science of us

If You’re Feeling Bad, Email Someone a Compliment

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I have a small piece of advice, which is that if you’re ever feeling terrible — in one of those clammy, “what am I doing, what am I doing, everything is bad” spirals — get on the computer and email out a few compliments to people. It can jumpstart you out of your own head and back into the world. For me it’s been like a lifeline when I’ve felt really down. And I feel the worst when I feel the least useful, so sending someone a compliment out of the blue feels like latching back onto the lowest rung of the utility ladder.

I think of these emails as emergency compliments — S.O.S compliments. In theory, texting works too, but email feels more polite. And of course IRL is also good, but there’s something about the distance and purposefulness of email that feels unparalleled. It doesn’t demand an immediate response, or even any response, but it also give the pleasure of knowing that the person could be reading it right this very moment. Email inboxes have also become such business-y places that it’s nice to imagine spicing someone else’s up with something personal and unexpected.

The emails can be long or short — short is great and maybe better — but they have to be real. In my head these compliment-emails feel like webs I’m casting up to reconnect me to other people when I’m in a free-fall. As if I were some kind of spider that accidentally got dislodged from my network, and these are the tethers that reel me back in. That said, it’s best if the emails sound normal and don’t include anything about feeling miserable. Just a quick and honest compliment — “I was just thinking of that joke you said back in 2014, it’s still so funny.”

It’s maybe antithetical to have a selfish reason for giving compliments, but bringing other people amusement cures a bad mood like nothing else. (Self-focus can cause depression and anxiety in the first place, and it may even be “the root of all evil,” per Psychology Today.) Also my email address is totally public in case anyone is ever wondering.

If You’re Feeling Bad, Email Someone a Compliment