Right now, my life is amid a phase of change—and I’m personally predisposed to hate change. But, waaah waaah waaah, because even if I’m having a bad day, it’s still a day I still have to get through. One way I’ve been trying to make my awful days decidedly more bearable? Being more generous with my internal compliments to others as a means for boosting my own mood.
The idea, which came courtesy of a co-worker who swears by it, is to compliment strangers you encounter on your walk to work, ahead of you in the checkout line at the grocery store, in the locker room with you after yoga—really anywhere. Since the compliment is in your head, you can challenge yourself to find something nice to say about every person who passes you without seeming disingenuous by actually vocalizing these rapid-fire kernels of kindness. Think of it as a cousin to a gratitude practice, one that allows you to acknowledge that there’s so much beauty in the world even when you’re having a bad day. And, better yet, there are two big psychologist-backed reasons to support this being a great idea: distraction and redirection.
“First, you’re focusing your mind away from your problems and on to something that’s good,” says psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. “You’re noticing what’s good about the people around you. You’re also likely to get some positive energy back, just because your thoughts can change your posture, tone of voice, and facial expression in ways that people might like. When that happens, people might treat you more positively.”
“You’re noticing what’s good about the people around you. You’re also likely to get some positive energy back, just because your thoughts can change your posture, tone of voice, and facial expression in ways that people might like.” —Amy Daramus, PsyD
The pitfall to avoid with this strategy meant to lift you up is unintentionally feeling worse in light of the positives you identify in others. “When you’re complimenting other people, try not to do any ‘upward social comparison,’ meaning comparing yourself unfavorably to them,” Dr. Daramus says. “Thinking that someone else is smart or pretty can help you feel more positive, but not if you start feeling that you look bad in comparison.”
So, with this reality in mind that appreciating others shouldn’t take away from my own unique gifts, I sought to internally compliment all the strangers I could. Immediately I realized that I have a strong tendency to judge:
That bun looks great, enjoy your shift at the library, I thought toward a lady on the sidewalk while I was walking to work.
Quickly I realized that it’s not a compliment if your inner voice drips with sarcasm, so I decided to limit my compliments to things I genuinely appreciate about another person. Upon implementing the tweak, my compliments became more specific and earnest…and that made me feel good.
You have such a sweet little dog, she seems lucky to have you as a mom, I thought regarding a woman on the subway snuggling her Chihuahua.
What a lovely accent—you have the kind of voice meant for audiobooks, I thought toward my barista.
You’re the silver fox of my dreams. I would leave my entire family behind and start a new life with you in Cancun, I thought while paying my dry cleaner.
Ultimately, resigning myself to create internal compliments made me feel as though I’m putting some good into the universe. The main area for improvement? None of the subjects of these kind thoughts were aware of said compliments. So, in the week following the experiment, I started actively complimenting my loved ones, and their reactions have indeed brought me real, tangible joy.
The next time you’re having a bad day, know you can get through it with a little more ease by complimenting others in your head. You’ll feel great, and maybe inch yourself toward being comfortable with speaking your kindness into reality, thus helping other people have better days too. Win-win.