A knack for doing nice things

Most of us know at least one person who is always doing something nice for someone.  It may be baking cookies to bring to work, or giving someone flowers (store-bought or from their yard), or being open to finding just the right birthday gift (when the birthday in mind is weeks or months away).  Maybe it is being aware of the social vibes in an office, so you have small gifts ready for people on special occasions.  I remember hearing about a little boy who loved to put pennies in greeting card envelopes at the store, because he thought someone would be happy when they found it. 

What makes a person the sort of person who does nice things?  Psychology loves to debate nature versus nurture concepts, and while for most things it is both, in some instances it is primarily one or the other.  Nature means it is something the person was born with, that it is genetic.  Nurture is what they have learned, sometimes while still in the womb.  They used to think most personality traits were the result of nurture, but now know nature also plays a part, such as with addictive behaviours, anger problems, thrill seeking behavior, and shyness.  Nurture still has some effect on how these traits will be manifested, but the basic tendency will always be there.  You can not blame someone for being shy or having a problem with anger, but they still have a choice about what they do about it.

Is having a knack for doing nice things a personality trait?  Turning again to psychology, personality traits are defined as characteristics that remain stable over time.  For instance, we all worry at times, but someone who is anxious has a constant level of worry (even if very low), and they have been that way for many years, probably since childhood.  When it comes to doing nice things, any one of us can choose to do that, and try to make it a habit.  It can become a learned behaviour.  Yet there are some people who just have the knack without having to plan it, like that little boy with the pennies.

Any personality trait can have its good and bad sides.  Most of us would agree a tendency to get angry easily can cause problems.  But there are times when a willingness to confront is just the sort of thing needed.  I have a coworker who is very good at it, and when we need to deal with an unresponsive bureaucracy, she can often get results.  What if you have a knack for doing nice things for people?  While this sounds like a very worthwhile trait, sometimes it results in people being taken advantage of.  They may be the person the relative calls every time they can not pay their electric bill.  Again.

People born with this trait may be seen as being sweet, caring, nurturing, even romantic.  They may also be seen as easy marks or chumps (easy to take advantage of).  What about people born without this trait?  They may be seen as practical or no-nonsense, but I can think of more unflattering terms — stingy, self-centered, thoughtless, narcissistic.  Is it fair to be called any of the unflattering terms, when the trait is either something you are born with or not?  No, but then, life is seldom fair.  I guess it comes down to dealing with the traits you were born with, and trying to find the middle ground. 

What do you think?


About judithornot

Lives in semi-rural Northern California, happily married, retired counselor, night person, knits, plays WoW.
This entry was posted in Mental Health, Random thoughts, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A knack for doing nice things

  1. Teresa Michelsen says:

    I think this is mostly a learned behavior – either modeled by your family or self-taught. I could be totally wrong about that… but perhaps at least for me it is not wholly innate. I do try though, and I think it is one of those learned behaviors – like gratitude – that has so many rewards that it is reinforcing over time and can become part of your basic personality.


  2. judithornot says:

    Thank you for your comment, Teresa. 🙂 It could well be a learned behavior; these things are difficult to tease appart. I know it is not an innate part of me, either, but I wish it was!


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