Unexpected compliments are the best. Like standing in line waiting to pay for groceries, and the person behind you says "I love your purse!" and then you launch into a 5-minute conversation about Vera Bradleys while the customer ahead of you digs in their purse for 100 coupons (and then pays by check).
Like e-mailing your students their essays, with comments, and receiving a response from one that says you've been very helpful.
Like looking in the mirror and being shocked by how your happiness radiates through your face, making make-up unimportant and causing you to stuff that "all over bronzing powder" back into your bag, unused.
Three different kinds of compliments. All important.
We need the superficial ones because sometimes they're the best way to strike up a conversation. We need the action-based ones even more because they remind us that what we do affects others, and even if we don't feel like our actions are always appreciated, they are. Perhaps most of all, we need the self-created ones because they remind us that even without outside validation, we can be pleased with who we are, what we look like, and what we do in our daily lives.
It's the last kind that's the hardest to generate, though. I find it easy to tell my friend "Oh you look so pretty today!", or "thank you for all your support." But it's easy to forget to compliment myself, silently, or especially in front of others. Sometimes it's even easier to put myself down, silently and in front of others.
On the day I received my Masters degree, I made a random self-depracating comment that I thought would slip by unnoticed (except perhaps with a few laughs). Yet a professor, there to lead the commencement procession, heard me, and immediately reproached me. She said "don't put yourself down," in a tone that surprised and really affected me. She didn't even know me, yet she probably recognized the tone that so many women (and men) take with themselves. She told me that I was clearly smart and had earned my degree; therefore there was no need to put myself down. I hadn't seen my light-hearted comment as damaging to my self-esteem, but over time, talking about yourself negatively can probably take a toll.
So I've now promised myself to work on correcting such comments. Making fun of myself is okay, as long as I remember to compliment myself more often.
I may make silly mistakes. I may have lots of quirks with no logic behind them. I may say stupid things that make no sense at all. But I definitely am loving and caring to everyone I know. I'm definitely forgiving. I'm definitely generous. I definitely need to remind myself such things every day until this pattern of self-celebration becomes second nature. Walt Whitman knew what he was talking about.