Gina Mei
April 12, 2015 6:00 am

It’s hard out here for a human. Aside from just making it through another day (which, let’s be real, can be pretty tough on its own sometimes), we’re expected to actually maintain some semblance of self-esteem on a semi-regular basis. It’s an awesome thing to like (and love!) yourself, but it isn’t always the easiest task. And while the journey to self-love is ultimately a personal one, how we arrive at it can be, in ways big and small, influenced by those around us — which is why I think we should make an effort to give more compliments.

Now, I don’t think we should compliment one another just for compliment’s sake, but I think there’s something to be said for making the effort to put a little more niceness in the world. Taking an extra moment to not only notice something positive in another human but also express that positivity out loud (without ulterior motives — because that’s gross and weird and totally not cool) is a wonderful practice.

In Leslie Jamison’s essay, The Empathy Exams, she says that, “Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us — a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain — it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse.” It is not the thought which makes us empathetic, but the effort it takes to think it, plus the additional step of expressing it. Committing yourself to more complimenting means committing yourself to paying closer attention, to practicing everyday kindness. And taking the time to acknowledge someone else’s awesomeness will likely only make you a more observant and empathetic person.

All too often, kindness is mistaken for weakness — and that’s a notion that we need to fight. Maybe we don’t compliment others as much as we should (or possibly as much as we want to) because we’re too self conscious to put ourselves out there. Being unapologetically nice — and honest about that niceness — can make us feel pretty vulnerable; but giving a compliment is such a beautifully simple way to add a little extra dose of positivity to the world (or, you know, just make someone’s day a little better). It may feel uncomfortable to put yourself out there without the guarantee of getting something in return, but the potential benefit of a compliment far outweighs the risk of giving it.

And science totally backs up the benefits. According to a 2012 study on the effects of receiving compliments, “social rewards directly enhance skill consolidation in humans, and [the research] suggests that they have a novel functional effect on the human motor memory system.”

To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money,” Professor Norihiro Sadato, the study lead and a professor at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan, told Forbes. “We’ve been able to find scientific proof that a person performs better when they receive a social reward after completing an exercise. Complimenting someone could become an easy and effective strategy to use in the classroom and during rehabilitation.”

Basically, giving a compliment is a small investment that could potentially have, for the recipient, a huge pay-off. The joy (and, apparently, the skills) created by an unexpected compliment is infinite compared to the effort it takes to give one, and there is almost always an opportunity to give them when it comes to friends and loved ones. So why should we be stingy with our kindness? Frequency of compliments doesn’t affect their value, as long as the sentiments remain genuine. I don’t buy into the idea that somehow making an effort to be nice to others more often somehow makes that niceness less special. And if it contributes to normalizing kindness, all the better. As it becomes easier for you to compliment others, maybe it’ll even come easier for you to compliment yourself, too. It’s the circle of “like.” (I’m sorry. Please let me make my terrible jokes.)

There ain’t no shame in making someone feel good about themselves and being honest about your feels/endless adoration for all the awesome people in your life — so let’s take a collective stand and add a little more vocalized niceness to our day to day.

(Image via Julia Knoblock.)

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