23 Ways to Be a Nicer Person, According to Mental Health Experts
These expert-backed tips will help you kick up the kindness in no time.
Every time you do something nice for someone—whether it's holding the door open or buying a stranger a cup of coffee—you are spreading kindness and making the world a little bit brighter. Even internally, staying positive and treating both yourself and others with compassion goes a long way. So there's no time like the present to start making small but effective changes in your daily life to better yourself and the world around you. And if you're not sure where to start, we're here to help. We consulted top mental health experts and life coaches from across the country to learn the easiest ways to be nicer to everyone in your life… starting right now!
Start each morning with positive affirmations.
Be mindful of others.
With everything going on in our lives, it's easy to become preoccupied by thoughts of our own problems, stresses, and busy schedules. However, we are surrounded by people with their own problems, stresses, and busy schedules, and part of being a kinder person is being mindful of that.
"By being mindful of those around us and what is going on in their lives, we can be more attentive to their needs and be there for them when they go through difficulties or encounter problems," explains relationship and sex therapist Christopher Ryan Jones, PsyD.
Pay it forward.
You're probably familiar with the "pay it forward" principle—the idea that if you're the beneficiary of a good deed, instead of doing something nice for the person who helped you out, you can repay the act of kindness to others instead.
According to Jones, that's just the kind of the thing that can motivate someone who's down. "You never know what people go through in their lives and what difficulties they face," he says. "Doing a small gesture—like paying for someone's food—can be a very special form of encouragement to someone."
Or commit to performing an act of kindness once a week.
Challenge yourself to keep to a schedule of doing something nice for someone at least once a week. "Make a list of 52 random kind acts—be sure to include kind acts directed toward yourself as well—and cut the list into 52 folded-over pieces of paper. Deposit them into a small basket or Ziploc bag and every Sunday, withdraw one," suggests transitional life strategist Randi Levin, owner of Randi Levin Coaching. "This is a tiny step toward a habit of kindness."
Never assume you know what people are thinking or feeling.
No matter how well you think you know someone, it's important you don't try to guess what they are feeling internally. If you assume that someone is fine and they're actually upset, then you're missing an opportunity to comfort and console them. And if you assume that they are mad or angry with you without actually asking, you might end up treating them with unnecessary hostility.
"Be open to discovery, listen to what is being said, and be moment-centric in your responses," Levin says. This is a big part of becoming a more emotionally intelligent person, which is often intertwined with kindness.
And assume the best intentions instead of the worst.
"Instead of assuming the worst—for example, 'That person is driving so fast because they're selfish'—practice giving the other person grace—'Someone is driving quickly because of an emergency'—or even not making any assumptions at all," says Emily Souder, a licensed therapist and owner of Nesting Space LLC. Giving people the benefit of the doubt will help you be a kinder person and alleviate some of the anger or anxiety you feel when making negative assumptions about someone.
Make an effort to listen more.
"One way to be kinder is simply to listen," says stress relief coach Sandy Fowler. "Human connection is essential for our well-being." And when you are listening to someone, Fowler says not to stress "about how you'll respond or about trying to fix their problems." Instead, "just listen to them and validate their feelings."
Show someone that you remember things that are important them.
"If you really want to make someone feel great, remember something that's important to them. Prove to them you were paying attention by reaching out with well wishes for the start of their new job or ask how the diet is coming along," says Eric Rittmeyer, an emotional intelligence expert and author of The Emotional Marine. "Not only does it make them feel an instant connection with you, but it also shows them you're someone that truly cares."
Want an easy way to brighten someone's day? Just give them a little smile. "Not only does [smiling] make you happier, but it also makes others around you happier," says mindfulness teacher Tina Williamson. "Smiling is infectious!"
When you have something nice to say, say it!
When it comes to the advice "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," you'd be wise to practice the reverse of that phrase as well. In other words, if you have something nice to say, come out with it already.
"Compliment someone's character," says Williamson. "Perhaps they are funny, thoughtful, or generous. Tell them!"
Send more handwritten letters.
Expressing your feelings through old-fashioned pen and paper in a digital world can be a very powerful gesture. "In our world of short tidbits of information, taking the time to handwrite a note is very meaningful," Williamson says. "Goodness knows we could all use a little more meaning in our lives!"
