Life — The Desire for Sympathy

One thing I’ve been especially cognizant of recently is what happens when I’m talking to a friend and one of us isn’t in a good mood. For most people I talk to, whoever isn’t in a bad mood will be extremely positive or optimistic about the friend’s situation, only to have the roles reversed the next day.

The strange thing about this is that I don’t know what causes it or why it seems to be so much more difficult to feel positively about oneself when compared to thinking of other people.

Take, for example, a situation or circumstance you may be going through right now. (This would work a lot better if I knew you personally, but hear me out). If I had told you about this situation as if it was my own problem, you would undoubtedly provide me with options as to how I might deal with it. But, as soon as it is you that’s having the problem, we seem to lose all ability to rationally be able to solve it ourselves.

I think one of the biggest things at play here is our brain’s psychological need for comfort and sympathy. As you may or may not know, I’m a very confident person. I rarely study for anything and, as far as school is concerned, I have never once been afraid of failing a class. But this doesn’t stop me from telling my friends about my worry about passing a test or getting a good grade on a project. That isn’t to say I will lie about my concern, simply that I will exaggerate and play it up my fear as a means to make conversation.

I’ve also lied about insecurities I have to people. It’s odd, because I hate small talk, and I basically never flat out “lie”, so I have no idea why I would do that, it simply happens. Perhaps that, along with talking to friends and family about problems, big or small, is a way to increase our own sense of self worth. Making another person think about and work through a situation one may be in proves they care about you, so like Pavlov’s dog its an unconscious behavior we learn simply because it provides results we like.

This is all, in the end, conjecture. I have no basis for these conclusions, and it could just be behavior that I personally have learned in order to mimic those around me, exaggerating my own fears and concerns to make myself feel more similar to those around me. Normally I would have some scientific theory or study to refer to here, especially when talking about psychology, but this is one phenomenon I just don’t understand. That being said, I wouldn’t doubt that this exact thought process has a name and even a definitive explanation for it somewhere. But phenomena like this are a little difficult to discern one way or another without directly asking an expert, since there is no way to “explain” something to Google.

I suppose a conclusion one can draw here is that it seems we are optimistic towards others’ problems while pessimistic about our own. Perhaps its a psychological desire for sympathy.

Life — Compliments

Lately I’ve been trying this new thing. Well, I’m still on the fence about it for a few different reasons, but every day I go out in public, I’m trying to find somebody to compliment. Something simple, like “I like your hair,” or “Cool shirt!” as we walk past each other. I want to start doing it because I know it leaves a long lasting mark on people. A stranger giving positive feedback on you can be huge and brighten your whole day. The reason I’m still unsure about it is because in this day and age, you never know how much of a mistake involving yourself with somebody to any degree can be.

So, while I decide whether this is something I actively want to try, I’ve been giving myself baby steps and rules. Some of these could be based on fallacious ideas, but they’re bound to have some credence to them.

First and most importantly, I only think about genuine compliments. The biggest thing is to be honest with people. That will inevitably take some potential targets off the list, sure. Whatever. But this whole idea is that it will make you happy to make somebody happy, so even thinking about things positively will brighten your day to a small scale.

Second, and this works best when I’m on campus going in between classes, compliment people that are alone and walking in the opposite direction as you. I personally don’t want to have an actual conversation with anybody. I hate small talk (which may come off as something of a paradox in this circumstance, but I don’t care to justify that today). You also don’t want to sound like you want something from them or anything like that. You want to be clear that you are simply saying something nice. It will have far more impact if people don’t suspect you have an ulterior motive. This can be tricky. Our daily lives are based on small assumptions we make constantly. You also want this person alone because you don’t want to come up with two compliments. You’ll end up grasping for straws and its impact may be somewhat diluted if they’re with a friend, (or god forbid significant other).

Lastly, target the group of people you’re most comfortable complimenting in this sort of scenario. This probably means picking a gender, but it doesn’t have to. Maybe you’re more comfortable addressing people of the gender you’re not attracted to simply because you’re shy. Or maybe you’re uncomfortable talking to anybody outside of (or inside) your age group! Whatever works best for you.

Now, I will be honest here. I haven’t even done this once. I have given out one compliment I normally would not, and it was with a stranger, but it was at the end of a two minute conversation we had. They won’t remember me as the person that went out of their way to compliment them, which is sort of the whole point. But there are a few reasons I’m hesitant to put this positivity into practice. The biggest one is that I don’t want to get caught in an actual conversation, because I’m very introverted and asocial. I especially don’t want to talk to them if they are suspicious of my intentions. I don’t want to have to defend my actions, which is probably something of an empty fear, but the reality exists that somebody may get offended by whatever I say and I honestly don’t know how well I may handle that situation. I’m also listening to music in between classes, so I’d have to very noticeably take out my earphones to say something to them, which seems a little weird. Maybe I should just force myself to not listen to music.

So, what I’m left with is silently thinking about what I like regarding the strangers that pass by me every day. The funny thing is even doing that brightens your own day a little bit. Don’t think about how loud and obnoxious that person is, think about their cool tattoo or glasses or whatever. Even if you never actually say anything to any stranger, you start seeing the world in a more positive light, and it comes at no risk to you. You might as well start there and see where it goes.