Sunday, March 1, 2009

Learning the Art of Praise

I love you. I think you are beautiful. You are so thoughtful. I can’t wait to spend time with you.

Do you remember how those words, and others like them, feel? Praise. Attention. Love. We don’t pass it around as much as we like to hear it ourselves. Some folks love to get this type of attention, and yet others act as though it is the last thing they want to hear. But deep down, don’t we all love to be acknowledged? Don’t we all find some security 
while being validated? How can you turn down the positive comments when someone else appreciates who you are and what you’ve done?
I know I feel uneasy when I’m with someone who notices everything I do and comments on it in a ‘too-upbeat’ positive manner. You know the ones – they find something ‘happy’ in everything they do, everything you do, everything going on around them. They find the traffic jam making them late to have a positive twist. They find the baby screaming all the way across the continent on the plane to have a silver lining. They find the job demotion to have some sort of happy ending that you would have never seen. I don’t wish unhappiness on these individuals, but I do question their ability to find everything, I mean everything I do to be good and perfect. That’s when I begin to mistrust their comments and wonder about my abilities. I ask, “If they found that horrid meal to be ‘scrumptious’, how is it that my improvised, on the spot music was also ‘scrumptious’. But I digress…
I recently had an experience where I was with people who are dealing with challenging circumstances. I was amazed at how well each individual was coping with the situation, pleasantly surprised that life had not stopped them completely in the path of change and illness. You never know how life will twist and shake you from moment to moment, and you can only hope that you are strong enough to continue standing up to the challenges. These folks had not lost their laughter, and clearly had not been worn down by illness and frustration.
What I found missing was the reaching out to one another that so supports each of us when we’re in trouble. Praise and admiration was all but missing in most of the conversations. I know underneath the pain and suffering, there is complete and utter devotion from one person to the other, but if you were an outsider, you wouldn’t know it. What happened to the love and understanding we show each other on a continual basis? What happened to loving each other openly, just because? What happened to sharing feelings because they are there to be shared? Why do we let our hurt feelings smolder under the fa├žade of getting through the day? When we meet up with loved ones after being apart for the day, where is the bodily contact to share how much love we feel? I often tell my 11 year old son, “I missed you today” when he comes in from school because I know it makes him feel good. He worries about being away from home, somehow thinking home is much more interesting than school (something I don’t doubt). Telling him I missed him lets him know I was thinking about him through the day, and want to know how he is. I ask him all sorts of questions to let him know I am interested in what he learned and did that day, and in turn, he has learned to be interested in my day. He has observed his father verbally checking in with me, and imitates him by asking if my day was exhausting or fun (most days it’s both).

Have we, as a culture, forgotten how to check in with each other? I know a couple who go right into each others’ arms for a kiss when they get home at the end of the day. At first I thought, ‘Geez, get a room’, but now I love that they can’t wait to see each other after a few hours apart – and this is after 15 years of marriage and several children. We could all learn from them.
Are you lovingly challenged? What’s the first step to welcoming love and praise into your life? Consider the following comments and see what you might be able to add into your dialogues at home:

• I thought about you today.
• What did your boss say at your meeting? (open ended question that asks for more than a yes/no answer – and leads to more questions/comments).
• You look wonderful in that sweater/dress/bathing suit.
• Thank you for taking care of _____________.
• It is wonderful not to have to think about _____________, thanks for taking care of it.
• Thank you for listening to me.
• Thank you for taking care of me.
• Would you come with me? I’d feel better if you did.
• It was good to have you close, that was difficult for me.
• I love you because ________________.
• Let me take care of that for you today.
• Would you like to choose the movie tonight?
• What can we do together this weekend?
• What can I do to make it easier for you today?

Open-ended questions typically draw people into conversations. They demand an answer more developed than yes/no. Closed-ended questions only ask for a yes or no, and are good for times you need quick information – when all you need is a yes or no. If you are hoping to carry on a conversation beyond yes/no, look for ways to ask open-ended questions, such as those listed above.
Something I tend to forget is how powerful physical touch can be. A light touch to the shoulder, arm or hand can be a wonderful way to connect with someone you know somewhat well. For those closer to you, a hug, kiss, or squeeze can feel so good, and it’s almost guaranteed to dissolve those blues that come from switching from work to home. Occasional comments of praise and love ‘out of the blue’ are welcome oases in a day full of challenge and struggle. Try an experiment: In the course of your conversations today, add just one positive, loving comment of praise. Pay close attention to make sure the recipient hears the comment, then watch the reaction. You might be completely surprised at how soon you’ll want to do it again, and possibly with other individuals as well. It’s contagious.  And the best thing about it?  It comes back to you. As long as it’s genuine (not my Miss Happy from above), you really can’t go wrong. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

And by the way – you are looking absolutely stunning today!!

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