We all love getting compliments.
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But I often wonder why we don't share compliments more freely. Why is it so hard to tell the people in our lives what it is about them that makes us appreciate their existence?
Take for example those "To be honest" statuses on Facebook. You know, where a person posts something along the lines of: "Like this status and I'll tell you what I like about you." How did we reach a point where we actually have to ask for likes on a Facebook status just to give a friend a compliment? We'll laugh about it, and yet we would still all like that status because we're humans, and humans like affirmation.
I recently pulled out my high school yearbook and read through the signatures my friends and classmates left for me. Even the notes from acquaintances I rarely talked to were so kind and meaningful. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside reading these messages. But I also felt sad. Sad because I wish I had known earlier how some of those people felt about me during the last four years we spent together. In the same way, I wish I had told them exactly what I loved about them.
So why exactly is it hard for us to master the art of the compliment? Here I reflect on the idea of compliments and what we can do to move towards more openly expressing our feelings, building better relationships, and living a happier, more fulfilling life.
Get Over the Fear
When it comes down to it, we are all afraid of vulnerability. Being open, understanding your own feelings, and then conveying them to another human being can be a huge feat to accomplish. We worry how our words will be interpreted. Will they think I'm obsessed with them? That I'm weird? Creepy?
I can't undermine the validity of these concerns. But it is important to recognize the astounding power a compliment can have. Affirmations from others give you insight towards how you are perceived and add to your self image. While compliments can be scary because of the power they hold, they can be powerful in a wonderfully positive way. Your one compliment can change someone's day in a manner that affects not only them but also everyone around them (think "Butterfly Effect"). To make the world a better place, we need to get over our fear of vulnerability and go ahead and give those genuine compliments without hesitation.
Learn to Accept
For some reason, accepting a compliment is hard. What do you say when someone compliments you? If you just take it, that somehow translates to your agreement and this tacit response is often interpreted as a bad display of arrogance or vanity.
When did accepting compliments become a test of modesty? If compliments are genuine, we should be allowed to take them and pay them back when we notice something we appreciate or admire in the other person. Instead, compliments have become a game of exchange where one person downplays the compliment then passes another one back without really thinking or meaning it.
If I compliment you, you don't have to reflexively tell me I also look cute (when in reality it's the day of my biochemistry exam and I've been lounging around in my sweatpants surviving on three hours of sleep). Instead, we should all learn to become comfortable to receive affirmation and pay it back when the compliment is genuine and real.
Honestly, everyone wants to hear how lost you get in their eyes, how bright their smile shines, and how on fleeky you think his/her eyebrows look. Sometimes, though, the most memorable compliments go beyond the surface. I mean, don't get me wrong. We all love being complimented on our appearance. Blame #science and #society.
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Still, some of the best compliments I've ever received are those that have nothing to do with my appearance. I scoured the internet and also asked friends what the most memorable compliment they've ever received was. Here are some of the responses:
"You should write a book just about your thoughts. I would love to read it. You're very well spoken and funny, and I kinda want to get into your mind"
"The way you help others so selflessly makes me want to be a better person"
"Someone once told me: the way you can connect with people and make them feel comfortable amazes me."
"My coworker told me I smelled like corn chips."
So go ahead and put yourself out there. Tell your friend you appreciate how articulate, kind, fun, corn-chippy (OK, no), witty, and intelligent they are.
All in all, if we can just get past the initial fear of vulnerability, learn to take compliments, and be genuine, we can make the world a happier place -- one warm fuzzy at a time.