For years I've been practicing something that even as I write it I know sounds silly. When I chat with companion animals, I make an effort to compliment them on the quality of their character. Bear with me here.
Yes, Legs (our little tuxedo cat) can curl up into cute positions, but what matters more is that he's very friendly. He greets us at the door and cuddles himself under my chin when I'm sad. My brother's Great Dane, Athena, is a gorgeous creature, sure. But more importantly, she is fiercely loyal to her guardian and misses him terribly when he's gone.
Look, I know Legs and Athena probably don't care too much about the particulars of our love as long as we like them enough to feed them, but telling others what I love about them has been a powerful gratitude practice for me.
Many of us habitually say "I love you" to someone we care about, but how often do we actually tell them why?
When you shine a light on the qualities you love in someone, you show them that you really see who they are. It's powerful to have the beauty of your character reflected back to you. Those who love us can often see the greatness that we can't always see in ourselves.
The risk here, of course, is that people may return the favor. It can be much harder to receive kindness than to offer it, especially if you're in the habit of putting those around you first and putting yourself down. It's ok if it's uncomfortable. You may feel tempted to brush it off and say, "Ugh, not really. I feel like I'm the worst. They're just saying that."
I get it. I truly do. But guess what? You are loved. And you can care for the person who wants to show you how loved you are by really listening to and accepting their compliment.
So take a deep breath in and a long breath out, you kind soul. Then marinate in the offering you've received. Feel in your bones how lovable your lovable qualities are. You are not an outlier. You are just as worthy of love as anyone else in this world.
I've got a challenge going for myself right now, and I'd love it if you'd join me.
Tell 5 people something you love about them.
Dig beneath the surface and think about what makes you hold them so close to your heart. Do they hold the door for strangers? Are they thoughtful about how their actions impact the environment? Do they give the best hugs? Are they super smart but never pretentious?
When they return the kindness (and someone will), stay open. When the urge to brush it off strikes, exhale and release it. Then with your next breath try this as an alternative: "Thank you!"
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