It was late. Really late. Like, well-after-midnight late. But the summer sun was just starting to set in the northern latitudes of Watson Lake, Yukon. After driving for hours, we were happy to see civilization again. The only problem was our timing. In this small town, nothing — not even the gas station — was open anymore. Steven and I both needed to use the bathroom and brush our teeth before climbing in the back of our van for the night.

We tried our luck at the only two motels we saw. “No public bathrooms,” the scruffy front desk manager grunted at us. As we walked next door to the only other motel in town, it began to feel like our last hope. 

This front desk manager could see we were desperate, but her motel had the same rule: no public bathrooms. Instead of getting upset, shouting, and generally causing a scene among the three of us, we simply asked, nicely, if there was any other option.

She felt for us, hearing that we were passing through after a long night of driving, so she decided to take a big risk for us and let us into a recently vacated room for a few minutes while her manager was on a short break. As we brushed our teeth, a frantic knock came at the door. Our newfound friend hurriedly gave us instructions for sneaking out the back door so her manager, coming back early, would be none the wiser. As we made our exit, we smiled and waved at our friend, who smiled back behind her unsuspecting boss.

Being nice to her made our night a lot better, and she seemed to enjoy the little adrenaline rush of helping us while bending the rules a bit. 

Being Nice is Part of the Golden Rule

The concept of treating others nicely and with respect is something we’re all taught early on. You would want to be treated that way, so you should treat others similarly. It’s just the right thing to do.

It’s easy to lose sight of that when someone provokes you, especially if it feels purposeful. In Watson Lake, that first hotel desk manager was rude to us right off the bat. We were just asking a question, but he responded with unnecessary impertinence. It was both frustrating and defeating, so I loudly (and, in retrospect, embarrassingly) pointed out those exact thoughts as we left the lobby.

Screenshot of news cast on the holidays
According to our local news, being nice is something you only do during the holidays…like tipping, apparently.

This sort of thing happens all the time. On the phone with customer service, after the wait time, automated menus, and endless transfers, it can take serious effort to not get pissed off and take it out on the representative on the other end. At restaurants, when your food comes to the table late or incorrect, angrily blaming the server can seem to make sense in the moment.

But how often does acting out instead of approaching the situation with kindness help improve the outcome? And even if it does, do you feel good about it afterward?

Kindness Breeds Goodwill

Sometimes being nice brings unexpected results. Not only does kindness make the other person feel better, but it can also lead to camaraderie and friendship. I’ll give another bathroom example (I promise they’re not all bathroom examples):

At a gas station recently, I was fourth in a line of maybe eight waiting for the women’s bathroom. We were all getting restless, and some were starting to get sour about the situation, spreading negativity. I wasn’t happy about the wait either, but I decided to pass the time by talking to another girl in the queue.

When the last guy in the store exited the men’s room, my line buddy and I took note. While the other ladies kept expressing their frustration, the two of us shared the same thought. “Wanna take turns watching the door of the men’s room to get through this faster?” With a little teamwork, my new gal pal and I left the store before most of the others got their turn.

Another time, during our National Parks trip, we met a woman traveling with her daughter, who was close in age to us. We were nice to each other, talking for about 45 minutes at a visitor center. Right there, we connected on Facebook, and she told us to look them up if we were ever in Vegas. Later on during our trip, we needed to park our van in — you guessed it — Vegas. Our new friend not only let us use her driveway instead of expensive airport parking, but she also drove us to catch our flight. When we got back, she insisted we stay to share a home-cooked meal and do our laundry. We never would have guessed that a chance encounter could have resulted in this level of kindness returned to us.

Photo of the Las Vegas skyline
The view from our $0 Las Vegas accommodations. Friendship is a solid substitute for hotel credit card rewards points!

But the best example I have of niceness going a long way comes from our time living in California. Steven and I were obsessed with a restaurant chain that recently added a new vegan option, and we were really excited about it. One day, I noticed an executive-looking guy (suit and tie at a fast-casual place was a dead giveaway) and decided to give him my positive feedback to let him know we loved the new dish. 

We exchanged business cards, and he invited us for a free meal the next day. That in itself was a great result, but fast forward seven years, and we’re still friends today. I’ve lost count of the meals we’ve shared with him and his family, and they’ve even opened their home to us a few times during our travels.

It Could Lead to a Big Payoff

Niceness can pay off in more ways than one. It can brighten the day of a fellow human, and it may just benefit you (and I’m not just talking about karma).

When I was checking out at the grocery store with a bottle of juice recently, the clerk asked the usual question. I smiled and replied that I was just okay because I felt like I was getting sick, hence the juice. The clerk then applied a coupon that made my juice cost only $1 to make me feel better. Saving a few dollars isn’t life-changing, but that clerk’s kindness could be. After all, the gesture did make me feel better. 

Whether it’s a small benefit, like exchanging genuine smiles with your cashier when they ask how you’re doing, or a larger benefit, like a lifelong friend, being nice is part of being good. And it’s always worth it. The kindness you put out into the world could turn into something more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling. 

I can tell you from personal experience that being nice has opened career doors for me too. When we were moving back to Florida, our California friend took it upon himself to ask his connections about possible job opportunities for me just to help us out. And, because I’ve always left my jobs on good terms, I’ve typically been able to negotiate continued freelance work on my way out. Our entire photography business has grown by word of mouth and the connections we’ve made over the years by, in one way or another, being nice. People always say business is about the connections you have, but it’s also about the connections you choose to make.

So, am I saying that if you’re nice to someone, they’re gonna hand you a check for a thousand dollars or offer you a job? No; it doesn’t quite work like that. You can’t expect a payoff every time you’re decent to another person. But the more often you’re nice to people, the more opportunities you foster for meaningful, enjoyable, or even profitable connections in the future.

It also costs you nothing.

— Lauren

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