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If you want to make the world a better place- even by just a smidgen – giving compliments is the way to go. Firstly, they’re free. But more importantly, the benefits for both the giver and the receiver are bountiful.

As humans, being appreciated is foundational. It is a big aspect of what makes us want to collaborate with the people around us. Compliments give us a way to communicate the appreciation we have towards one another, hopefully in a sincere manner. They help us like each other- this is because of how humans react to award systems. If, for example, you compliment someone’s smile when you first meet them, there’s a high chance that when they see you again, they’ll smile at you. Compliments are also handy in awkward conversation- they break the ice and start a new topic.

When you are complimented, the part of your brain that is activated when you receive a monetary award, and romantic attention, lights up. These areas are the ventral striatum and the ventral medial prefrontal cortex. This is also the area that lights up during sex. It also, according to neuroscience research, releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter that has associations with focus, positivity and motivation. They also assist with improving long-term memory, which helps us with learning. When you’re praised after learning a new skill, it affects the part of your brain that is responsible for memory consolidation, as well as long-term memory building. This happens when you sleep. Therefore, because our brains associate that positive sensation with the material we’ve just learnt, there is a tendency to remember those materials much better.

There are benefits for the compliment giver as well! It’s an act of kindness- so seeing someone else happy and knowing you might have made their day, makes you feel good as well. You’ll augment your confidence because you’ll be going out of your comfort zone, and it helps you think on your feet. It helps us notice the world around us and appreciate it better. It helps us create a more optimistic outlook. When giving compliments, remember these key 3 aspects: be sincere, pay attention, and be specific. People, more often than not, can sense when someone is not being genuine. Giving a specific compliment, not just a general one, also shows that you’ve been paying attention to the person and truly appreciate them.

It can be hard to accept compliments, especially when you don’t believe what has been said. Be gracious about it, though. To brush off a compliment is akin to refusing a gift from someone, which can be seen to be quite rude. A simple “thank you!” should suffice, or making a light-hearted joke about it so that you feel more comfortable.

Sadly, people tend to underestimate the impact giving compliments has, which hinders them from telling other people what they like or appreciate about them. The potential compliment givers feel awkward and pessimistic. However, as we have seen, compliments have a significant effect on the receiver. So, even if you feel awkward about telling the person walking down the street that you love their outfit, let them know regardless. It’s bound to brighten up their day.

What is important about all of this is that through complimenting the people around us- virtually or in reality- we are fostering a culture of gratitude. It is essential, now more than ever. Through this, we make brighten up the world, even if it is in this small way.

I'm an aspiring writer and editor majoring in BA English, Linguistics and Media Studies at UCT. I love literature, reading (when not prescribed), poetry and the power words carry. I'm into the academia aesthetic and I love a good cup of tea.