The Science of Compliments

A compliment is a powerful verbal gift.

I have written often about the power of giving and the tremendous value that this simple act unlocks for both the giver and the receiver. For the most part, I tend to emphasize the value for the giver. When we are generous, we honor our natural design and trigger deep biological responses that unlock health and happiness. Often, it is the least expensive gifts, like affirmation and praise, that evoke the most benefit. And most of us are very comfortable giving affirmation.

But how do you receive praise?

Many of us are uncomfortable when we get a compliment. At best, we reluctantly accept the kind words. At worst, we feel ashamed and unworthy of the praise.

Several factors drive our discomfort. Sometimes it’s just downright embarrassing when somebody identifies our strong points publicly. Other times, we find the implied scrutiny uncomfortable; we feel exposed and self-conscious. Mainly, we have been raised by good parents who taught us humility, and we worry that readily accepting a compliment might be misinterpreted as conceit or arrogance.

But when we are incapable of accepting compliments, we starve ourselves of a vital and readily available nutrient.

Compliments are wonderful gifts, and we should learn to accept them openly, with warmth and gratitude, for four main reasons:

  1. When we receive a gift, Mother Nature triggers the release of hormones like serotonin and dopamine that make us happy and healthy.

  2. Words of affirmation reinforce our self-belief, especially when they come from somebody we like and respect. When we believe we are valuable, we become more valuable. Outside opinion is a powerful ally for our cognitive brain in its fight against the undermining voice of our primitive reptilian brain.

  3. When we accept a compliment, we express gratitude, which itself is a powerful stimulant of health and happiness through well-recognized biological pathways.

  4. Finally, when we openly acknowledge the sentiment and intent of kind words, we complete the circle of giving that starts deep in the emotional brain of the giver. In gaining from their words, we reward the giver. They too enjoy Mother Nature’s magical design and are rewarded with health and happiness.

So when you get your next compliment, don’t reject it stoically. Rather, look the giver in the eye, give them a huge, warm smile, and say a simple “thank you.”

Dr. Roddy Carter, MD, has over 30 years of experience working across a range of medical disciplines and corporate settings. 

At the height of his successful career, Roddy experienced a personal health and happiness awakening. During this profoundly transformative time, he began applying his deep knowledge of performance neuroscience to his everyday life. He discovered that, in moments of stress, the brain develops intricate psycho-protective adaptations to ensure our short-term survival; however, these adaptations often impose substantial residual limitations, create profound (and often hidden) distress, and prevent us from reaching our innate potential.

Today, Roddy is an executive coach and author dedicated to helping others unlock their full potential throughout their lives by applying compassionate neuroscience and sharing his unique approach to Personal Mastery™.

To learn more about Roddy and his coaching services, and to follow his blog, visit www.roddycarter.com. You can find his books, BodyWHealth and Sunset Lessons, on Amazon.