When I first started out as a therapist, I had the naive assumption that everyone who came to therapy ultimately wanted to be happy. I quickly came to realize that not only was this not the case, there was in fact a wide range of emotional goals, and some of them seemed almost in opposition to “obtaining” happiness. Of course, this was based on my own bias of personally preferring happiness, and wanting other people around me to feel happier as well.
However, just because “being happy” is a familiar feeling that I tend to gravitate towards, does not mean it is familiar or appealing to anyone else. I’ve had clients who cringe at the word “happy”, and would be more likely to choose something else entirely like: calm, excited, interested, autonomous, desirable, intimidating and many other completely different feelings besides “happy”.
Similarly, people may or may not like a person based on a number of different and individual reasons, regardless of how nice they are. Here are some common reasons below.
Why would someone not be liked even if they were “nice”?
- What makes a person “nice” is completely subjective. For example: one person’s “nice” might be another person’s clingy and annoying.
- How nice a person is may not be an important factor to someone else. For example: They may prefer someone edgy, sarcastic, hip, or any other specific qualities that could appeal to another person. Unfortunately, not everyone values niceness as an important quality.
- Even if a person values “niceness”, there may be other personal characteristics or behaviors that can turn someone else off. For example, if you are being nice to people, but have difficulty with other areas such as reading social cues, paying attention to timing, and other social norms, being nice may actually have the opposite effect then what is intended. For example, if a man (or a woman for that matter) on an empty subway came in and sat in the seat right next to me, knee to knee, and started talking to me about their life, even really nicely, I would find it off-putting and anxiety producing- no matter how nice they were trying to be.
- Each person has their own temperament, past experiences, sensitivities, moods, etc. Often if someone has a great personality but can’t seem to make friends, they may be in the wrong social groups. There are some groups that no matter what you do, you will never be “one of them” and it would be much more fruitful to instead work on finding the tribe that “gets” you, and feels like a more natural match for who you are.
- Not fitting in in high school is one of the most common examples of being a poor fit for a group out of no fault of one’s own, and how difficult and painful this can be. So many people have had the experience of not fitting in no matter what they did, and found that once they had more freedom to choose their own social groups (outside of high school), explore their own interests beyond what is valued in their social circles, etc., that often they became much happier and had the opportunity to surround themselves with people who valued their unique personality traits and temperament.
The point is…
Many people make the incorrect assumption that either something is wrong with them if people don’t like them, or that something is wrong with the other person. Typically there are other mitigating factors that are not being taken into account that may be affecting whether or not people are drawn to someone else. This might include: what the other person looks for in a friend, any other unconscious behaviors that might work against a person, whether or not the person is a good fit for that particular group, and other reasons beyond this list. The point is, whether or not someone is attracted to another human being (regardless of sexual interest), may or may not have anything to do with how nice they are.
Originally published as an answer on Quora.com