There’s lots of advice available about how to make your life happier. Most of it focuses on you or talks about big changes. But there’s a really simple, easy way to make everyone’s life better. A few years ago I noticed that I would some time admire a strangers outfit or haircut. Of course, I wouldn’t say anything – after all they were strangers.
One day I decided to experiment and complement total strangers. I set myself the rule that I had first spontaneously to think the complementary thought. Then I would say it.
I wasn’t going to go round trying to find complementary things to say about other people. The thought had to happen spontaneously. Once I thought it, if possible, I would say it to the person concerned.
Since then I have just done it as a matter of course. Sometimes people are a bit taken aback. But when they get over that, they are almost always very pleased. There’s a moment when they feel better and when I feel better too. We’re both focussing on good things in the world, rather than all the doom and gloom that is undoubtedly out there.
I’ve been reading a novel Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s a novel which imagines what would have happened to Hillary if she hadn’t married Bill Clinton. It’s written as though Hillary has written it, so I don’t know whether what is in the novel is the exact opinion of Hillary Rodham, but this piece reminded me of why I like to complement strangers:
“Direct and sincere compliments are shockingly effective – that they feel wonderful. What in theory should sound saccharine or manipulative rarely does in practice, so long as you believe the other person really means it. And we crave praise, not , I think, because most of us are egomaniacal. It’s because we’re human.”
I think this quote hits the nail on the head. In offering spontaneous praise to another human being I’m treating them as a human being, sharing a common humanity.
I started by praising how people look, but this has expanded. Earlier this week I was in a café and another woman came in completely kitted out for the terrible weather we were experiencing. I said something admiringly about this, and we ended up sharing a table and having a really interesting conversation.
Today I was riding my bike along the canal path into Exeter. There was a family of 2 parents and two small children all on bikes. I commented as I rode carefully past how good it was to see a family out on their bikes. I got a huge grin from mum. Clearly I’d made her very happy.
It’s such a simple thing to do. When you find yourself thinking something nice about a stranger, try to take the opportunity to tell them. It can be a bit daunting at first, but it definitely makes for a better world and you’ll feel better too.