The Two Secrets to a Happy Day

That was a good one!

That was a good one!

I was listening to a speaker last week, and he was talking about rejection, and how painful and damaging it is. It certainly is – and I suspect most people have experienced it in some form or other.  The job you wanted and didn’t get.  That person you liked who turned down your offer of a date.  The team who didn’t pick you as a player.  It hurts.  These kinds of rejection are pretty obvious.

But did you know that many of us are using a subtle form of rejection on other people every day? I call it “withheld attention”.  What on earth is that?

I can explain it best with an example.  Here goes:

You went shopping on Friday after work, and you found an outfit to wear that truly looks fantastic on you.  In slang, “You look like a million bucks!”  You know it’s going to put a big bite in your budget – you’ll be eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner this week – but you don’t care. It looks that good.  Saturday night arrives and you go out on a date with your sweetheart, wearing this amazing outfit, and looking great….but your sweetheart doesn’t say a thing.  Your outfit is not mentioned at all. Ouch!  That’s “withheld attention”.

Thinking it over after the date, you decide that since your sweetie grew up in a home where no one complimented anyone, compliments aren’t comfortable.  So you decide you’ll wear your outfit to church on Sunday, and to lunch with your family.  And you do.  But once again, no one says Anything about your outfit.  Double Ouch!

What are you doing with that outfit on Monday?  YES!  Either taking it back to the store, or hiding it in the back of your closet, never to wear it again.

Let’s examine what happened:  Was that outfit still as perfect for you on Monday as it was when you bought it?  Absolutely!  What was the only thing that changed?  Your perception of how you looked wearing it, based on the “withheld attention.”  No one made the effort to tell you how good you looked, so you think you were wrong.  You don’t look good in that outfit at all.   (Only a very strong person will be able to say, “I do look great.  Too bad they didn’t notice.”  In my observation, most of us aren’t that strong.)

And now we have arrived at the Two Secrets for a Happy Day:

  1. Notice something good about the other people around you.
  2. Tell them, with a short, specific and sincere compliment.  

It might be the sales associate with a pretty necklace. “That’s a pretty necklace.”  Or your spouse took the trash out without you noticing. “Thanks for emptying the trash. That was a great surprise.”  Or your friend is wearing a lovely blouse. “That color looks great on you.”

You’ll notice each of these compliments is short and specific:

  • Be brief.  Don’t go on and on – they’ll wonder what you want.
  • Be specific so that they know exactly what you like.  “You’re thoughtful.” is nice to hear, but it doesn’t tell me what you liked so I can do it again.  “I appreciate your emptying the diaper pail.  It was getting really smelly.  Thanks!”  Now I know you realized and appreciated exactly what I did, and that motivates me to do it again.

Back to the outfit compliment.  You’re in your new outfit on that date, and instead of saying nothing, your sweetheart says, “Wow.  That outfit looks fantastic on you!”  That’s all you need to feel like you’re floating for the rest of the evening.  He or she could even add, “That color lights  your face.” or “…enhances your good looks.”  (The more you practice this, the easier it gets to give a sincere compliment.)  Notice how often you will then want to wear that outfit.

For another example, let’s imagine that you’re a teenager, and your mom has cooked dinner for you virtually every night of your life. You’ve noticed this, and decide to give her a compliment.  Read this aloud as you time how long it takes to say this, please: “Mom, I wanted to say thank you.  Practically every night of my life, you’ve made a great dinner for us.  Thank you!”  Okay, how long was that?  Maybe 7 Seconds?

A quick warning here that applies to many situations:  If this is the first time you’ve ever complimented her, she’ll probably ask you, “What do you want?”  This is where you respond in an upbeat tone of voice, “Nothing.  I just realized I’d never said thank you, and it was about time I did!”

For the next few hours, she’ll wait for the “May I borrow the car?”, but when that Doesn’t come, watch how her face lights up.  Someone noticed and appreciated what she is doing!  You may even overhear her telling her friends about it.  🙂 How long did it take to help create this happiness?  About 7 seconds.

You get the idea.

Every day, there are people making an effort – doing things to contribute to their family or to their workplace, or making an effort to look nice that day.  If we take a little time to notice, and sincerely compliment them – well, you’re going to love it.  Almost without exception, they light up.  And watching happiness spread over someone’s face is contagious.  It spreads over yours, too.  You walk away uplifted and happy – maybe even telling yourself, “That was a good one.”  And the more you do this, the more natural and more easy it becomes, until it’s almost automatic that you look for what’s right and tell the other person.

And those are the Two Secrets to Having a Happy Day:  Notice something good about the other person,  and tell them.  

Imagine a world where everyone is focused on what they Like about each other.  Wouldn’t that be something great?




  1. Kathleen says:

    Seeing a “Lighter Way to Live” entry in my e-mail box always brings a smile to my face. Thanks so much for writing these interesting, provocative, and always insightful articles. You rock!

  2. Sherry Nicholas says:

    Once again you have clearly and simply stated a very needed reminder to us all. I have practiced this for years, and you are right, it becomes easy because you see the results right before your eyes. Complimenting someone is easy when you are always looking for the good in others, and its very hard when we feel negative vibes and are expecting the worse in others. Compassion and a little kindness can go along way. Thanks for your thoughtful reminder.

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