn’t won over my better instincts…

    • Asha March 18th, 2012 7:31 AM

      that is true! some of the girls in my school say if they don’t like someone they let it show and by being nice to them is being fake. I mean, if everyone think like that, then this world would be none existed.

      I like being nice to everyone, even those who doesn’t like me because I want to be treated nicely as well. And by showing everyone that I don’t like a certain person, to me, that is like I care about that person and fortunately I don’t care about their negative comments.

  • Ellie February 29th, 2012 7:51 PM

    This sounds like me…Thanks so much, Emma! LURVED this post!

  • Hannnah March 1st, 2012 1:01 PM

    I think this article just decided for me whether I should be “nice” about some classmates’ fairly homophobic comments between themselves and not say anything, or do the nice thing for myself and say something about them to a teacher or speak to them myself.


  • biancacasablanca March 15th, 2012 8:42 PM

    I appreciate this article and the honesty within it. As someone who’s constantly in conflict with being kind, accepting, and patient with people as a baseline approach I also struggle with being firm and setting appropriate boundaries with people and knowing that this is okay and if people get angry or can’t accept that I can’t always give give give or may need to take care of myself etcetera, then maybe I need to rethink said relationships where I’m not allowed to say no or set appropriate boundaries. Also, does anyone experience being fairly shy and also nice, therefore maybe being perceived as a snob (by people who may think that quietness means aloofness when that’s not always the case) when the quietness or reserve may be more to do with social anxiety/comfort levels? hm.

  • This is my Alias April 4th, 2013 8:35 PM

    I am so much like number five , for example i get mad at my sis i hit her. Then after that im like, amazingly nice to her