August 15, 2013

I'm A Junkie (And Probably So Are You)

While I am on vacation enjoying my satisfying retirement in Oregon I am re-posting some things I wrote early on that you may have never read, or have forgotten about. This is one of my favorites from January of 2011.

I'm a junkie. I need at least one fix a day to stay happy. If I don't get what I need from you I might turn to someone else. I've had this need forever and I can't lose it. Frankly, I don't want to lose it.

I've just described me, probably you, and virtually everyone you have ever met. We are all junkies for affirmation. We can't get enough of being told good things about ourself. We need the strokes. We need to be told someone else cares. What we do must be noticed or we'll sulk and pout. I'll freely admit that nice comments left on my blog make my day. The affirmation feels good. It makes me believe the time I put into writing is worth it.

Affirmation means to state that something is true. In this context it means to praise someone for his personality or talent. It means to tell her she is doing a good job, or is important in your life. Affirmation fulfills our basic need to feel relevant, useful, and needed. So, if this is a deep seated need we all have then why is it rare in most of our lives, most of the time? Good question. I've given this topic some extra thought since my small group from our church recently had a lively discussion on the subject. All of us admitted we are quick to receive complements, but much slower to hand them out.

About a year ago I was prompted by something I read somewhere that made a real impact. Frankly, I can't remember what I read or even what it said specifically. All I remember is something struck a chord. The gist of the piece was that during a normal day we all deal with dozens of people who come quickly in and out of our lives. The article was not referring to coworkers or family members, church friends or regular contacts. It was taking about the "invisible people" we interact with every day. In this case "invisible" isn't a value judgment. Rather, it is how we typically see (or don't see) these folks.

The clerk who rings you up at the fast food restaurant or drops off a FedEx package is nameless and faceless to us. The waitress at dinner tells us her name but we forget it before she's even taken our order. The fellow who hands you a prescription at Walgreens doesn't really register (pardon the pun).

See where I'm heading? Every single day we have the opportunity to affirm something about these people and their existence yet we don't, even though each one of them is just as much an affirmation junkie as you or I.

I started a very small social experiment. I tried to remember to make a simple affirming comment whenever I interacted with one of these invisible folks. The result was stunning. Suddenly an unhappy person smiled. A clerk laughed while handing me a package. A delivery person thanked me for my business. The invisible person in front me became instantly real. He had been affirmed. And, he or she started affirming me back. We interacted like two human beings who were willing to give a tiny piece of themselves to someone else.

Personally, I am very sorry I didn't learn this lesson while I was working. I know I treated the "invisible people" like interruptions or not worthy of my giving them what they craved. I hope it wasn't because I was purposely hurtful, I was just selfish and oblivious. I'm still that way more often than I'd wish, especially with faceless people on the phone.

Retirement has allowed me to find new sides of myself. A satisfying retirement lifestyle requires learning and growing (maybe growing up). It is a process that won't stop until I take my final breath, hopefully many years from now. There is a lot of affirming I must catch up on. 


  1. I love this post. The very act of affirmation is reinforcing to the giver, as well as the receiver. I think this comes more easily for some folks than others, but I'm not sure why.

    When I was still working, it was easy to do this for my patients. They were all very sick with chronic illnesses. While a lot of their physical problems couldn't be cured, per se, the ability to interact in a way that provided affirmation was a gift that was easy to give, and provided many returns, for them and for me.

    The other night I was annoyed at the 4th call we received at home from someone who was calling to "confirm delivery of a medical alarm that has been purchased for you". Yeah, right. Hard to be charitable in this situation. Yet, the person on the other end of the phone was just trying to make a living.

    The other night we were in a big box store and a display of kleenex came tumbling down as we were walking by. We must have accidentally knocked it. A young man stopped and helped us right the display and pick everything up. My husband said "you must work here". He said no, he just happened to be walking by. That simple act of kindness made our day. I think it made his day too, as we acknowledged his kindness and thanked him for his help.

    The psychic energy expended for positive affirmations takes on a life of its own, and leaves everyone feeling great. By contrast, rude, thoughtless comments leaves everyone (including the speaker) feeling poorly. The choice is obvious!

    1. For reasons I will never understand I continue to struggle with my phone manners when dealing with a "customer service" person. I would never act the way I act in person, so why do I think it is alright to be rude and condescending on the phone?

      It is my personal Waterloo that I will conquer. Your attitude, Carole, that the person is just trying to earn a living, is one I must remember.

  2. You are so right about this. A simple genuine comment really can brighten other peoples' day.

  3. I received the most awesome eye care at Walmart yesterday.. The tech.had a name tag and early on in the appt. I called her by name and mentioned how pretty her eyeglasses were, that I was looking forward to her helping me choose flattering frames..BIG SMILE. Later on, I asked the older woman (lotsa reetirees work at my walmart) checking out my groceries how her morning was going: She looked up as if I were an alien..then BIG SMILE.I guess no one really talks to her all day!?

