Why My Mama Never Misses a Chance to Give a Compliment

And you shouldn’t either.

Brown Dog Ice Cream in Cape Charles, VA
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

We're all guilty of it—walking with our gaze turned down toward the tiny screen in our hands, sitting in a waiting room, idly scrolling through our apps, or enjoying "the great outdoors" whilst holding an e-reader. Awareness, of our surroundings and ourselves, can be scarce these days. But if we happen to look up, we just might notice something that we wouldn't have otherwise. And this is where one of my mom's most important (or at least, most memorable) lessons comes in. I don't know when she first told me this, but it managed to carve out a permanent spot in my brain. It's the one piece of advice I consistently and often share with others because it's so universal, so small, but so impactful.

If you see something that you like or find inspiring, cheerful, or whatever word comes to mind, about someone (anyone!) tell them. If you love a woman's shoes that you pass outside a store one day, tell her! If your waiter has insanely good skin, let him know! If your Uber driver had the sweetest disposition of any person you encountered that day, give them a heads up! Offering words of affirmation and compliments takes no extra time out of your schedule, but you have no idea what it might do for that person. That lady with the cute shoes? She may be on the way to a job interview and really need the pick-me-up. The server with the enviable skin? He might be going through a breakup and could use a little love. The Uber driver with the good attitude? They may have been one bad ride away from a breakdown.

I'm not telling you to start complimenting random people just because it will make you and/or them feel nice. That's not the idea of this lesson. When you truly, wholeheartedly mean a compliment, they will know it's genuine. For example, it's easy for me to roll my eyes with a "but you have to say that" to my husband when he tells me I look great if I don't feel so great. A stranger on the street that owes me nothing, though, I'd believe (sorry, husband). As an extrovert, I know this is easy work for me. But introverts, hear me out. The feeling of making someone's day with one sentence is so much more impactful than the fear of speaking up. Holding in the thought of, "Wow, he is rocking that jacket," does nothing for you, but for him, it could be a total mood-changer.

I'm not saying we should all run around throwing insincere and flippant compliments at each other. That defeats the purpose. But the next time you like someone's smile or purse or hairstyle, why not say so? The worst that can happen is that they blow you off. The best that can happen is that their day gets brightened. You will probably never see that person again, so what's the harm in giving them a little confidence boost because a stranger on the street loved what they were putting out to the world? I see none. So if you take this piece of advice and dish it out, just say you heard it from a friend's mama—I don't think she'd mind.

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