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A Simple Way to Make the World a Little Better Every Day

Giving

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~Leo Buscaglia

When I was seventeen years old, I decided to make a change.

Instead of keeping my opinions to myself, I was going to start sharing them.

Every time I had a kind thought about someone, I was going to tell them. And anytime I heard a compliment about someone who wasn’t in the room, I would let them know.

If I loved someone’s outfit in the grocery store, I was going to say so. When my sister did something brave, I would tell her. When I felt a rush of affection for my best friend, I’d voice it. And when someone called a colleague brilliant, I would shoot them a note.

This was something new for me. For whatever reason, I usually kept my nice thoughts to myself. I wasn’t in the habit of doling out compliments.

And, yet, when I got a random compliment, it changed the shape of my entire day, sometimes my entire week.

And so, at seventeen, I decided to change.

It sounds like a pretty simple change to make in your day-to-day life, but even simple changes can be hard. Because so much of what we do is habit. If we’ve been keeping our thoughts to ourselves for twenty or thirty or even just seventeen years, it can be tough to start speaking up.

But when you do make a commitment to make a small change like that, it can have a massive ripple effect. It can change your relationships. It can change your perspective. It can change the course of a life.

And boy did it.

The first time I complimented a stranger, he fell in love with me. Other times, I earned smiles, thoughtful pauses, and quiet, sincere thank-yous.

But the most powerful change I saw was in the ripple effect that my decision had on those around me. In particular: on two girls that I met on my trip to Costa Rica later that year.

It was a volunteer trip for teenagers and I was what they called a MAG Leader—a sort of camp counselor who roomed with and took responsibility for the wellbeing of five girls.

Two of my five girls did not get along. They barely spoke, and when they did it was to antagonize the other. One girl made physical threats. Both did a lot of talking behind each other’s backs—until I introduced my compliment commitment to the group.

I sat the girls in a circle and handed out index cards. Each index card had one of our names written on the front. And I told the girls that we were going to take a few minutes to pass around these cards.

On each card, they should write one thing they really admired about the person whose name was on the card. One sincere compliment.

Afterward, each girl got the card with her name on it.

At the end of the few minutes we spent with these index cards, the two teenaged enemies were shocked to discover that the other person had something really insightful to put on their card. One girl commented on the strength and confidence of the other. The second girl admired the poise of the first.

Suddenly and without meaning to, these girls respected each other. Suddenly, they each had something positive to say about the other.

They never became best friends. But the bad-mouthing and the threats and the antagonism just melted away. A grudging respect and even courtesy took their place.

This is when I really understood the power of compliments. The power of saying the kind things we think.

It doesn’t take that much effort. You don’t have to manufacture a compliment for every person that passes by. But by simply voicing the nice thoughts that go through all our heads on a daily basis—“I love your sweater,” “What a beautiful smile,” “You’re so brave,” “I’m so glad we’re friends”—we can make the world just a little bit better every day.

Photo by Kate Ter Haar

About Gigi Griffis

Gigi Griffis is a world-traveling entrepreneur and writer with a special love for inspiring stories, new places, and living in the moment. In May 2012, she sold her stuff and took to the road with a growing business and a pint-sized pooch. She also just wrote an unconventional Italy guidebook. You can follow her adventures and life lessons at gigigriffis.com.

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  • Prabha Max

    lovely.. Enjoyed reading it , as i truly believe that lik our anger or worries we should express the little positive things v cum across too
    and not to shy away from expressing them.

  • Sarah Y

    An excellent post here Gigi! You had encourage us to open up and to practice small acts of compliments. A step for me to jump start a new habit of complimenting! Thank you

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    A beautiful story…Thank You for sharing! 🙂

  • Great article. I think doing something like this, will definitely force you out of your comfort zone. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Anders Hasselstrøm

    Dear Gigi,

    Thanks for sharing a beautiful story.

    I think you share numerous good points but I’d like to emphasize one: “Every time I had a kind thought about someone, I was going to tell them. And anytime I heard a compliment about someone who wasn’t in the room, I would let them know”

    In my motivational speaking I talk about the connection between gratitude and happiness. I think there has been a featured post here on TinyBuddha touching upon the same subject. However, most people do not understand that happiness doesn’t make us grateful but gratitude makes us happy.

    Keep up this amazing habit and thanks for sharing.

    Best,

    Anders Hasselstrøm
    Motivational Speaker and Blogger

  • Gigi! So nice to see you here!

    What a simple, lovely concept. It seems that “voicing your opinions” is assumed to mean saying all the horrible thoughts that you have, and passing on insults. I’ve never thought of voicing every POSITIVE opinion that I have. It seems like that would completely change your world.

  • Hi Bethany!

    Agreed! I always heard that you should say nothing if you don’t have anything nice to say, but I don’t remember anyone emphasizing that if you have something nice to say, you should say it. 🙂

  • I totally agree. Gratitude breeds happiness, for sure.

  • K3vbot

    An overlooked part of this equation is the confidence one gets from being unafraid to openly express good feelings. Awesome article and concept!

  • Excellent point. Thanks!

  • Thank you!

  • Thanks and you’re welcome. 🙂

  • Thank you.

  • Absolutely!

  • Jeff Decora

    The Hawaiian Hakunas say positive and negative always balance. I can do my part to contribute to the positive.

  • It’s also easier to meet new people when you have something nice, and genuine, to say to them. Great examples. Well done. Nice piece. Thanks

  • Penny Knox

    my grandmother always did, bless her departed heart!

  • BikinBuddha

    So simple, so right, so overdue… I’ve been practicing this for a while now but I should have made it part of me… Thanks for the wake up call… You’ve done well… I’ll be looking forward to more from you… See you in the funny papers sweet Angel.

  • Becky68

    Great article. I’ve often given people compliments, but frequently worried after about sounding like a dick. This article kind of gives me permission to go ahead and do it with confidence.

  • great article!

  • That’s a good “trick”… Haha, but yes, it is truly very helpful to learn to focus on the things that we enjoy in our lives and about others. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  • No prob!

  • Thanks!

  • Absolutely! Consider this permission.

    I once had a woman in the middle of a business coffee stop the conversation to tell me that she thought I was beautiful. Little did she know, I really needed to hear that that day. It was a little strange timing-wise, but still very lovely and appreciated.

  • Thanks! So glad it struck a chord.

  • For sure!

  • Yes! Balance is definitely the goal.

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful message, and I love the example you shared with the teenage girls at camp, awesome!!!! 🙂 Thank you for your inspiration!

  • Thank you for writing, telling a story with an experience. On one hand, speaking can make a difference with others. On the other hand, quietly observing can make a difference with oneself. Heres to 20 Days Meditation for New Year: http://llavealhighway.com/20-days-meditation-for-new-year/