The unexpected effect of compliments

Nov 23, 2020

How do you feel when someone says they love this scarf you adore and found in a little store during your favorite vacation?

How about when someone notices all the care you put in your craft?

When it's genuine, it feels damn great.

Little did I imagine that ephemeral compliments can last a lifetime.

Brindar siempre lo mejor de ti.
Photo by Lina Trochez / Unsplash

I experienced that first hand a couple of times this summer. As I visited my engineering school to pick up my degree, I went to see my student counselor to say hi.

I hadn't seen her in 4 years. We talked and talked and talked, and at some point she said, with the brightest smile on her face:

You know, I every time I tie my boots, I think of you because I remember you telling me how much you liked them.

Wow. I genuinely didn't remember either the boots, or saying that. It checked out, because as she described them, I knew I would have liked them and told her so.

Nonetheless, it was not something I vividly recalled. Yet somehow this 4+ year-old compliment had stayed with my counselor this whole time, and my heart filled up as I took in the endeared tone she had used as she shared this.  

When New York pays you a compliment, you take it.

Before this even happened, one of my dearest friends pointed out to me:

The amount of compliments you pay others is impressive, I don't know how you do it.

Again, wow. That was a lovely thing to notice, and I didn't expect it because it had become a built-in habit I must have nurtured until it became natural. Let me share a meta-moment here: I took this as a compliment from my friend and I sure won't forget it anytime soon.

When I thought about it again, I realized that I had slowly taken the habit of voicing my delight when someone did, made or had something I liked. And as I experienced it, it's been a wonderful way to connect with anyone.

The only rules I have are to never pay a compliment that I don't mean, and do my best to never pay a compliment that could be hurtful, like a backhanded compliment or something that society has widely taken as positive but I disagree with, e.g. praising weight loss. Essentially, making sure that I don't say something I wouldn't have liked receiving, and being mindful of boundaries.  

Photo by Nynne Schrøder / Unsplash

Compliments cost nothing, and they can mean the world to the person receiving them, as long as they are genuine. They don't call for a return, there's no expectation coming out of them.

Your dress looks great on you.
This dish was delicious.
Your restaurant looks incredibly cool.
It was so brave when you spoke up. I found that really inspiring.
That was such a kind gesture when you...

From the lightest to the most elaborate, to our closest friends or to the uttermost strangers, compliments are unattached little gifts of kindness that tell people: I see you, even for a second. I appreciate you for who you are.

Sometimes they brush it off. And sometimes, they are still cherishing that gift, years after welcoming it.

We might never know how much joy a compliment we paid created in someone's life, so we might as well default to abundantly celebrating others for what they do, and for who they are.

Cover photo by Autumn Goodman on Unsplash.

Laila Zouaki

Adopted by New York, I made a few life stops in California, Australia, France and Morocco. I'm curious about product, scuba diving, yoga, psychology, art, writing, and food.