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Noah Raaum

Wouldn’t it be nice to float through the end of the school year on a sea of compliments?

It is easy for students to go through the day wrapped-up in their own world. With extrinsic goals mainly comprising this world—deadlines, tests—it can be hard to genuinely recognize the work and accomplishments of others. Next Friday comes the fated Spring Awards Assembly, where Book Awards, among others, recognize individual students for their work throughout the year. Awards form an important motivational system, and are based on the idea that individuals are hardwired for social distinction, but there are everyday actions—namely compliments—that can address recognition more sincerely and more frequently.

In a place where seemingly only the most exceptional get recognized, a daily low-stake compliment to a fellow student seems beneficial, even healthy.

In a place where seemingly only the most exceptional get recognized, a daily low-stake compliment to a fellow student seems beneficial, even healthy (and less damaging to the ego). Praise from one’s peers can seem more authentic than recognition in front of the entire school. One overlooked side effect of these awards assemblies is “imposter syndrome”—a term coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes referring to a feeling of fraudulence among high-achievers. In other words, receiving awards without the validation of one’s peers could cause the receiver to feel like they don’t deserve the award. These feelings are common: according to an article from the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70% of people experience “imposter” feelings at some point in their lives.

However, most of these feelings result from high-stress, high-pressure situations—whereas giving everyday compliments has no association with anxiety or tension.

In fact, according to Professor Norihiro Sadato, the professor at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan, “To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money.”

Compliments not only “feel good,” but can create a beneficial learning environment. One study found that participants who learned a new skill and were complimented had a greater ability to remember and repeat that skill—and in a school setting, this would encourage students to feel “validated” instead of insecure about their skills.

Sometimes giving compliments can seem like a burden. Often, the complimenter frets over whether their compliment will be well received, or whether it’s weird to compliment someone out of the blue. But if commit to bolstering a culture of compliments through small actions, that attitude will change. Start with “I like your outfit” or “That English paper thesis was really interesting.” Then, work compliments into everyday conversation: “You’re a wonderful person” or “I’m lucky to be your friend.”

Compliments make the world go round: it costs the complimenter nothing and means everything to the receiver. So, next time you see someone doing something exceptional, tell them they’re doing a good job.