Here’s the good news: If you want to be a kind person, the quickest way to get there is to build a habit of praising others regularly.
Here’s the bad news: You already think you do have that habit… but you probably don’t. You don’t express affirmation nearly as often as you think.
A few summers ago, our family was out in the countryside at a Fourth of July fair. It was a popular affair with games, music, food booths, huge inflatable slides and obstacle courses. I was standing in line with my then-twelve-year-old son, waiting for him to go up the massive Cliff Hanger slide, when we heard a terrified sobbing from the very top. A little four-year-old girl had climbed up and was stuck; she was too scared to slide down. After unsuccessful attempts to persuade her, her father made the very awkward (for an adult) climb to the summit, with the crowd of at least forty people silent and watching below.
Suddenly the woman next to me blurted out, “I think this must be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.” She turned to all the people around her. “When he comes down, y’all better clap! I hope everyone claps for this man!”
Up above us, the dad gathered his tearful little girl into his arms, and with her face buried in her daddy’s shoulder and her arms around his neck, he gingerly began crabbing back down the almost-vertical staircase with her clinging to him like a front backpack. And with one voice, the crowd below started clapping and cheering. The dad was startled, then started grinning. You could tell the accolades made his day.
When the commotion died down I asked the woman beside me, “Is he your husband?”
“No, no,” she said with a laugh. “I just try to make it a habit to encourage people, you know? It has to be a habit. Otherwise it doesn’t happen.”
It has to be a habit. Otherwise it doesn’t happen. True that. I had stood there at the base of the slide with thirty-nine others. Every single person probably internally thought That’s a great dad. Yet only one brought up the fact that we needed to say it out loud.
Thankfully, if you begin to offer out-loud praise, the rewards are so great that you’ll easily build a true habit.
As you do, remember that praise goes far beyond “Good job” and encompasses whatever makes the people in your life feel affirmed. “I’m grateful for your candor.” “Honey, they loved your presentation.” “You’re a wonderful mom.” “You make me so happy.” “You are so good at keeping us on task, thank you!” (And ladies, you might want to know that the words “thank you” are especially life giving for men. In my book For Women Only, you can see more about how “thank you” is a man’s equivalent of “I love you.”).
I think most of us know the importance of praise and affirmation. Yet one subtle, sneaky reason that it may not always get said out loud, is that we feel entitled to whatever the other person is doing. My husband, Jeff, told me, “I think we sometimes feel, You owe this to me. I deserve what you’re doing. This means that one reason we don’t praise is pride. … It is easy to forget that we really don’t deserve anything. Everything God allows us to have is a gift, right? So it is all praiseworthy.”
In the end, our praise keeps others going. But it also keeps us going. Because as we practice praise, we become more and more grateful for all that we have – and start to see even more things to be grateful for.
Want to know how to be kind, when you’re really not feeling it? My research uncovered three daily actions that will transform your relationships – and you. Check out The Kindness Challenge, now available!
Helping people thrive in life and relationships is Shaunti Feldhahn’s driving passion, supported by her research projects and writing. After starting out with a Harvard graduate degree and experience on Wall Street, her life took an unexpected shift into relationship research. She now is a popular speaker around the world and the author of best-selling books about men, women, and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge, demonstrates that kindness is the answer to almost every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.