How to remember the good

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is one of my favorite authors; I could read Cat’s Cradle once a year. A lot of what he wrote sticks with me, popping into my head on a near-daily basis. (If you’re the same, maybe we belong to the same karass?)

In 1997,  a truly beautiful graduation speech was falsely attributed to Vonnegut. It was actually a newspaper column written by Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune, in which she wrote the dream speech she would give if invited to do so.

Even though Vonnegut didn’t write it or say it, it’s a lovely urban legend. Plus, Schmich gives excellent advice; advice that pops into my head even more often than Vonnegut.

You can read the speech here.

In my life, I have magically been able to follow one particular piece of that advice: “Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.” Here’s how I do it, Ms. Schmich.

First, I have a terrible memory and – more importantly – I forgive easily, so forgetting insults is (fairly) easy. I also realized from a young age that remembering the bad is a useless and depressing use of memory space.

To remember the compliments, I keep a journal. Every time someone says something that I want to remember, I write it down. I started it when someone said, “Everyone needs an Elizabeth.” I was so touched by it that I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget.

Here are some of my other favorites:

  • “It is difficult to adequately express, in an email, how impressed I am with your efficiency, professionalism, and positive attitude.”
  • “You are at the core of sisterhood, and everything it represents.”
  • “You’re smart and bold and generous. Most people who are smart and bold aren’t generous. It’s a rare combination.”
  • “I’m so grateful for you help, and the dignity with which you helped me. Nothing is worse than needing help and being humiliated by it.”
  • “Your thoughts are kind and your words eloquent, as usual.”
  • “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a domestic goddess?”
  • “You’ve been such a guiding light for me… you bring me so much joy, and I think you’re the cats meow, or pajamas, or whatever else gets blamed on the cat.”

Each entry includes what was said, who said it, and the context (where we were, whether it was written or verbal, etc). Reading this journal is like taking a therapeutic walk through the past – it instantly transports me to that moment in time, with the compliment representing some larger event that also makes me feel good about myself.

I don’t have it all figured out. I screw up all the time. I yell at my incredible boyfriend for using too much water when he washes the dishes. I’m bossy. Sometimes I’m lazy. But my compliment journal reminds me, in my darkest moments, how worthy I am.

And guess what? You are, too.



5 thoughts on “How to remember the good

  1. Pingback: A recipe for vulnerability | Eat Mendocino

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