    Funny thing is,I do this for ME, because it feels GOOD to be kind and not cold and distant in my daily interactions. The side effect is it helps the world be a happier place too, when you can elicit big smiles from a lot of the folks you're doing daily "business" with! And I figure they then go home and treat THEIR people better cause THEY feel know--the trickle down effect..

    I ended up having an interesting discussion of Obamacare with the grocery checker, and the eye tech made SURE my bifocals were settled JUST RIGHT for the way I read. (I am sending my husband to her for HIS bifocals next week!)

    Life is what you make it:cold and impersonal and hurried, or slower pace, happier, healthier, a place where relationships are the most important thing.Great post, as usual,Bob!

    PS: Ken and I have an actual RETIREMENT DATE whether our business sells or not.. We are moving a little more quickly down the yellow brick road to retirement....

    1. actual retirement date. That deserves a super strong affirmation since I know what a stumbling block this has been for you guys. Congrats!

      Your stories of the power of simple affirmation and common courtesy make my point so well: everyone wins when we treat others the way we'd like to be treated.

  4. We're all guilty of this, at times. If you've ever worked in the service business, or had family members who have, you learn to see the other side. I have a basic rule of thumb...if you aren't kind to a waiter/waitress, any number of 'invisible' people...I won't like you. It's a great way to judge character, I think.

    1. My youngest daughter has stopped dating people because of how they treated a waitress. She figured it said a lot about that person's pesronality.

  5. I think that what happens is that we get so busy living in our minds and oblivious to the world outside unless it impinges on our inner thoughts. When we retire, things slow down a little, they did for me. As a result, I am able to be wherever I am and experience the moment.

    I like the idea of affirming every chance we can. I am going to add that into my day and see how it looks for me to do that. thanks!

  6. This is something I try to be concious of too. When I am with my
    husband I at times get a bit embarrassed. He is a cut up and, at times
    some people don't understand that he is trying to get a laugh or, smile.

    I remember once when a cashier was ringing up our groceries,(we had a huge
    pile on the conveyor and, plenty more in the buggy) my husband sees the cashier
    is focused on trying to get the job done. After she has rang up about half
    of the groceries he suddenly looks at her and says in a serious voice,
    "Hey, let me know when we hit 50 dollars, fifty is all I have!" The lady
    immediately stops focusing on the groceries. She looks at my husband in a sad
    disbelief. Then her eyes scanning all the food still on the conveyor. I
    immediately jump to her rescue and, let her know to ignore him. He is just
    cutting up. Thankfully, she did smile. Sometimes people don't appreciate this
    type of humor. =/ Yet, he never stops.
    Years ago a friend of mine was pregnant. She and, her husband were checking out
    at the grocery store. The cashier looked at her belly, then said to her husband
    "You must be so proud." Her husband is a cut up too. He looked at the cashier very
    staight faced and, said "I would be lady, if it was mine." Well, my friend was so
    embarrassed she of course jumped in and, tried to explain her husband is a nut.

    When it is just me, I do my best to let them know I appreciate them. Too, I try
    to be mindful of the other customers. If someone looks stressed, I will try to
    let them go first, or strike up a conversation about something. I see it as a fun
    pass time myself.

    1. Those examples aren't quite what I was getting at! That is too close to Candid Camera for me. I like to get someone to smile without scaring them first. I will stick with your approach, Betty.

    2. I agree with you Bob! I try my best to discourage
      my husband. Yet, he thinks it is funny. I will say
      that many people do find it funny too and, carry on
      with my husband. The two them having there own party.

      It is not my style and, I do get embarrassed.

      I will say people tend to remember him and, want to
      talk with him when they see him. People don't seem
      to remember me that way. Or, if they do they don't
      try to strike up a conversation with me.

    3. In defense of Betty's husband - making someone smile is always a good thing. His humorous approach may be different, but his attention is still affirming. Go Betty's husband. I think I'd like him a lot. So much better than sneaking a peak at someone's name tag and calling them by name as they carry your groceries to the parking lot.

      Sorry to get off track Bob. Good post.

    4. Hey, you are right on track, Suzanne. Different strokes and all that.

  7. This post was excellent in 2011, and just as good the second time around. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. I saw your comment about customer service reps on the phone,Bob.I confess, I still have to deal with health insurance companies on the phone for Ken's practice and often there is a language barrier in addition to poor service-- I do lose my patience.I don't practice very many happy social skills in that area! After retirement,I won't t have to ! I have to deal with a few snarky attorneys too.Will be happy to put it all to rest and focus on the rest of the world out there!

    1. I'm afraid that retirement doesn't end some of those hassles, though they can fade into the background a bit more.

      Unfortunately, too many companies have decided that the place to save money is in their customer service phone rep service. As a general rule it is rather dreadful.

    2. My husband takes an odd approach to being on the
      phone with customer service. He often engages them
      in questions like...Where are you? What's the weather
      like there? I kid you not, he is calling them by name
      and, having a casual chat. I have taken a lesson here.
      It does help people want to help you. I have found that
      they will give you advice on what to do, even if they
      themselves can't help.

  9. What an important post!


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