The Power of Sincere Compliments

My friend R is beautiful. Like, completely beautiful. She has a perfect heart-shaped face with a wide, inviting smile and pretty dimples. Her eyes are large, chocolate almonds and her hair falls in glossy dark ringlets. She is slim and petite, and has a fabulous figure that makes her two children hard to believe. She is beautiful.

I have only known R for eight months but it feels like we’ve been friends forever. We clicked from the first meeting and now have regular get-togethers and put the world to rights while our children play. I feel like I can trust her with anything, and indeed, the second time we met face-to-face I told her much more about my life and my marriage than many others knew at that point. It just feels like we’re meant to be friends.

Aside from her absolute beauty, she is also one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I have ever met. She actively seeks to do good and be good to others. Only yesterday I discovered she likes to leave change in parking meters so that others find it when they go to put their own money in. I know she is always genuine in the things she does and says. This only contributes to her beauty, as her inner gorgeousness shines through in everything she does.

It had never occurred to me for a moment that R did not know she is beautiful. Of course she is not the sort of person to let her beauty go to her head, but I thought she must know it. She has mirrors after all. It had also never occurred to me to tell R that I think she is beautiful. After all, we don’t do that sort of thing in our society. She’d probably think I was weird, or sucking up to her, or coming on to her.

Then this evening R made a comment on Facebook that made me wonder. It sounded like she doubted her own attractiveness. I didn’t see how this could be possible but there it was in black and white. So I texted her. I told her I think she is completely beautiful. And then to reinforce the point, I told her that others of my friends think the same. She replied with effusive thanks and said it was the nicest thing she’d ever heard, and told me I had made her cry. I responded by saying it was only the nicest thing she’d ever heard because she can’t read minds. If she could, she’d hear it every day.

So then of course, I started wondering. Why had it taken eight months of friendship for R to know what I thought about her? Why is it such a socially strange thing to do, to pay someone a deep and sincere compliment? And what would we all hear every day if we could read minds?

It doesn’t seem to make sense. It’s obvious why we don’t always share the negative views we have of others – it would hurt their feelings. If I thought R was ugly, or lazy, or a terrible mother, then of course I wouldn’t ever say that out loud. But what possible reason is there for us not being honest and open about our positive views of others? If everyone who thinks R is beautiful told her, just imagine what that would do for this wonderful person’s confidence and self-esteem.

During this past year I’ve received more compliments than I can ever remember. My new status as a single mother has prompted dozens of friends to tell me what a great mum they think I am. And I can categorically state that I now believe it. At first I’d dismiss the comments with an awkward “thanks” and continue doubting my ability to parent my children alone. But now every time I hear it I think “Yeah! Damn right I am!” And it was repeatedly hearing it from others that eventually led me to believe it myself. As Julia Roberts so wisely observed in Pretty Woman – it’s always easier to believe the bad stuff.

So I would seriously like to set a challenge to everyone reading this post. For one week, every time you think something positive about someone else, tell them. If another Mum at the school gates has done something great with her hair, tell her. If you admire your colleague’s ability to stay on top of her workload, tell her. If the busker at the tube station has an amazing voice, tell him. Because no matter how much you might think they already know it themselves, the truth is they probably don’t. And no matter how much you’re worried they’ll think you’re weird, the truth is you’ll probably make their day. Because just like R, none of us can tell what other people are thinking, and so it’s up to us to help them.

  • PS: R – I know you’re reading this. Now stop crying! You’ve got some fabulousness to be getting on with! X