I remember my mother harping on the importance of being nice. In fact, it was such a pervasive theme, I passed it on to my own children at frequent intervals. Be nice!

I’ve been trying to be more present in my own life and one of the things I’ve noticed is that being nice has definite payoffs.

Let’s say I’m driving home from work and the roads are filled with cars and some jackass decides he needs to be in MY lane right now and cuts me off. That happens with alarming regularity and I assume it does to all drivers and people aren’t just targeting me and my cute little sport car.

What makes me think it is MY lane? I’m on a public road paved by taxpayer dollars and it was actually here before I was and so who do I think I am that I own the road in any way, shape, or form. The other guy in the monster truck burning through gasoline at the rate of one gallon every eight miles has just as much right to his portion of the road as I have to mine in my economic little car.

I do not need to own my part of the road because it isn’t mine. If I see that small penis/big truck guy needs to be in my lane and I ease off the gas a bit and let him over instead of having him cut me off several things happen. Not to him, he’s still an asshole, but to me.

My heart rate drops a bit and I’m far less stressed. I let him instead of having him barge in where he didn’t belong. I’ve shifted my thinking from owning a piece of road to sharing a community property that wasn’t mine to start with. I’m happier with myself because I was nice. My car has less chance of being dented. And I get to see him up close and personal at the red light that catches us both.

The most selfish thing I could do in that situation was let the asshat cut in front of me. Everything calms down and there is less adrenaline running through my system. I don’t have to deal with the fight or flight problem because I CHOSE not to fight. I allowed what was going to happen anyway and I didn’t have to expend the energy on the aggressive response. I get to feel the endorphins of a generous response.

I have no idea what life is like for the under-endowed driver of the huge truck that has never hauled anything but air in the pristine bed but that’s his problem and not mine.

From the outside, the results might look the same. But I know the internal story I told myself about the event and that makes all the difference. I was nice and let him into my lane instead of incrementally speeding up and trying to keep him out or getting my front end clipped. I was the nice person and I can like myself better because of it. I’m also less stressed as I travel down the road and have a better chance of arriving at my destination in a frame of mind that permits me to continue being nice.

This is hard for me. I believe strongly in the theory of SHOULD. Life should work this way. But life only works the way I make it work. I have no control over anything other than myself. I can control my actions, reactions, and most importantly attitude and interpretation.

Being nice is one of the most selfish things we can do. It makes our lives easier and better. It lessens the conflict and aggression of modern day living in close proximity to a bunch of assholes. Life is full of disappointments from the major (didn’t get the job) to the minor (didn’t get the best parking place) to the ludicrous (didn’t get the last jelly doughnut). I don’t even like jelly doughnuts.

When we are nice, it calms our self talk. We were the hero of whatever small or large annoyance or issue was before us. We don’t wake up in the middle of the night regretting the meanness we displayed because we didn’t display any. We behaved. We were nice. We sleep better for it.

Being nice isn’t a sign of weakness. It isn’t that nice guys finish last. It is simply that when nice guys finish, they are really done. When mean guys finish first because they cheated or were nasty, they have the consequences of those actions to deal with later. The consequences of being nice are much better to deal with later. They make you smile.

Most of our life is about the self talk in our head. This or that happens and how we perceive it is far more substantial than what actually happened. Telling yourself that you did the best you could and you were nice makes it easier to deal with the vagaries of life.

So go ahead and be selfish.

Be nice.