An Overlooked, Exquisite Source of Happiness? Giving Deserved Praise.

One of the most exquisite of pleasures, and one that’s too often overlooked, is the joy of giving well-deserved praise.

I’m a gold-star junkie myself, and maybe that’s why I love the opportunity to give good praise.

Yesterday, I was able to do this. In the New York Times Book Review, I wrote about Kristin Cashore’s new book, Bitterblue. As I’ve often noted, I love children’s literature and young-adult literature, and Cashore is one of the best YA novelists writing today. I’ve been a raving fan since I read the first two books in this trilogy,  Graceling and Fire.

It gave me such tremendous happiness to sing the praises of someone whose work I admire so much, and to help other readers find their way to it. My concluding paragraph:

Some authors can tell a good story; some can write well. Cashore is one of the rare novelists who do both. Thrillingly imagined and beautifully executed, “Bitterblue” stands as a splendid contribution in a long literary tradition.

So true.

My sister and I often talk about the karma police. The karma police! When they’re on the job, nothing’s better than seeing their activity, but all too often, they appear to be off-duty.

Sometimes, we don’t get the praise we deserve; our hard work and good deeds aren’t rewarded; our efforts are fruitless. By giving merited praise, we can at least help make sure that others’ labors get recognized. And that’s a big source of happiness.

Years ago, on the day that a college friend was getting married in a quite elaborate all-weekend kind of way, we were all hanging out before the ceremony. An elegantly wrapped package arrived and was delivered to my friend’s mother. She thought perhaps it had been mis-addressed, but when she opened it, it was a beautiful nightgown, with a note from her best friend that said: “To the mother of the bride, who has worked so hard to make this day perfect.” A lovely gesture.

How about you? Do you find that calling attention to others’ merits boosts your happiness?

  • Cheers for Gretchen for her COVER feature in USA TODAY WEEKEND. Thanks for the extra sunshine to go with our coffee and Sunday paper!

  • Kimberly

    I just added all three books to my wish list. Thanks for the recommendation! There are so many authors that are engaging storytellers but their writing just isn’t that great. Looking forward to finding the total package in these books.

  • Susan

    The gift blesses the giver – praise is no exception.  (And I’m not so sure the karma police go off-duty a lot, I think perhaps we meander off their radar, correct our flight path and meander back on.)

  • Traceyr1984

    I believe the karma police are always there, sometimes it just takes awhile to catch up.  I am a firm believer that everything “comes out even in the end” .

  • Kate

    Aside from the deeper point of your post, Gretchen, a big thanks, I thought ‘Bitterblue’ wasn’t coming out until June.  I LOVE Cashore’s books and just jumped over and bought this one, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating! 

    I am also a big believer in giving praise, and also in a professional situation, giving praise and letting the person’s supervisor know about it, as well. 

    • gretchenrubin

      You will love it!

      On praising to the supervisor-such a good point. I was recently at dinner with a big group. At the end, one of the group (at the other end of the table, so I didn’t know why she was doing this) asked to see the manager, and when he came over, she said, “We wanted to let you know what a great job the waitress did. We’re a big picky group on a Friday night, and she handled the evening beautifully.” From the way she said it, I could tell she had done a LOT of waitressing herself at some point. The manager was so pleased, and the waitress was so pleased. They sent us over a round of drinks!


  • HEHink

    Sometimes the praise we give really does come directly back to us.  I’m a teacher, and during a conference with the parents of a high-level reader, I explained that although I didn’t teach his small group, the paraprofessional who did work with them did an amazing job of challenging them and letting them explore their interests for enrichment. The mother saw the paraprofessional later at another school event, and expressed her thanks…and the para came back to me the next week and thanked me for my words of praise about her.  It was a very literal example of “What goes around, comes around,” and everyone involved was happy because of it.

  • Kate

    Just noticed that happiness is misspelled in the title of this post!

    • gretchenrubin

      Yipes you’re right. I’ve been making a lot of typos in headlines lately. Now I will pay special attention there.


  • Your post made me realize that my blog is basically all praises. When I started my food/travel/community blog 3 years ago I figured I would just blog about local Hudson Valley businesses that made me happy because I feel like they should receive praise, and I want readers to know about them. I definitely get a boost of happiness when I get a nice email from a business owner who read my post about my good experience at their place. Sometimes I will get an email from a reader for the lead. It’s all good stuff & good karma! Great post Gretchen! 

    • gretchenrubin

      Helping people find good businesses is a great source of happiness. EVERYONE is happy!


  • Anne from Canada

    Yes, I agree that praise feels great.  My secret, selfish treat is LinkedIn. 

    When I am feeling blue or worried about my business, I sometimes browse my connections in LinkedIn and figure out who deserves a reference.  Finding a few words to articulate how terrific someone’s skills are takes me right out of myself and jiggles me back into a positive frame of mind.  It’s also great to share right to after working with someone amazing.  And it feels so good to give credit where it is due.

    I sort of think of this as a private exercise and am always a little surprised to hear the delight from the object of my recommendation.  It’s fun for everyone.

  • Faith

    i was just thinking about this today, my sons teacher did  a nice project with them, i figured i would tell her when i see her, then realized it would probably mean alot to her if i said something soon after we got it, so  sent her a short well worded email (best is the enemy of good) i was suprised at how happy it made *me*!

  • Kat

    I love to do this as well. Often I seek out the most overlooked kind of work, such as someone washing windows or the grocery store clerk stacking produce and praise them. “Sparkling clean! How nice!” or “How neat and tidy! Looks great!”

    We can all find something positive in others in order to hand out sincere compliments. I believe in doing this, especially to those who look as if they’re having a bad day. We never know what kind of internal pain someone may be going through, and even a trivial comment may be enough to lift someone’s spirits for a day.

  • I am one that does not like to draw attention to myself. Although I do believe that praising children is good. It helps the child’s self esteem and motivates them to keep going.

  • Rachel

    Absolutely! And I find the happier I am, the more praise I tend to give…so in giving more praise I become happier to finish the big happiness circle 😉

    Oh! And I love Kristin Cashore! I’ve been eagerly awaiting Bitterblue for far too long!!

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  • Mark

    Giving well deserved praise make me happy unless there is something in it for me.  I don’t like to praise my boss for example because it feels like I am sucking up.  I just hope someone else praises him.

  • Kwlleonard

    I love Cashore’s books too, and it was a wonderful surprise to see your name and her’s when I opened the NY Times Book Review this weekend…I thought your review was absolutely terrific…

  • How-To-Be-Happy-Again

    Giving deserved praise is something I’ve always had to work at as a parent.  Thank you for the reminder! (How To Be Happy Again)

  • Helen

    I came back to reread this entry because I have now finished Bitterblue (purchased based on this review). Any chance you could correct the typo in the header? Happiness looks better spelled correctly on this blog. Thanks for the review – I read the whole series – and I loved them all!

    • gretchenrubin

      Typo is fixed!

      So happy to hear you love those books as much as I do.