Have you ever received a random compliment that just made your whole day? Have you ever just had someone compliment your outfit, or a job well done?…something unsolicited, but then oh, so meaningful.
I was walking out of a coffee shop one morning, and a gentleman commented on how nice I looked. It was completely out of the blue. It felt great! I was walking on cloud 9 for the rest of the day. I had my shoulders back and my chin up.
I found myself with a goofy little smile on my face over something so simple. What a difference such a small comment could make in someone else’s life. It got me thinking….why?
Dopamine is responsible for a number of functions, such as memory and focus, pancreatic function, blood flow, pain processing, sleep, arousal, and motor control.
BREAK IT DOWN FOR ME
It turns out, there is NOT a TON of research in the field of compliments and their effects on our brain or our health in general. What we DO know is this: compliments cause a response of pleasure in the brain. Compliments activate the same part of the brain that gets activated when we receive money!
(Who knew?) They activate the striatum, which is responsible for the release of dopamine. …and dopamine is, well, awesome.
Dopamine is kind of the unsung hero of the brain hormone world. We give a lot of attention to epinephrine and norepinephrine—the chemicals we experience when we get that “runner’s high.” We hear a lot about serotonin. That is the hormone that is the focus of being balanced in the management of depression and anxiety. So, what about dopamine?
Dopamine is a hormone that is largely produced by precursors in the gut and works as a hormone in the brain, more commonly known as a neurotransmitter. The activity of dopamine involves a system known as “motivation, reward, and reinforcement.”
I often say that we lack creativity in the medical realm and name things for exactly what they do. This instance is no different than other examples. Dopamine is responsible for signals to help motivate actions that will lead to a reward (seeking out chocolate, for example). When the reward is achieved (eating and enjoying the chocolate), it reinforces the behavior (the seeking itself).
When we receive a compliment, it activates this pathway. We become motivated to perform whatever activity it was that led to the compliment itself, so we can receive that reward again. In other words, my innate response of walking around with a smile on my face with my shoulders back and my chin up are all things
that make one appear more confident and attractive…which may then lead to another compliment, or reward to the ego, and further release of dopamine. My response to that compliment shows that our bodies and our minds know what to do…we just have to give them the opportunity to do it!
Dopamine is responsible for our sense of pleasure. More than that, it is also responsible for better blood flow, improved digestion, and better heart and kidney function. This is a prime example of how the mind and body are most intimately connected. Is this why feeling happy or satisfied causes positive changes in our vital signs, like decreased pulse and blood pressure? Maybe. My guess is yes.
Dopamine is also responsible for a multitude of other bodily functions: focus and memory, pancreatic function and insulin regulation, stress response, pain processing, sleep, arousal, and motor control. It would be reasonable to assume, then, that by giving or receiving compliments, many of these functions may improve.
The receiver is not the only one who benefits in the exchange. The giver of the compliment also benefits. It has been shown in many studies that those who give to others are happier, have lower stress levels, and have better health outcomes in chronic illnesses such as HIV and multiple sclerosis.
Giving is great!
I would caution, however, to give compliments genuinely. Another study showed that when subjects received daily compliments about the work they did, they lost their benefit. (I liken it to the reason why we never believe our moms when they tell us we are pretty…they are our moms…they are supposed to say we are pretty. Haha.) The other group in that same study, who only received compliments after accomplishing certain tasks and doing them well, tended to perform at higher levels than those who received daily compliments regardless of effort or outcome of their work.
I think we have all seen this play out with the generation of those who have received anticipation medals for everything. The intent is to not feel left out, but, in turn, the reward loses its benefit and meaning. We lose the dopamine response, and we receive no pleasure from the receipt of such awards.
It seems that the old-fashioned way of paying a compliment when one is warranted delivers the most primal benefit by way of a dopamine response for the receiver of the compliment.
So, in this time when the health and well-being of ourselves and our fellow citizens are of the utmost focus, pay someone a compliment! It’ll help both you and the recipient.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
We have heard for decades: “If you see something, say something.” Yet, in this day and age, we are often so engulfed in our own life’s drama that we don’t even notice those around us. We have our heads in our phones, and our attention is turned elsewhere. We are not focused on the now. It is time you look around. Notice something extraordinary. Notice a job well done, a hard-working youth at the grocery store, or a coworker with a new hairstyle. Say something. You can do it! It helps your health, and it helps theirs!
Jacquelyn Cortez Sammons, D.O.
Jacquelyn Cortez-Sammons, DO, is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. She has practiced in Orange County for more than a decade and serves patients at Transformation Health & Wellness in Anaheim, California. Educated in Southern California, Dr. Cortez-Sammons completed her undergraduate degree at California State University, Fullerton. She earned a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, followed by an internship at the University of California, Los Angeles. She finished residency training at the University of California, San Diego, before returning to Orange County to practice.
As a provider, Dr. Cortez-Sammons brings an outside-the-box, problem-solving approach to health and wellness, along with a unique mindset. She views the human body as a dynamic unit of function. As a practitioner, Dr. Cortez-Sammons has studied a multitude of paths of healing. Philosophically, she believes each disease process usually arises out of an unseen obstacle in the body. Removing the obstacle helps to unlock the key to optimal health.
Dr. Cortez-Sammons sees the role of a physician as more of a facilitator of healing, rather than a mere administrator of medicine. She recognizes the fundamental role of the mind, body, and spirit connection in restoring good health.