Use a person's name when speaking to them.
You can really make a difference in someone's day simply by using their name when you interact with them. "Look at name tags wherever someone wears one and use it to say 'good morning' or 'thank you,'" says licensed professional counselor Jessica Formicola. "The personalized touch is sure to make people smile."
Say "good morning" to people.
Say "good morning" to friends, family, colleagues, and even random passersby. "Most people would be surprised by how much of an impact saying 'good morning' makes," says life coach and licensed acupuncturist Jamie Bacharach. Greeting people when you see them for the first time "promotes feelings of positivity, camaraderie, kindness, and warmth."
Be nicer to the environment.
Being a nicer person isn't just about your interactions with people. According to Bacharach, it's also about respecting Mother Nature and doing your part to be more eco-friendly.
"One of the most important ways in which we can all be kinder people in 2020 is by being kinder to the environment," she says. "This means making more ecologically friendly choices as a consumer, recycling whenever possible, and encouraging others to behave similarly."
Look at things from other people's perspectives.
When you want to be more sympathetic and understanding, it helps to look at things from other people's perspectives . "Often if we can see from [another person's] point of view, it's much easier to be kind," says Lisa Stines Doane, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Cleveland, Ohio.
Think about the benefits that being kind has for you.
If you're ever on the brink of saying something mean or hurtful, just remind yourself of all the benefits that being kind has for you. "If you can call on the warmth and connection you might feel after giving a nice compliment or even just cutting someone some slack, you can quickly motivate yourself to act kindly," Doane says.
It's hard to be sympathetic and sincere when your ego is in the way. That's why licensed therapist Rose Skeeters of Thrive: Mind/Body suggests putting it aside if you want to focus on kindness moving forward. "Kick that ego to the curb by resisting the urge to always be right, admitting when you are wrong, asking for and accepting advice, and giving credit to others," she says.
Be more positive on social media.
As you're probably well aware, social media is full of negativity and stress-inducing content that only does a disservice to your mental health. The good news is that you can easily serve as a beacon of light on social platforms by curating your feed to be more positive. "Post encouraging quotes and don't let yourself get involved in the divisiveness," says Amanda Ponzar, a health and well-being expert in Alexandria, Virginia.
When you see an anxious person at a party, talk to them.
When you see someone at a social gathering who looks uncomfortable and anxious, try to engage them in conversation, says Baltimore-based psychologist Cathy Sullivan-Windt, PhD. Even some brief small talk could make that person feel more at ease for a few minutes, which is a bigger deal than it may sound.
When you're angry, take a few seconds before responding.
Fighting with the people you love is never easy, but it happens. And when you do have a tiff with a loved one, or anyone for that matter, for the sake of kindness and civility, it's best to follow the "six seconds of separation" rule.
"It's scientifically proven that you can take six seconds to recalibrate your thoughts," says Mimi Bishop, a life coach and co-founder of The Resting Mind. "When my clients catch themselves being short-tempered, I ask them to hum the lyrics to 'Living on a Prayer' by Bon Jovi. It works!"
And remind yourself why you love those closest to you.
While you are taking a few seconds to gather your thoughts before engaging in an argument or expressing your feelings of frustration towards someone, try to remind yourself of all the positive feelings you have for them outside of what you are feeling in that moment.
For example, "if you want to scream at your husband for letting the laundry pile up, think about a time that he brought home dinner," Bishop says. "This releases positive chemicals in the brain."
Turn your negative thoughts into positive ones.
The next time you find yourself thinking something negative about someone, make a conscious effort to internally compliment them instead. "If you notice that you're having a negative thought about a person, like 'I can't stand the way she always interrupts,' see if you can find a positive thought to think, such as 'She bakes the best chocolate chip cookies!'" suggests Joy Rains, mindfulness speaker and author of Meditation Illuminated.
Be kinder to yourself.
Since it's such a crucial part of becoming kinder to others, it bears repeating: Kindness starts from within. If you want to be a nicer person, that means being nicer to yourself, too. "Treat yourself with compassion, thinking positive thoughts about yourself, and treating yourself to simple pleasures, like taking a bubble bath or reading a good book," says Rains.