Compliment thy neighbor

Praising others should be the next big trend

Ashley Pelletier, Arts & Life Editor

Even when we’re young, we seek approval from others. We want our parents to tell us we did a good job at eating our vegetables, following directions or getting a good grade.

As we get older, other people’s opinions become even more important. We want our professor to praise our hard work. We want our crush to compliment our outfit. We want to be recognized for what makes us special.

Illustration by (Emma Kogel)

The biggest example of our approval-seeking ways is social media. We are often disappointed when our posts don’t do as well as we want. I know I get upset if my tweets don’t get as many likes as I think they deserve.

Yet, so often we find that praise is hard to come by. When we do get compliments from others, they tend to be remembered fondly. I remember the time a woman told me I looked like Miley Cyrus when I was 8 years old, and it still sticks with me to this day.

People are often reluctant to give compliments to others for a variety of reasons. They are worried about how their comments may be perceived, when in reality most people find small compliments improve their day. A study from the Personality and Psychology Bulletin found that we underestimate positive reactions to compliments and overestimate how likely it is that the recipient will be uncomfortable with the compliment.

This, of course, is not taking into account “catcalling,” when a man shouts obscene comments or compliments at a woman on the street, which are not OK under any circumstance.

Another reason we don’t regularly give compliments is because receiving them can surprise us. People often freeze when they receive praise, making the complimenter believe that it is unwanted. Others go for the “no, you” response, deflecting the praise onto the other person despite having earned a genuine compliment.

“People may divert praise as a way of protecting from future failure, disappointment or rejection from others,” said Denise Marigold, associate professor of social development at the University of Waterloo in Canada, in interview with Harvard Business Review. “The fear is that if I allow myself to let in a compliment, and feel good about it, and end up disappointing others or myself in the future, I risk taking a bigger bite out of my self-esteem.”

However, some people just don’t like receiving compliments. If you are one of those people, know that the reason people compliment you may not necessarily be about you specifically.

By complimenting others, we acknowledge the impact that others have on us. For instance, if I tell a girl that I like her outfit, I am recognizing the joy that her fashion sense brings me, not necessarily the girl herself. However, that doesn’t mean that my compliment wouldn’t improve her day, that’s just a happy side effect.

The world would be a better place if we became more comfortable complimenting each other. Such a simple action can make the giver feel good about themself and the receiver, more often than not, also feel good.

Next time you see someone with a hairstyle you like or a tattoo that looks awesome, tell the person. Even if they seem stunned by your compliment, they’ll likely think about it for a long time after.