This weekend, I am going to add appreciation of others and drop having the answers.
People don’t usually tell me that I look nice.
I realised this yesterday as I was thinking about appreciation and self-worth. Few of us ordinary folk are stunningly attractive people, but I think most of us would actually be content with feeling that we are nice to look at. As a child, I was not overweight and I was not at all ugly, but I honestly can’t remember feeling pretty. Yet it occurs to me that some people must get spontaneous compliments on their appearance occasionally – even frequently. Some people, although they may have parts of their appearance they are over-critical of, must have always felt that they were attractive, or had the ability to be with some effort.
These are not self-pitying thoughts. They are the realisation that merely being told something positive about ourselves helps us to feel more confident and resiliant against negative thoughts. While I deprecate the extreme focus on body image that permeates society these days, appreciating appearance may not be a bad thing. The problems are that there is often a huge difference between the amount of compliments very attractive people receive and the amount received by less or not very attractive people, and that people often do not get complimented enough for other qualities. I wonder if I would feel more positive about my looks if I had been complimented more. Maybe I have looked very nice on many occasions, but I tend to doubt it if nobody has verbalised it.
I think appreciation is important. It is not a new thing for me to be conscious of complimenting people. I’ve learned over the years that everyone is generally insecure to some degree. A genuine compliment never hurts and sometimes it gives someone a boost they really needed. Since I realised, many years ago, how much I needed to feel validated and appreciated, I have consciously allowed myself to freely verbalise positives thought I have about others. At work, I will always tell someone if I like something they’re wearing. I will often tell teachers I work with when I see they are doing a good job – they don’t even have to have done something exceptional, because so often we need assurance that we are ordinarily capable. I often tell my sister how good a mother she is, and I try to explicitly tell my friends that I like them and all their good qualities.
But this weekend is also about the other people. You know, the people in our lives that make it hard to compliment them. They may be people we love, people we don’t mind, or people we find really annoying. They are the people who don’t inspire in us the desire to give them those spontaneous, generous pieces of appreciation. The people at work who are so forward and confident that we almost resent them and don’t think they need a boost, too. The people who drive us crazy (whether they are people we love or people we merely have to put up with), who we don’t want to compliment because we feel they’ll take it as endorsement of everything they do. Even the people who get complimented on some things, but other efforts are ignored (this article about bright girls talks about differences in types of praise).
This weekend, I want to make an effort to give the more difficult compliments. The compliments for the “confident” people I forget about, the compliments for traits I have taken for granted (such as appearance), and the compliments that stick in my throat. Not empty compliments. Everybody has one positive trait or skill, or can be shown that they are liked or loved.
I want to do this because:
* It is my experience that showing appreciation usually improves relationships. Even annoying people usually manage to be slightly less annoying (or, at least, increase some positive traits) around someone who has given them something positive. Appreciation makes people feel more positive towards the appreciator, and it also positively reinforces the desirable behaviours. But this reason is just a selfish bonus.
* I believe that everyone deserves to be appreciated. (At least, to avoid pedantic debates, everyone that I am likely to come into contact with, as I’m not likely to meet an evil dictator walking down a suburban Melbourne street.) Even if they are not behaving in ways that make me feel generous towards them, everybody has insecurities and hurts. Everybody is a feeling person with the right to be happy.
* The kind of person I want to be is someone who is generous with her appreciation. The kind of person I want to be is one who spreads the sunshine. Every time I verbalise my love, liking or appreciation I am living up to my own idea of the Best Zaiene. Even when it’s hard to feel someone deserves appreciation, I can try to give it for my own sake.
This blog is a product of my struggles to have a better life, but I often feel that this ideal means Having Things Together, Being On the Right Track, Being Highly Successful in Career, Having Material Possessions, or Having All the Answers.
One surprising thing it is helping me realise, however, is that I perhaps don’t need all of those things. If I take the time to notice what I value, to notice the kind of person I want to be, then those other things will naturally come or not come without being so important.
What do I value? What kind of person do I want to be?
So often, my answers are external: I want to be productive, I want to be organised, I want to make a difference, I want to have a successful and meaningful career. These are all about the products of my actions, they are not really about who I am. They do have some merit, goals give us purpose and a reason to try, but they are merely external.
What I’m really talking about is the kind of person I want to be regardless of the outcome. This is what I’ve noticed about myself so far:
I want to be someone who tries.
I want to be someone who allows herself to fail or be foolish.
I want to be someone who is present with others.
I want to be someone with integrity.
These are not things that I need to have big answers for or a big vision for. I feel that if I can notice who I want to be and focus on this, if my attitude and my actions can stem from this understanding, then I will not feel discontent or feel disappointed with my life.
I’m finding this a bit hard to explain, because it is not one of those concepts that has been percolating in my brain for a long time. It is a newer idea and it is not yet fully formed, not yet complete with words to explain it to others.
But then, perhaps that is partially the point. This weekend I’m letting go of the need to always have the answers, the pressure on myself to know where I’m going and to get there as quickly as possible, the shame of not being there already.