The Definitive Answer To What Is The Difference Between Being Nice And Being Kind

what is the difference between niceness and kindness

A few weeks ago I went out to lunch with my friend Alice. It was a gray, Minnesota winter day—the kind that she embraces and that I shiver through—and after slogging through ice and slush and cold, it was lovely to unwrap my winter layers and settle in for warm Pho and catch-up conversation. We hadn’t sat down just the two of us in awhile, so we ping-ponged our thoughts and feelings and experiences back and forth quickly. I told her about something that I wished I had handled a bit differently, and her response was, “I think you’re only worried about this one because you’re so nice.” My response, I will admit now, was odd. I prickled at the word “nice” and tried to disengage from it. “I’ll take kind,” I said, “But nice? Meh.” She looked at me in a way that so mirrored my tweens, I had to laugh. Head tilted, nose scrunched, the word “really?” with a perfectly placed inflection, ready at the lips.

I stumbled through a makeshift explanation, trying to differentiate nice and kind. Recently, I’ve read many articles and have looked at many graphics trying to do this, explaining that nice is done to please, kind is done with heart. Nice is meek, kind is strong. Nice holds expectations, kind does not. But as I tried to recall these examples in a small restaurant, with a good friend, in between bites of Pho, I grew increasingly wary at what I was regurgitating. I imagined trying to explain this difference to my kids, lets say after an act of “niceness,” that it—that they—weren’t the right brand of kindness and all I could come up with as a response was, “Says who?”

Because here’s the thing, trying to categorize acts of kindness, niceness, goodness into good and not-good-enough boxes seems to entirely miss the point of any of these words and the actions and heart that go with them.

A few years ago, when I was looking through my kids’ backpacks—probably on a Monday morning, in between bites of breakfast, and too close to when it was time to leave for school—I unloaded a rainbow of papers from one of their folders. Somewhere in between a karate sign up form, a PTO meeting invitation, and a math worksheet done well, was a school-green paper titled, “How To Bully Proof Your Kids.” Even then, when my kids were little and my bullying research was limited, I knew that this note was, almost entirely, also missing the point.

Not only is it not really possible to bully proof our kids, or anyone for that matter, but our real work is to make sure that our kids, and our students, are not bullying. Bullied kids don’t need fixing, they’re not doing anything wrong, just like “nice” people don’t need fixing, they, too, aren’t doing anything wrong.

And it seems to me that focusing and expending precious time and energy on differentiating between nice and kind and trying to make sure that I, that we, are doing it “right,” is wasteful. I’d much rather focus everything I’ve got on actually being kind (and nice!).

So here’s what I think we should do. We should approach the world and its people with kindness and niceness and expect the world and its people to treat us with the same right back. In fact, I think that so much in this world would be better if we all maneuvered our way through it with kind and nice actions and kind and nice expectations.

We should expect kindness and be surprised by anything less than.

This isn’t meek or privileged, it’s a goal to work toward.

This isn’t complicated, it’s simple.

And this isn’t wrong, it couldn’t possibly be more right.

So I am going to own my kind—and my nice—and encourage it in my kids, without qualifications, over Pho or anywhere else.

Being kind and nice is the only true way. 

There is nothing to fix or change or define or qualify or explain. It’s all so much simpler than that and our energy could be much better spent just being kind (and nice!) rather than trying to do any of it right, or even worse, skipping out on our nice, kind instincts for fear of not doing it right. Because that’s not really possible, is it?

When we are being kind and being nice and doing good and leading with heart, there is no overthinking required; that’s the beauty of it all. You can’t go wrong with any brand of kindness, or niceness. So go for it—with wild abandon.

I created a downloadable and printable checklist for you of the 9 online spaces I always say, “yes” to. It is easier to be kind when you are surrounded by good people and spending time in good places! Enjoy!

I need that button

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  1. I have always thought being nice and kind were both ways we give fully with our heart. I’m glad I was there to have this conversation with you and I loved reading about your process. This was my favorite part of the post, “You can’t go wrong with any brand of kindness, or niceness.”

  2. Kind and Nice and Good. All words I would use to describe you, Galit. And all things we should ALL strive to be in this world where we *think* we need a “bully-proofing” strategy. It’s people like you who will hopefully make those obsolete! :)