A little will go a long way

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me — a wondrously easy-to-use digital camera. We had not planned to exchange presents this year, so I was slightly taken aback. I'd made no wistful "Do you think we could afford" comments "¦ well, maybe a few.

It's an amazing piece of equipment and I marvel at its capabilities. But even more than the gift itself, my husband recognized my yearning to capture people in photographs, not just words — and I am touched. So this becomes the year we will shoot close-ups of our grandchildren's giggle-prone faces and pictures of our spaniel in her too-tight holiday sweater.

But this was to be a "no presents" year and now the giving vs. getting ratio has changed. What's a girl to do? Be assured, I have a plan. Not just anyone can give her spouse a newspaper column for Christmas.

If you could do that, what would you say? How would you give your loved one(s) the gift of affirming acknowledgement? I recommend specificity. For example, "It was tremendously thoughtful of you to put a towel over the coffee grinder to muffle the sound this morning." When you compliment people, I think immediacy and authenticity are important. "Wow, you shoveled our driveway and two of the neighbors' driveways as well — I stand in absolute awe." (A little too effusive on my part perhaps, but it was a really nice thing he did.)

Sometimes I need help with this and I get it from a Web site (www.complimentDay.com.) One of my favorites is: "It's better to share silence with you than the Philharmonic with anyone else." Or, "You make the plain magnificent."

Borrowing someone else's words makes it a little easier but be cautious. This may not be one you want to use, "You've got lovely glittering eyes, they're just like tin foil."

Compliments range from a moment of quiet congratulations to a back-slapping expression of praise. A little means a lot. I recently received an unexpected and acknowledging e-mail from a friend. It was so tender and so from her heart I framed it.

Mark Twain said, 'I can live a whole month on one compliment. " Victor Hugo called it "a kiss through a veil." There's actually a National Compliment Day that focuses on the art of giving compliments. It is the fourth Wednesday in January, so you have time to prepare.

Or you could start right now. Begin with "I like "¦" and then think of exactly what you like about a particular person. Let me show you how. My illustration is, of course, focused on my camera-gifting husband. "Honey, this is what I like about you. I like your intellect. I like your clever wit and your strong work ethic. I like the fact you call your mom every night and cook dinner for us more than your share of nights."

I have a very fine husband "¦ I could go on. But I think I made my point. And now it's your turn.

Experts say "Appreciative words are the most powerful force for good will on earth."

Picture that.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, ext. 210.

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