For many of us, receiving a compliment can be squirm-inducing. If you aren’t used to signs of appreciation, you might be in the habit of brushing them off or simply dismissing any praise directed your way. But compliments are so much more than ‘being nice’ and we need to both learn to accept them and understand how to dish them out if we want to achieve a higher state of consciousness, or at least feel content.
“The basis of good mental health is that we’re able to meet our emotional and psychological needs in the environment that we’re in, and one of those is to give and receive attention,” explains Lee Pycroft, registered psychotherapist. “It fuels a sense of wellbeing and makes you feel like you’ve been seen and heard.”
There are umpteen other benefits. They can help you recognise a quality or skill you might not have acknowledged, they can boost your self-worth, they can motivate and encourage you to keep going and can act as a sign of love and acceptance from one person to another. “They can also encourage feelings of good will, friendliness and can even help resolve heated situations by turning around an argument or disagreement,’ says Vanya Silverton, female empowerment coach and energy healer.
IS THERE A SCIENCE BEHIND THE HAPPY HIGHS?
Compliments can function in two ways. If you receive a compliment at work for a task you completed or someone congratulates you on a fitness or health goal, it will trigger the neuromodulator dopamine which is linked to motivation, focus and positivity. It is linked to our inner drive and a sign for our brain to ‘do it again’. However, if you compliment someone because you are grateful to them or what they’ve done, it’s more likely to release serotonin - the happy hormone - as it’s more connected to appreciation. “The best bit is that by receiving an act of kindness a rush of serotonin is released and this will likely lead the recipient to do something kind, also creating a chain reaction of kindness,” says Chris Dreyfus-Gibson, founder of holistic hub, Zentrify.
HOW TO GIVE A COMPLIMENT
Probably the most important lesson in compliment giving is to be specific with what you say. This shows integrity and that you genuinely meant it. “Be observant and notice the person, what stands out about them and how they operate in the environment that they’re in. It’s like complementing a child - rather than just saying, ‘oh you’re brilliant at that’, be more specific and say, ‘I like the shape of that writing’ or ‘I like the colour you chose for that’. It’s far more beneficial and is also easier for the person to absorb and take on,” advises Lee.
Just like a punchline, timing is pertinent too. If someone has just done something great at work or made an amazing cake, don’t take a week to compliment them, do it there and then.
And while we all like to be seen as kind and get that buzz from dishing out niceties, know when to reign it in. Bombarding people with compliments will be seen as throwaway, superficial and they’ll become less meaningful, so save them for when you really mean it.
As for the medium you choose, while the majority of compliments are voiced and face to face, the written word can be especially powerful. “If it’s in a letter you can go back to it and re-read it and this can have a very positive impact on someone’s wellbeing as it’s a positive reinforcement of how someone feels,” continues Lee.
HOW TO RECEIVE A COMPLIMENT
It’s common for people to feel shy or uncomfortable when compliments are sent their way, especially if you never received them as a child, have negative opinions of yourself or low self-esteem. It might also be embarrassing if someone comments on your beauty or even that they like what you’re wearing, as you don’t want to be perceived as better than others, but it’s important to recognise the true intentions behind what was said.
The biggest thing you can do is say thank you. Appreciate that the other person has made an effort to compliment you and try and accept that. “If someone is giving you a genuine compliment it’s doing something for them too because they’re getting to express the appreciation they feel, so try thinking that it’s not so much about you,” explains Lee. “When you reject a compliment, you’re rejecting that person’s opinion of something that’s potentially valuable to them, so practise saying thank you and notice how that feels. Know that you’re allowing someone else to express themselves which is really positive and can be a way of nurturing and building human connection.”
If this seems like a big ask, Vanya suggests practising with how you receive compliments from yourself. “Standing in front of a mirror, look into your eyes and give yourself a compliment again and again until you accept it. This should help you when you receive compliments from others.
It’s also important not to downplay a compliment as in the same vein of not acknowledging it, it has the potential to offend the giver. “Instead of denying what’s been said, share an interesting detail which adds to your story. So, if someone compliments you on a presentation at work, share ‘I spent hours practising’ or if someone says they like what you’re wearing, offer up something like ‘it was a gift from a friend,’” recommends Chris.
DON’T HOLD BACK
Many people underestimate the impact a compliment’s value has so refrain from giving them - partly because it can be unnerving not knowing how someone is going to take a compliment, but also because they fear being seen as vulnerable. “It is a sign of open heartedness and generosity, but a lot of people are scared of giving compliments as they feel that it somehow lessens their own personal power,” explains life coach, Carole Ann Rice. If this is you, focus on how that compliment you’re desperate to say will be wholly beneficial for both parties - studies even show that despite compliment givers’ anxiety at the prospect of giving one, they felt better after doing so. Just think, in a few well thought out words, you’ll have managed to create a bubble of joy and a burst of serotonin for you and a plus one.