The Niceties

There are lots of things that annoy me about myself: I get jealous of people I don’t know (sometimes even fictional television characters), I’m prone to debilitating bouts of self-pity, I want to be invited to everything but attend nothing, and so on. All these fun little defects of character can sometimes lead me to believe I must be the most intolerable human being on the planet and people who choose to spend time with me must be on some colossal mission of atonement.
I also know the dramatics of all this are manufactured entirely in my head, then stored in the back mop closet of my brain for use on bad days when I’m already feeling down and want to go deeper into the down. So five years ago, long before taking any responsibility for changing my life, I started keeping a folder in my email called Niceties. (Looking back, I have no idea where I came up with that name because nicety does not actually have anything to do with nice things, at least not in the way that I meant it. But the name stuck and I have a hard time letting go of things.)
It was originally started when I was asking for a promotion at work. I wanted to reference nice things other people had said about my work. Over the years, I would include screenshots of these emails in presentations to my superiors about why I deserved raises. (Some unsolicited professional advice: I recommend this tactic. When it comes to raises, horn tooting sounds a whole lot louder with someone else’s name on it.)
Somewhere along the way though I realized I didn’t need to confine this practice only to my professional life. Why shouldn’t I have a repository of pats on the back to reference when I’m feeling blue, less than, or ready to throw in the towel? I’m quick to forget the kind and loving words, the job well dones people share with me and even quicker to remember times I have fallen short, made mistakes, disappointed myself or others. I have to carve out a physical space in my life and a mental space in my mind to store the things I have done well, where I have tried hard, where I have brought joy or relief.
Today I save emails, take screenshots of text messages, and archive voicemails from people who take time out of their day and busy schedule to share a vote of confidence with me, a sentence of gratitude, or a note of support. I save them and I revisit them often. They are my Niceties.
What has become most valuable about this practice, however, is recognizing how meaningful other people’s positive feedback can be for me and how I can return that favor at anytime to anyone, too. Yes, it’s wonderful to tap into a well of digital you-can-do-its, but it feels even better to give that to someone else. We’re all doing the best we can and for anyone to acknowledge that can mean the difference between a good day and a bad one, at least that’s been the case for me.
I try not to make too many hard and fast assertions here because what do I really know? Who am I to provide direction when personal experience is my only map? But I do feel strongly about sharing kindness, using words to affect positive changes in ourselves and others. So if there is ever a moment you’re questioning, Should I tell that person thank you? Should I tell him how his work helped/impacted me? Should I tell her I’m thinking of her and hope she’s doing well? please consider answering with an emphatic Yes. Say the words you would feel honored to have someone say back to you.