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In the simplest way, “niceness” stems from how people perceive us and “kindness” is born out of an authentic loving nature. How many of us feel that we are “nice” to people to speed up conversation, get out of a social situation, to be polite? I’ve often said, "My real friends know I love them because I am not nice to them 100% of the time." (probably less than 50% if we’re aiming to be honest). It doesn’t mean I am not kind to them though. I genuinely care about their well-being and happiness, and would drop anything I was doing if they needed me. However, we have this terrible tendency to smile and nod in uncomfortable situations and with people we are not already close to.
As with each of these posts and every meditation I record for my listeners, I am still learning, myself. Isn’t that the great thing about this life? We can learn something new every day. Everyone falls into bad habits and unhealthy routines and while I aim to help you sleep soundly at night, I also aim to wake you up consciously so that you can become aware of your thoughts and surroundings. So take notice next time you are smiling, nodding and being polite just so you can get away from a situation faster…
When we’re being nice, it is so that other people will think we are nice. It is a selfish karma (used in it’s original context to mean action). We act out of fear.
When we’re being kind, it is with a genuine feeling for the well-being of another. A selfless karma. We act out of love.
Kindness comes from compassion and empathy, whereas niceness comes from our roots of self preservation. You can find a great article that expresses the difference between these two at Meditation Mag (Nice Vs. Kind).
What I would like to highlight here is the empathy aspect of kindness. Whether you find yourself to be empathetic with others or not, it is interesting to know that empathy is not a trait of character – it is a skill. “Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” (Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life).
RSA (the Royal Society of Arts) does a great video below describing the difference between empathy and sympathy which correlates wonderfully to this discussion of niceness and kindness.
To be able to see another person’s world is to put aside your ideas of politeness, self preservation and social discomfort. When we’re being empathetic, we don’t have to pretend to be listening and caring or fake a smile because we can truly connect with another human on more than a superficial level. Empathy is hard, though. It comes incredibly naturally to some people and awfully difficult to others. Like all things worth doing, empathy takes practice. There are many exercises you can do to practice empathy, and some habits you can incorporate into every day.
So I encourage you, the next time you are in a situation where it is easier to be nice than to be kind, to notice. To breathe in and out and open your heart to someone. Put your perspectives and judgments aside and try to be empathetic and understanding of another individual. Keep your mind open and you’ll learn something new every time.
There is a new Beachside Sleep Meditation available via Patreon if you would like to practice being empathetic to someone who is on a vacation during these chilly winter months. Guided meditations can be a great gateway into empathy because they illustrate how to put yourself in another place, take notice of your own mind and body and become more mindful overall.
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