As a therapist, but also a human being who was not blessed with the most loving of families growing up, I find myself often giving to others more than I give back to myself. Like so many others, I feel the inevitable guilt that comes with allowing indulgence in anything when you know, deep down, that other priorities require your focus. After all, who else is going to do it?
Recently, however, I have found a way to indulge myself in a small task that, on the surface, seems like I am giving to others, but in reality – I am being selfish and relishing their reactions. I make it a point if not each day, then every other day, to compliment a complete stranger on something small, perhaps their nail color, clothing, or even the way they phrased a sentence. Personally, I know that I adore receiving small, innocent praises in passing because it feels so much more genuine than someone who is making it clear that they are aiming for flattery. I had no idea that my doing this would cause such a ripple effect on those around me. When it first began, I would be chatting while out walking with my husband and stop him randomly to reach out to a passerby about a small item I adored, offering a tiny nod to their style wrapped with a pleasant smile.
My husband, a crane operator who is very much immersed in the stereotypical construction environment of macho, boot-strapped, no-nonsense communication, took notice of the reaction that I would elicit from others and how that small task would immediately brighten my affect. It feels good to make other people smile! Flash forward just six months, and my husband quietly implemented a policy to send minimal, random texts to his employees and friends just to check in on their wellbeing. Since then, the response he has received has been overwhelmingly positive, because men rarely ever reach out to other men in a genuine, caring manner to just “check-in,” let alone complement one another. Most notably, he invited an older fellow, known for his guarded exterior and who doesn’t normally interact much in group settings, to a golf tournament, not expecting him to accept. My husband knew that just the invitation alone could create a connection. The gentleman not only accepted but pulled my husband aside after the tournament and said quietly, “Today was the 1st anniversary of my wife’s passing, and I don’t know what today would have been like if you hadn’t invited me here.” That story will always stick with me because it truly only takes a few words, a simple connection, or a passing acknowledgment to bring joy to people when they are struggling to find slivers of light in dark days. The fewest words can convey the most epic stories.