It’s OK To Be Nice. Science Backs You Up.
I have an out-of-state friend I've met in-person only once but have stayed in touch with via social media ever since. Every so often, we'll message each other, usually with regards to something we posted on FaceBook.
During one recent exchange, I recalled seeing that she had gone through some personal issues a few months prior, though I was unaware of the details. I thought, as we messaged each other on a completely unrelated topic, of saying something about that, just to check in, to make sure she was fine, to offer any support.
But I didn't want to pry, not knowing how sensitive the issue was. I wondered if it was appropriate for me to say something given that we didn't know each other that well, wondering how she'd react, if she'd appreciate it, if she'd think I was prying. I decided to do it anyway, and sent her a few words of support, that I just wanted to make sure she was alright. Her response was immediate, positive, appreciative so clearly, my concerns were unfounded.
Which got me thinking about why I'd hesitated in the first place. I mean, I was coming from a good place and really just offering some support. But I held myself back (at least for a bit) because of what I perceived the reception would be.
Well, it turns out that this reaction isn't at all uncommon. A recent study in the Journal Psychological Science speaks to this very phenomenon. The study specifically looked at experiments where people wrote Thank You notes to others and found that:
"People miscalculate the benefits of writing to someone to express gratitude. And they overvalue the importance of getting it exactly right.
The biggest barrier to doing nice things — what researchers call "prosocial behaviors" — is people's judgments about themselves and how others will view them. They measure themselves on such competencies as how well they'd write the letter or perform a kind deed. Those receiving the letters don't use the same measure...Recipients gauge warmth. And the fact someone bothered to write..."
Many of us go through this - we overthink both sides of the equation: both the value and impact of our words and actions, as well as how those words and actions will be received. And we're usually wrong.
The fact is, people appreciate the gesture more than the extent of the effort put into it. They appreciate the underlying message more than its eloquence. They appreciate the fact that you took the time.
In other words, so long as we're being genuine, it's important to say it, to do it, to make the gesture. We overthink enough in our lives, let's not overthink the simple act of being nice to each other.
Case in point: As I sit here at a coffee shop writing this, a guy just walked in wearing a t-shirt with pictures of great Liverpool soccer players on it. I thought of saying something - given my love of football - but hesitated. Then looking back at what I was writing about, I decided I would say something. He smiled, we talked and bonded in some small way, over our love of football, great players and the importance of Liverpool finishing the season above Jose Mourinho. It was a lovely chat. A warm exchange with a complete stranger. A simple, positive human exchange.
Isn't that what life’s all about?