Yonatan Birnbaum

If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say, Try Harder

Picture credited to

Breaking News

Before I begin, please note that this info has been abstracted from the highest ranks of intelligence, has been confirmed by very reliable sources and has been fact-checked numerous times. Its implications are absolutely shocking. 

Saying nice things to others is a really powerful tool.

Current Sentiments

If you are like any normal person during this period, your free time has been far more glued to screens, far more keen to hearing the news, far more tense just in general. That’s completely normal. These are challenging times. There is a lot going on in the world and even more going on in our small, tiny country. Emotions rollercoaster from anger, sadness hate, fear- all the things that Yoda so emphatically told us to avoid. 

More recently, you may have also been more tempted to state your opinions, come up with theories why this happened, where we are now, and what’s the obvious solution. You may have mentioned it on WhatsApp, in closed conversations in the hallways and when the silence just seems too intense. Still acceptable, right? A lot of our emotions have been trying to make sense of all that’s been going on and desperately finding a way to express itself in more complex ways. So, if this is okay, obviously the next step is that it’s now important that not only those close to you but everyone hears what you think. It’s even vital they know everything that has been burning you inside…..right??

I would stop at this point and take a moment to consider: is this really a pattern that we really should be commending? I mean for the average Joe or Jill, is it really productive to be allowing an outlet for highly volatile emotions and feelings that we are all still in the midst of processing?

Don’t get me wrong- expressing opinions have their place. But at the same time, I am not sure we are doing so in the most productive manner. There has to be another way we can be utilizing our means of expression.

Different Tactics

So, if doing the obvious and saying whatever we think out-loud is not the solution, then what is? Should we just continue spending this indefinite period moping or fuming? We can. I have another suggestion. Maybe completely insane. But a suggestion, nonetheless.

Compliment People 

You heard me. Use your urge to speak verbally and compliment people.

Huh? What?? Now??? During a war? Are you nuts? 

Bear with me. Here is why I think it’s worthwhile:

  1. It’s a good deed.

 Some people have been adhering more to wear tzitzit during the day. Others have been working on bringing their shabbat earlier on or to keep Shabbat. These all have so much merit. Yet, saying nice things is not only a commandment but the reward is reciprocal. 

2. It doesn’t cost anything and it makes people smile. 

99% of the time, even if the response is silent, you will get a double-take and afterwards, the two edges of the recepient’s mouth will indeed rise. 

3. Aside from making the person feel good, you will feel better!

The majority of people will already have an instantaneous self-esteem boost (more than you think), and you in return will feel empowered and uplifted.

Our Misconceptions

So, if there is such a strong benefit of saying nice things, why don’t we say it more often? Well, it just so happens that there has been a study published not so long ago in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology covering exactly that. It turns out we human beings are pretty much wrong about everything when it comes to anything about compliments. Here are a few of those mistakes.

  1. The other person won’t really take it to heart. WRONG. 

The average rating of someone receiving a compliment was consistently higher than what the complimenter predicted.

2. It will definitely be awkward. Wrong again. 

When actually put to the test, the person receiving the compliment didn’t report it nearly as weird as the complimenter predicted. Putting this into context, consider the last time someone said something nice to you (granted it was sincere and it wasn’t creepy in any way). You may have been caught off-guard and a little speechless, but that doesn’t mean the comment wasn’t welcome. For all you cared, that sweet person could have gone on with his or her day and left you with that nice, tingly feeling inside. Yet, for the person complimenting, those couple of seconds of silence may have been interpreted differently.

3. The timing is off. 

People like to hear nice things no matter what the context and what he or she is in middle of doing. So stop pushing it off! 

4. It will get old 

In an experiment where a friend sent a compliment to someone every day for a whole week, the person complimented reported feeling equally appreciative of the compliment day in and day out. That fuzzy feeling simply didn’t wear out.

Putting it to Practice

If I am going to be completely honest, this isn’t so second-nature for me. When I first heard about this study, I was really hesitant to put it to practice.  But, believe it or not, I needed a well-being boost and I tried it for a week. And I pleasantly found several things. 

First off, people indeed always seem to smile when you say something nice and in return, I felt a little bit of a rush myself. The situation does in fact feel a little awkward afterwards but as mentioned before, that doesn’t mean it was the same for both parties. 

Another surprising thing that I found was that after a short period, it led to really good conversations. One person who seemed at first pretty shy began talking in depth of a mutual hobby we share. A co-worker that usually keeps to himself took off his earpiece and talked outloud about an idea he had. An Arab store-owner I come across pretty often started inquiring why I wasn’t on reserve duty. All in part to the fact that I made an effort to notice something special about that individual. 

Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean we have to chase down strangers and mildly hassle them (though if you are interested, check out Troy Hawke, who does this for a living and it’s a riot). But at least for those you see pretty often and occasionally someone you see less often, try to find something nice to say and see where it may take you. I guarantee it’s less stressful than you think and will give you some pleasant insights. 

Give it a Try

The pain we are holding onto during these terrible times may not go away any time soon. It seems only natural that the best way to deal with it is to say outloud what’s on our minds. But, maybe, just maybe, if instead we can just make some effort to hold that thought a little longer, and say something that another person will be happy to hear, be it their stride, their hairdo, a good trait of theirs, anything to catch them off-guard; we may find a little comfort and peace of mind. 

And on that note, thank you so much for having the incredible patience and curiosity to read this article. You are a spectacular human being. 

About the Author
Raised in Baltimore and an oleh since 2008, I now work for a yeshiva in the old city. Aside from being a dedicated husband and father, I spend my free time biking throughout Jlem and practicing Capoeira.
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