The easiest way to improve your life...and someone else's!
“I can live for two months on a good compliment.” - Mark Twain
If you want to simultaneously improve your life and someone else’s, give a compliment. We’re living in a world where passengers are being duct-taped to their seats for acts of airborne incivility, and people are melting down because a grocery store doesn’t have their favorite cheese.
You can counteract this raging trend and add to the world’s supply of kindness with a few words of genuine praise.When delivering a compliment, don’t worry about sounding like the perfect introduction to a televised lifetime achievement award. A little awkwardness is to be expected when you do something that few people dare to do. Simply adhere to my mother’s guidelines. My mother always said that personal remarks are never in good taste. In general — there are exceptions for people you know well and for intimate situations — don’t praise any body parts or remark, however admiringly, about enlargements or shrinkages of said body parts or enlargements or shrinkages of bodies as a whole. Complimenting a smaller body implies an insult of the bigger body that preceded it and reinforces a toxic culture of body size as a proxy for personal worth.
Complimenting the items that adorn bodies and their parts however, is a great way to practice giving compliments. If you see somebody wearing something you genuinely like, say so. I have a raincoat that has attracted more compliments than all the other items in my wardrobe combined. Once I was descending a escalator at Columbus Circle in New York and the woman behind me complimented my raincoat. I thought to myself, if someone in New York City likes this raincoat it must be something special. Coincidentally, when I brought my raincoat home from the store my husband asked me why I had bought a plastic bag coat. The lesson of my raincoat is to savor the compliments and take the critiques with a light heart.
Research tells us that focusing on the warmth, sincerity, and friendliness of your compliments will make you feel comfortable about delivering more of them. As you gain experience, add some garnish to your compliments by making them more specific. “I enjoy talking to you” is a nice compliment, but “I enjoy talking to you because I always learn something, such as never enter a haunted house with your cell phone turned on in case it accidentally calls 911” is even better.
Research also tells us that we have a tendency to underestimate how much our words are appreciated. Do your own thought experiment. Think about a compliment you received. How did it make you feel? How do you feel about the person who gave you the compliment? The fact that you remember the compliment out of all the words volleyed in your direction is a testament to its power.
You have the power to make someone feel good about themselves and about you. What better or easier way to make 2022 better than 2021 than by vowing to give more compliments?
And if you’re the lucky recipient of a compliment, a simple thank you is all that’s required. Don’t give in to the temptation to explain why the compliment is undeserved. React as if you’ve been given a gift. Because you have.
Get fully charged on compliments:
“A Simple Compliment can make a Big Difference.” Erica Boothby, Xuan Zhao, and Vanessa Bohns. Harvard Business Review, February 24, 2021.
“Why we don’t dole out many compliments — but should.” David Robson, BBC WorkLife July, 2021.
“The Power of a Compliment” Lexi Goff, TEDxYouth, 2019.
The Compliment Quotient: Boost Your Spirits, Spark Your Relationships, and Uplift the World, Monica Strobel, Wise Roads Press, 2011.