Saturday, August 04, 2012

Gratitude & Consideration: Improving Self Esteem & Society

A couple months ago at a college alumni function I learned a lesson that has improved my quality of life. It involved accepting responsibility for being a cool and good person. Someone else who went to school after me said that people told them that I was someone worth knowing. Always trying to come off as humble, I said something about not understanding how I developed a reputation that survived me, I'm not anyone special that has done anything significant.

An old friend didn't let me finish my sentence. They scolded me that I am worth knowing and that I should accept those types of compliments. The function ended soon after, but my friend's advice has stuck with me.

Maybe accepting compliments wouldn't hurt. After all, we give ourselves the worst criticism. Psychologically healthier people out there generate an illusion of inflated abilities, skills, experience and state of being. A lot of psychological studies make this argument.

I, on the other hand, have always had more of a negative or sober assessment of myself and situation. Having this old friend tell me I should accept compliments got me thinking that maybe I had an overly negative view of myself rather than realistic. What would it hurt to accept compliments indiscriminately for a bit?

A couple weeks later, I accompanied the wife to Lakes of a Fire (a local Burning Man-style event or more descriptively, an art, radical expression, trade/bartering and fire dancing event).

I went with her last year to Lakes of Fire for the first time. I had an OK time, something new but nothing that got me super excited or anything. It had nothing to do with the people or the event. I just had other things on my mind and hadn't gotten into the right mindset.

Accepting compliments elevated my experience this year. I said thank you and you’re welcome whenever I received and gave compliments or favors. Even once when someone complimented me on being awesome, I simply said “I know.” Yeah, kind of conceited, but we had a good laugh. Switching things up has its place.

I have more or less maintained this trait of gratitude and consideration, depending on the social milieu that I find myself in. I’ve also continued feeling a high subjective state of well being and having great interactions with people.

My theory goes along the lines that gratitude and consideration serves us more than just good manners and etiquette. For the subjective self, accepting compliments gets you to start believing them and even to engage in positive self talk that bolsters your elevated self esteem.

Self affirmations sound lame and even insincere, but having a stable self esteem goes a long way to improving quality of life for you and those around you. Fake it until you make it (or start believing it), they say. Just don’t let it go to your head so much that you start hurting other people.

I think the next part of my hypothesis touches on not hurting people. Both too much conceit and too much self abnegation in reaction to a compliment casts doubt on the complimentor. Showing too much conceit tells the complimentor they’ve misjudged someone’s sense of reality. Too much self abnegation tells the complimentor they’ve misjudged their own sense of reality.

People like to share concepts of reality and narratives, as long as their own reality checking facility doesn’t cast too much doubt. That kind of doubt causes a lot of cognitive dissonance and requires work to reconcile.

Someone else inducing that kind of dissonance and doubt with their own self appraisal makes it even worse. They’re supposed to know themselves better than an outside complimentor would know them. They have just distanced themselves from the complimentor.

More knowledge and familiarity means higher levels intimacy and comfort. Impractically negating established intimacy or advances of intimacy (lack of time, other commitments being practical reasons) becomes a slap in the face. It rejects the worth of knowing and getting to know the complimentor. As accepting compliments adds to positive self talk, rejection can contribute to negative self talk.

Accepting a compliment provides a compliment, both of judgment and the ability to build intimacy or camaraderie. Rejecting a compliment, however, can give insult. It casts doubt on a person’s judgment and their ability to build intimacy and camaraderie.

The original complimentor than accepts an unsaid compliment by saying “You’re welcome” and accepting gratitude. They have acknowledged being told they have a good sense of reality and judge of character. Their narrative has received affirmation and have made connection with another human, two of the most joyful experiences we can have.

People do everyone a favor by accepting compliments. They contribute to everyone’s self esteem and subjective well being by encouraging positive self talk all around.

Without a good practical reason to decline a compliment, accept them to better yourself and to improve the state of society. I guarantee that you’ll grab more joy from life. Just try it. You’ll see. I did.

LINKS OF NOTE: A lot of psychological studies argue positive illusions leads to better mental health, Lakes of a Fire, Burning Man