Just Be Nice

If you do nothing else this weekend, why not simply pledge to be nice to and around everyone you meet?

This sign in my son's school playground really got me thinking this week, not just about my immediate relationships, which include that with my child, boyfriend, friends, estranged husband, mother, neighbours, even my cats, but also about the hundreds of interactions that take place between me and relative strangers every day. 

Intriguingly, being nice doesn't have to cost anything, it doesn't have to be the same as being generous or even really caring (although if you're a cool person you'll be these things too) it's just about being pleasant, and considering how your interaction will impact upon the other party, how they'll feel for having seen or spoken to you.

Just being nice, not only gives others a positive impression of you, but also encourages you to have a positive impression of yourself. It's well documented that one of the best things to do when you feel down is to force yourself to smile; smiling actively releases happy hormones in to our bodies to pick us up - even if we're smiling in to a lonely glass of orange squash. Smiling at another person, and having your smile returned, quadruples the effect. Throw someone your best grin and your positivity will immediately rocket - making you feel better about, well, pretty much everything.

After air for breathing, and water and food for energy and bodily function, the fourth most essential ingredient for health and well-being - is companionship. Some of us are lucky enough to have one or more constant companions: husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, close friends, parents, siblings - but you can satisfy this requirement, and intensify it's feel-good health-boosting effects, simply by interacting with more humans - and there are a few about. 

Happy, positive people perform better at work and in the bedroom, they make more nourishing food choices, find it easier to manage their finances, are less likely to be involved in a road traffic accident, have cleaner homes, are significantly less likely to fall ill - but more likely to fall pregnant, find it easier to attract potential romantic partners and to fall in love, can relieve the symptoms of their own minor allergies, drink less alcohol but have a better time, get a good night's sleep, notice more about the world around them, are more likely to be invited to parties and find it easier to source creative inspiration from the every day.

One of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective ways to be a happier, most positive person and reap all of the benefits above plus some? Just Be Nice. 

Before I leave you with some homework, for goodness sake - please remember that being nice and allowing yourself to be used are not the same thing. Being nice doesn't mean saying "yes!" to every favour people ask of you, or going out of your way to help others to the detriment of your own happiness. Read my post on "Living Selfishly" to discourage yourself from being a doormat.

Just be nice this weekend, and make a pledge to:

  1. Smile at three strangers every time you leave the house, whether they're just people you make eye contact with on the street or at traffic lights, other customers in a shop you visit, or the person sitting opposite you in the doctor's waiting room. Just smile. 
  2. Ask "how are you?" of anyone you'd usually only say "hello" to. This might be the person serving you at the supermarket checkout, your next door neighbour, or the postman. 
  3. Look through your phonebook and pick out three friends you haven't spoken to in over 14 days. Call them to ask how they are, find out what's going on with them, don't have an agenda, just call for the sake of calling. 
  4. Buy someone flowers. This doesn't have to cost a fortune, as I'm well documented to have said on more than one occasion - carnations are beautiful and they cost £1.50 a bunch in Lidl. It doesn't matter what you spend, the recipient is unlikely to have received flowers from anyone else that day. If you're feeling mega flush, have them delivered, but personally, I like to be presented with a bunch of flowers properly - and I think most people feel the same way. Try to give them to someone that you wouldn't usually buy flowers for, but that won't be slightly creeped out by the whole exchange (your sister perhaps?)
  5. Swap five big-corps purchases for five indie purchases. Whether it's buying your carrots at the farmers market or greengrocer instead of at Tesco, or popping to an independent cafe to meet a friend, rather than Costa, move five purchases away from the huge multinationals and instead put your money in to the pockets of independent businesses and trades people. When you do so, have a proper think about what your purchase means, whether it's supporting your local community or making sure that a farmer receives a fair amount for what he or she has grown or raised - congratulate yourself, silently, and feel good about it. 
  6. Do your bit for charity. Collect together your coppers and spare bits of change around the house, put them in to a separate coin bag, and take them out with you when you pop to the shops, when you see a collection tin (they're almost always on the checkouts in newsagents and similar small shops) pop your change in, it was only cluttering up the surfaces of your home anyway, and now it's gone towards making a difference elsewhere. If you want to go further, why not make this the weekend you sit down and offer a little of your time to volunteer with a charity? Do-It is a great online resource listing available volunteering opportunities across the country. However, if there's a charity active locally, whose work you feel passionately about, then get in touch, they're unlikely to turn away volunteers. Alternatively, if you don't have the time to volunteer, but want to make a difference to a charity you support, become a regular donor, most charities offer a sponsorship option of some sort, allowing you to make a regular contribution. The other day I blogged about how the RSPCA are giving something back to their sponsors.
  7. Decide to do one genuine "Good Deed" each day this weekend (that doesn't include any of the above). It could be taking some food round to a neighbour who's been unwell recently, or helping someone struggling with their shopping in the carpark. In the morning, agree with yourself as to how you'll reward yourself once you've done a genuinely good deed (a few squares of your favourite chocolate perhaps?) - who said being nice had to be selfless?
  8. Compliment everyone. We've covered strangers you meet during the day in Points 1 and 2, friends that have fallen through the net in Point 3, someone worthy of a treat in Point 4, your local community in Point 5, those less privalidged than yourself in Point 6, and any old Tom, Dick or Harry in Point 7 - but it's so bloody important to be nicest to the people closest to us - and quite often - they're the ones we're most likely to forget! Make it your mission to compliment everyone that you see regularly: your children, your romantic partner, your work colleagues, your best friend, your hairdresser, people who you see on purpose, the people that you either arrange to see, or live with.. To double the challenge, try to compliment everyone on something that isn't appearance-based. Have go at complimenting everyone on their character or achievements - without sounding a bit odd. These compliments make us feel better about ourselves for longer when we receive them, and are also the comments we're most likely to remember receiving. Also, when we compliment people regularly on their character or achievements, we remind ourselves to value them and our relationship with them. 
  9. Just be nice to animals. My all time favourite quote is this one, from Mahatma Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation, and it's moral progress, can be judged by the way it's animals are treated". If you have pets, do something extra nice for them this weekend, whether it's a particularly exciting walk for the dog, or treats for your cats or other small furries - hell, just cleaning the fish tank out would be a good start (looks in the mirror). If you don't have any pets of your own, just be conscious of the animal life around you - and be nice to it, stop and stroke cats when you're out and about, or go out and buy a bird feeder - the cold months are rolling in with gusto and times are going to be getting hard for our feathery friends soon, some peanuts in a wire hanger could help to keep somebody alive this winter, even if that somebody is a Blue Tit.
  10. Don't complain. If you actually keep a tally of the number of negative remarks and comments you make every day (about the weather, the fact that your hands are cold, the fact that there's a hole in the footpath outside your door, other people's driving, the cost of onions etc.) it's staggering. Even if you consider yourself a positive, happy person, you probably complain all day - we all do. However, the minute you pledge to stop complaining, you'll be amazed at how the world around you shifts. This weekend, pledge not to complain, about anything, unless you absolutely have to (once I really did, genuinely, find a slug in my salad - bisto pub on St. Mary's Island). Every time you feel yourself about to complain - say something positive instead. Such as "It's such a lovely crisp day - feels like proper Autumn" instead of "Brrrr." or just tell someone you saw some really nice gloves in M&S and you're going to go back and get them next week, rather than whining about your cold fingers (although you're not, because M&S are a huge company and there's probably someone within your network who knits one-off knitwear at a fraction of the price. Cough.)

I'll be blogging over the weekend anyway but - onwards and upwards in to the weekendness people - you're almost there - make it a good one, and remember, Just Be Nice. 

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