Thursday, November 12, 2015

How being nice makes you unhappy

Article also on my site

Free apples for everybody

Dear reader, you are the kind of person that wishes to make the world a better place, you are doing that by being a better person yourself and you consider it your job to do so.

I appreciate that sentiment very much and I love you for it.
But now it's high time to take a nice vacation from that job and I will tell you why.

Even a workaholic takes a break, so why would you always be such a nice guy/girl? There is no reason why you shouldn't take a break from being the wonderful person that you are. It is refreshing and in fact, people will appreciate you more for it.

If I gave everybody at work a free apple on every Friday for a few months, people would expect free apples every Friday. At first they would think "whoa, what a nice guy for doing that". After a while it becomes a regular thing and they would just expect a free apple on Friday.
But this Friday I don't have enough apples for everybody. And lo and behold, the people who didn't get an apple are pissed off and mean to me because they didn't get what they deserved. Now they don't like me so much anymore.

Strange how that works eh? I was just trying to be a nice guy but all I get is slack for a few tiny things that go wrong.
Sounds familiar?

Now I could make it my responsibility to deliver free apples for the rest of my life, or I could turn it around.
I pick Bob who said especially mean things to me and tell everybody, "no more free apples because of what Bob said, and I don't feel that my kindness is being appreciated at all".
Boom! everybody turns on Bob for ruining the free apple deal for everybody. And I am a really nice guy again.

Now I know I was being a real asshole. My relationship with Bob has been ruined, but now I can give free apples every once in a while which is much more appreciated.

This is a really simple example just to show you how people perceive your kindness and how it progresses over time.

If you are the "good guy" all the time, people will walk all over you, use you and abuse you. That's not because they are the bad people, psychology tells us that is just the way humans work. I know you are not like that at all, you try to fight those natural tendencies. You are truly a better person for it. But you are also really flat and unhappy.

You are flat because people walk over you, get it? Okay, bad joke, I'm gonna leave it in anyway.

But why are you so unhappy?
You get negative feedback for things that go wrong, that you do wrong. Being such a nice person as you are, you take these criticisms to heart and even start believing them to be true.
You see, we hardly remember the things that go really well, because there is nothing to fix. The things that go wrong are remembered because they may contain information that helps us change future similar situations for the better. So we are hard-wired to focus on and remember the things that go wrong.

You are unhappy because you are not being appreciated, everybody needs appreciation. Also you don't know how humans really work, how they can be manipulated and how you are being manipulated every single day of your life.

Also there is this weird feedback loop going on.
You think you are something, so you act like it. People perceive that(consciously or subconsciously) and act accordingly thus amplifying you belief.
In short. Negative feedback from multiple sources makes you believe you are a fuck up. But you should be asking yourself, why do you get this feedback? Are they right? And what are their real reasons?

What can you do to be more happy? Simple, just focus on the good things in life, you under-appreciate them. Read some things about psychology like Confirmation bias and other cognitive biases, or this excellent article Cognitive Bias Survival Guide. I really think every one should learn that by heart in middle school. Do that, and you will figure out that the world might not be what you always thought it was. Knowing yourself and other people will give you a greater understanding of the world and help you achieve your goals.

Also, practice being an asshole.
Try it, it feels great and gives you a lot of freedom. Just think about it, have you ever seen someone like that apologize or feel bad for the things they have done? No! because they own up to it. Or they don't even think about it. If they call you out on it, just say that you are practicing your assertiveness training or something. Or tell them Henry Hackit made you do it. Balance is the key to everything. This includes being an asshole sometimes.

People will like you much more if your kindness is something rare and to be earned instead of given away for free every single day.

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