I’m a mother of 17 month old twins. I take them to an indoor play gym once a week at the local community center. Toddlers, I’m learning, hit, pinch, bite and scream. I often observe them subjecting each other to this behavior in the hopes of obtaining exclusive access to that coveted piece of Little Tykes equipment. We mothers hover nearby and, at the sight of any bad behavior, admonish our kids to “be nice.” One day as I was dragging my child away from a Tykes Patrol Police Car that was already occupied, I came to the realization that most adults have been told to “be nice” from a very early age.  We all know that it means be nice to each other. And while I agree it’s important to be nice to others, I find it interesting that many of us have reached adulthood without having been admonished over the years to be nice to ourselves.

I for one am a person who loves to please – an approval whore as Martha Beck puts it. Over the years, I’ve worked very hard at the first kind of being nice. To name only a few examples, I’ve spent time in a hospice caring for people dying of AIDS, volunteered on a hotline for survivors of sexual assault, delivered warm meals to the elderly, written letters on behalf of political prisoners…  but I had a dirty little secret. In all of my caring for, advocating on behalf of and delivering to, I never quite found this work fulfilling. I expected it to fill me up, so to speak, and when it didn’t, I felt confused and inadequate.

What I now see is that fulfillment shows up when we are doing things that truly reflect our heart’s desire. I was spending all that time being nice for the wrong reasons: because I wanted to do what I was told; because I wanted to be loved, respected and admired; because I felt that it was my obligation to do for others in return for all the blessings I enjoy in my life.

Quoting Russ Harris in his book The Happiness Trap:

“If you’re giving to charity to get rid of thoughts that you’re selfish, or you’re throwing yourself into your work to avoid feelings of inadequacy, or you’re looking after your friends to counteract fears of rejection, then chances are, you won’t get much satisfaction out of those activities. Why not? Because your primary motivation is the avoidance of unpleasant thoughts and feelings, this drains the joy and vitality from what you are doing.”

My advice to all you unhappy do-gooders out there? (You know who you are.) Learn to be nice to yourself. Find out what really makes you happy and give yourself permission to have fun. This is your higher self steering you in the direction of your best life. When you learn to listen to your heart, you will always end up doing something that is of service to the world. As Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute says “Your mission in life is where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Related posts:


Leave a Reply