Two women are sitting opposite each other on a busy commuter train. It’s a gloomy Tuesday morning and there are places they’d both rather be. As the train pulls into the station they stand, one notices that the other is wearing a truly lovely green dress. And so, without hesitation, says, “Excuse me, I just wanted to tell you that you look fantastic. I love your dress, it’s such a beautiful colour.”
There’s nothing quite like a compliment – and our brains love them. Immediately, the brain of the woman in the green dress would feel a hit of dopamine (often called the ‘feel-good neurotransmitter’) making her feel great. Close behind it would be serotonin and endorphins, more neurotransmitters, this time governing mood, wellbeing and social behaviour, giving her a swell of warmth and happiness. At the same time, oxytocin (AKA ‘the love hormone’) is released, creating feelings of trust and connection. It’s there to help us bond with others and create strong social relationships.
That’s a whole lot of scientifically proven feelgood from just a few simple words, right? But it doesn’t stop there. At the same time, the woman giving the compliment enjoys an identically joyful chemical blend in her own brain. And while the compliment takes seconds, the effects last and sometimes people can recall them years after they took place. Plus, dopamine is a gloriously complex and tricksy neurotransmitter – it always leaves you wanting more. So, once you’ve given or received a compliment, you can’t wait for another opportunity and people who give and receive them tend to keep going, creating a whole chain reaction of kindness.
But it’s not just about that hit of sweet, sweet dopamine. There has been plenty of research linking acts of kindness – including compliments – to improved health, such as lower blood pressure and a healthier immune profile. So, when we are kind to each other, everyone is a winner. You might wonder why we don’t do it more often.