One day I was doing some grocery shopping in a small but very popular health food store. The lines were always long, especially on weekends. It was Saturday and I ran in for a few things and saw that all 5 lines had people waiting 8-10 people deep. I grabbed what I needed as fast as I could and got in the express lane.
The problem with the store was that it was constructed poorly and once you got to the head of a line with your cart you had to back out in order to leave. That meant everyone behind you who had moved forward needed to move back so you could back your cart out, turn it around, and head out of the store. If you’ve ever been in a crowded line moving forward you know how hard it is to get everyone to take a few steps back.
The energy in the store was palpable. People were frustrated, anxious, tense, and in a hurry. The checkers had to take items out of your cart one at a time, punch in the price (no scanners!) and then bag it themselves. Basically, it took 3 times as long to check-out as it does at a regular, large grocery store.
I myself was feeling really frustrated. All kinds of thoughts were tramping around in my head. “God, why don’t they expand their store? Why don’t they get a bigger space? Why don’t they hire bag people? Why can’t they create a better system? This is insane!” The next line over was having a problem. An older gentleman was trying desperately to get to the front of the line to his wife who was at the checkout counter. He had a bottle of wine that he obviously ran back to get. Big mistake. No one would let him through.
Everyone was jostling around to make sure their place in line was secure (all that backing up to let people out made people nervous about line-cutters). I sensed people were about to go postal. Through the haze of my frustration I noted a blond woman in her fifties who was venting her aggravation out loud to anyone who would listen. “Hmm, she’s got really beautiful hair,” I thought to myself. “Too bad she’s being so mean to people. At least I have the decency to vent in my own head.” And then it hit me. We’re so quick to vent and complain and whine but how often do you actually see people complimenting total strangers out of the blue. I decided right then and there, in the midst of utter chaos, to share my feelings about this woman’s hair with her.
I tapped her lightly on the shoulder, she turned in a huff (probably figured someone wanted to cut into line), and looked at me. I spoke a little louder than usual to cut through the din of complainers, “I just had to tell you that I think your hair is stunning. Not only is it a great color for your complexion, but the style suits your face perfectly.”
You should have seen her reaction. A huge smile broke out on her face, she practically beamed with pleasure and she reached out and touched me lightly on the arm and said, “Oh thank you so much! What a kind thing for you to say!” I think I noticed her eyes welling up. I smiled too. I felt good! A little positive energy in the middle of the negative.
But then the most amazing thing happened. She stopped barking at people and started acting very politely to everyone near her. I heard her say, “Oh please sir, you should go ahead of me. You’ve only got one item. I can wait.” The man behind her thanked her profusely and moved forward. He was smiling too. The guy behind me in line leaned forward and said to me, “That was a really nice thing you said to that woman. I’ll bet she feels really good about herself now.” The woman in front of me also turned to me and smiled and said, “I agree. That was a nice compliment.”
And then I noticed a shift in the energy of the entire room. People around me started joking about our situation. Instead of complaining, they were sharing their frustration without blaming anyone. People even started laughing at the absurdity of the whole situation. A few moments later the manager of the store stood up behind all the checkers and said, “Hey everyone! I know the store is really crowded today and I’m sorry about the long waits. We really appreciate your patience and I promise we’ll get you out of here as soon as we can.” The checkers even started to relax a bit and that allowed them to check us out faster. By the time I finally left the store the energy had completely changed and people were calm again. The blond woman waved goodbye to me and said, “Thank you again! What a sweet girl you are!”
And from that day on I decided that if I ever had a complimentary thought about a total stranger I would express it to them. After all, who is going to be upset at being stopped for such a reason? Do you ever see someone while you’re out running errands and think things like, “Wow, that’s a beautiful skirt she’s wearing. I wonder where she got it.” Or, “That guy is driving an awesome car! I’d love to have a closer look at it.” Or “What beautiful and well-behaved children that woman has. How does she do it?” If so, why not go up to that person and say what you’re thinking?
How do you feel when a total stranger compliments you out of the blue? I know I feel great and it totally affects my mood after that. I feel happier and I feel like I want to make others happy as well. Kindness is contagious. You have the power to spread joy so easily! A small 3-second compliment can shift the energy of an entire room. If everyone started doing it, what effect would it have on the world?
So the next time you realize you’re having a kind thought about someone near you, share it and see what happens!