The Power of a Compliment: How Kind Words Can Change the World

Create positive change in yourself and others.

I always make a point to stop at the message board at my local Whole Foods because there’s usually something new to learn amidst the paper mosaic of local information. Dozens of new fliers are tacked up each week to inspire wellness and wonder, from singing lessons to meditation classes to mommy meet-ups to cat circus performances.

On a recent grocery trip, I spotted this flier above. The big, bold, black letters made me stop. And smile. Then I read the fine print to discover the bigger theme being “advertised.”

It’s a flier doing something very simple. It’s dolling out free compliments.

To the person who thought of this: Bravo.

To the Whole Foods manager who approved the posting of this flier: Bravo.

To the rest of us: This is a tangible example of why we should be dolling out more compliments, regularly. If you look closely at this photo, every single tab has been taken.

Every. Single. One. Clearly, people are hungry for compliments.

It should come as no surprise. Think about the last time somebody said something nice to you, out of the blue. Stop, close your eyes and recall that moment. Perhaps it was a loved one. Perhaps it was a colleague. Perhaps it was a perfect stranger.

Regardless of who offered those kind words, it likely inspired some positive internal buoyancy and a transformational shift in how you were conducting your day, even if just a little bit.

You were seen. You were heard. You were recognized. You were acknowledged. Somebody was paying attention to YOU and present with YOU in that moment.

It’s a beautiful feeling, and it’s one we all have the capacity to inspire in others, just as we crave these random acts of kindness for ourselves.

So why don’t we do more of it? The easy answer: We’re usually too caught up in the rush-rush of our lives, with an (understandable) emphasis on the self. The easy solution: Let’s make a point to be a bit more other-centered, and vocalize compliments to those who inspire us, no matter how big or small that inspiration might be.

Here’s why it matters.

You’ll brighten someone’s day.

Mark Twain once wrote, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Indeed, it’s remarkable what positive words can do for the psyche. Watch a person’s face light up when you extend a compliment, no matter how deep or superficial.

An art student from Chicago, Shea Glover, captured this beautifully in a short film she produced, which has since garnered nearly 14 million views on YouTube. Glover found people in her school whom she found beautiful and paid them a compliment while her camera was running. Watch the rainbow of faces, all unsuspecting of this unsolicited compliment, go from ho-hum to happy almost instantaneously.

You can inspire the same. Pay more attention to those around you, and when something that someone does or says triggers a feeling of gratitude, speak that gratitude — out loud. Let that person know that you appreciate them.

Turn it into a habit with a little bit of daily discipline: Extend one or two compliments each day, just to start. Watch it snowball into something that eventually requires no discipline at all and may even become second nature.

You, in turn, become more positive.

It’s easy to get lost in the autopilot nature of our own lives. Most of us are moving at such a rapid pace, bouncing from one responsibility to the next, focused on what we need, want and desire that we neglect to truly recognize and appreciate the humanity around us.

But when we take the time to be present with people and pay homage to something about them inspires us and makes us happy, their happiness, in turn, can fill us with happiness. What goes around, comes around. In the end, we become better and kinder people to be around.

Take the video above, for instance. Imagine you were the one offering those words of kindness, unprompted. Don’t these reactions make YOU smile? Aren’t YOU happier when you see these people light up with a smile?

Your positivity will be passed on.

Kindness has a ripple effect. Your compliment will, in theory, inspire that recipient to freely give another a compliment; then that person will be inspired to do the same; and so on. It’s mind-blowing to think about the positivity that can flow through a crowd — and the world — from something as simple as freely saying a few kind words to somebody. It’s a beautiful domino effect. Your random act of kindness in the form of a compliment can, energetically, circumnavigate the globe.

Indeed, words are powerful vehicles for positive change. It’s so simple. But like so many intuitively simple things that could benefit us all, this act gets lost in the rush of everyday life. We’re all guilty to some degree. So let’s challenge ourselves to do better, and be better champions of those around us.

Let’s start a compliment revolution. Start by making a point each day to give out one unsolicited compliment. Then maybe the following week, it becomes two. The week after that, three. It can quickly become second nature, helping us become more fully present with the people around us — and fliers like the one I spotted in Whole Foods won’t be necessary reminders.