I grew up in a household where acknowledging each person’s attributes, talents and uniqueness was routine. I was in awe at how easily my parents saw a person’s gifts and unwrapped them for all to see. Not the obvious ones like good looks, healthy bodies, or intelligence, but those that spoke to their inner beauty. And they always found something that was a distinguishing factor.
Their energy was palpable. Had incredible patience. Listened intently to anyone speaking.They radiated warmth. Listening to them sing was a spiritual experience.
Some may call the compliments trite, but they were always accurate and right on target, exactly what someone really taking notice would see or feel in all their interactions. These insights never ceased to surprise and delight. From a chance encounter in a store, to a lifelong friend.
Compliments matter. They can lift us to great heights and help us see things in a new light. They elevate our self esteem and confidence. Studies have shown they encourage positive emotions, lasting hours that then translates to others. This is because praise activates our pleasure centers. This then causes a cascade of feel good hormones to surge into the bloodstream heightening focus, happiness and motivation. I believe most people are genuinely thoughtful when they offer a compliment. But some are clearly not well thought out, or are meant to be manipulative, even hurtful backhanded complements. We all know them. Initially they sound good. Then after a few seconds, the words settle in… and they don’t.
Kind of like those sweet and sour candies.
“You’re so beautiful and intelligent why are you single?” The statement left dangling in the air is – “so…. what is wrong with you?”
“You look great. . .for your age.” What you’re really saying is “you’re old, but you still look good.” If the person is 100, that may be a nice compliment. But when it comes from a twenty or thirty something to a sixty-seventy something, it is not.
“You’re so good at finding outfits that camouflage your weight.” Needs no discussion.
My daughter is a beautiful blonde who graduated top in her class with a math degree. Her favorite- “You’re smarter than you look” That one’s easy! Or second, “You’re so much cuter when you smile.”
Or to young women, “You’re such a cute little thing”. I always wonder when they last said that to a man?
When I’m shopping with my daughter, who I gave birth to when I was 32, and we’re asked “are you sisters?”, clearly they really want to sell me something.
One lady told me I had great skin. Then noticed I was buying Hanukkah supplies and added, “. . .but then Jewish people usually do!” That one still confounds me.
In the era of COVID, “Honey you’re so beautifully coordinated all the time I’m surprised your masks don’t always match.”
A real compliment can make your day, lift you up when you’re feeling low, make you feel hopeful when feeling sad. A real compliment is sincere, thoughtful and considerate:
“Your smile lights up the room.”
“Thank you for being so generous with your time.”
“You’re amazing at staying calm and working through whatever is thrown at you.”
“I love working with someone so up-beat.”
“You define style and class.”
“Your artistic abilities are incredible, you can turn anything into a work of art.”
“I truly appreciate all your support and help.”
No buts. No hidden meanings. No subterfuge. Those make us smile, feel special and appreciated for hours. This is what we desperately need now. Connection, kindness and confirmation we matter as individuals. Everyone has something worth honoring. The world will be a much nicer place when we find and speak those truths.