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Kebab consumption can be cut with compliments


In the wrong mood on a bad day I can fill my head with the irritations of modern life and the things I do not like.

The X Factor for example - it’s just a very long karaoke night. Liverpool Football Club - not my favourite team. Or Nick Clegg - a ball of emptiness in a suit. And obviously I have worked in mental health long enough to know that if I carry around the ugly things in my head all day, they seep out in the way I behave. Frankly, if I think of the world as a place that thinks these things are a good idea, I generally feel unhappy with the world. And unhappiness breeds a lack of appreciation for the good things around us.

We can mock the irritants of life but looking for something to appreciate requires a little more skill doesn’t it? A nursing day may be full of attending to pain, despair, dependency or frailty but most nurses can see beyond those things and take pleasure from the recovery, resolution, peace or courage they’ve witnessed. Indeed, it may not be too wide of the mark to say that nurses, more than most, have a capacity to appreciate the good or important things even when they are not at their most apparent.

This is pretty good because some new research suggests an appreciative eye may help to fight the battle against obesity. Researchers in America have discovered that, when asked to rank the activities they valued the most, students placed “being paid a compliment” above both “having sex” and “indulging in beer and pizza”. And in case we don’t know what this means, they wheeled in a ridiculously overpaid psychologist to tell us “everyone likes compliments”. So a heartfelt “Nice hair” or “Good shoes” is preferable to comfort food and may combat obesity. Great news. Because something needs to.

“We could recruit and train people to stand outside burger bars complimenting rotund customers on their facial hair or shoes”

Figures - forgive the pun - out this week tell us that one in 10 of the world’s adults are now obese. That has doubled since 1980. It seems that despite extensive health education, limitless information in the form of the internet and increased choice over what and how we eat, many of us still plump for the kebab and the family-size Toblerone.

Now, frankly, I have always been uncomfortable with the liberal conception of obesity as a disease borne of low self-esteem, poor education and/or faulty glands. I think that kind of perspective belittles people, strips them of the ability to control their lives and turns them into something even less human than those smug commentators who label them in the first place.

However, I rather like the idea of a collective decision to start handing out compliments to people who may just be about to make an unhealthy life choice. We could recruit and train people to stand outside burger bars complimenting rotund customers on their facial hair or shoes. They may still go in but the afterglow of appreciation might just make them choose the salad option. Then we could hit the pubs and see if a few nice words about someone’s spangly top and matching eyeshadow could prevent them from having their 14th pint of cider, and save them from waking up with the smelly bloke in the ill-fitting dungarees who they wouldn’t have looked at twice if they had been sober.

Of course, it may not work. But finding something to appreciate in someone else shouldn’t cost us much should it? And let’s face it, when it comes to combatting obesity, maybe we should just give it a go? Nothing else seems to be working.

Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Brighton, and author of Gabriel’s Angel


Readers' comments (8)

  • What a beautifully written piece, and a smashing photograph of you, and I'm sure nice shoes! Enough compliments?

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  • Hello, Mark,
    We met at Madness and Literature Conference... I loved your book but, sadly, lost your email address.
    I just wanted to say that I now have a publisher for The Therapist's cat, not Blue Moose, but 'Soul Rocks'
    my email address is
    Drop me a line when you get a chance...

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    hello Mark I feel that your approach could make changes in all aspects of nursing care.

    A compliment a day helps the pain go away

    And a apology when something goes wrong when it happens could avert litigation.

    I wonder if all nurses should learn these skills

    Question Did you train in Manchester ?

    answer to,

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  • Having never met you, I imagined your voice to be quite deep and husky, with a slow, easy way of talking... that was with your old NT picture. Now, still not having met you, and because of the new NT pictue, I imagine your voice to be mid-range and at normal speed. The old image did you much more credit!!!

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  • Mark I love your pic, your eyes, your style, your wit, effortless prose pours from your pen ..... Mark will you marry me??

    Rog the Builder

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  • off the point a little and more to do with compliments and criticism in a workplace with a different culture...

    but first, on the subject of...

    last time i enjoyed a kebab on a wonderfully hot sunny day in the park i had purchased at the turkish take away round the corner - i got food poisoning. i'll never eat another one in my life, or at least anything from this café ever again. as for toblerone it has too many calories, gives you jaw ache and ruins your teeth - l live in switzerland!

    we never got compliments at work here, only negative criticisms about what was wrong or what we had omitted to do until one day i realised i could also walk onto any of my neighbouring wards and without knowing how hard my colleagues had been rushed off their feet notice all that they had failed to do (for whatever reason, emergency, lack of time before end of shift handover, fatigue, sheer laziness, poor motivation or a million and one other reasons, etc, etc, etc). However, I would prefer to lend a helping hand rather than criticise them without fully knowing the circumstances and helping would be quicker than interrogation to elicit a response or list of their excuses.

    after 20 years of such criticism, i may have discovered the reason. i picked up a swiss guide book on culture in a bookshop (which I have since purchased) and the first thing i read thumbing through was that this is a common problem and swiss employers do not tend to hand out compliments. the reason being that they consider that they employ top calibre staff and if you were no good you wouldn't be in their employ. so in a sense they take all the credit of your job well done for themselves and criticise because they expect high standards to be maintained. i guess in this case it is a compliment to be chosen to work for them in the fist place.

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  • Deborah Churchill-Napier

    Well I'd just like to say that whenever I read your articles they really cheer me up. Not the content specifically but your dry wit and humour. Forget the compliments, bring on the laughter!

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  • Seems to me you are a little jealous of the well earned remuneration of your psychology colleagues!

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