A University of Pennsylvania student was wide awake at 2 a.m., browsing Facebook last fall, when he came across a profile called “Columbia Compliments.” It consisted of students anonymously praising fellow Columbia University students.
"It's all about the power of thinking positively," the Penn student said.
After looking at the profile more closely, he thought why not start one for Penn. So he did, that very morning. "I have the personal motivation to make things happen," he said.
The founder, who wants to stay anonymous, posted the first compliment to the newly named “Penn Compliments” Facebook profile. It was a flattering post, acknowledging a friend’s hairstyle.
Since it started three months ago, “Penn Compliments” has posted about 1,500 anonymous niceties. It’s solely moderated by one Penn student (the founder). He said the profile is all about “spreading positivity in a competitive place.”
The founder describes himself as “a pretty critical person, but I don’t think I’m a mean person.” And moderating the group has been a great experience.
“To post to a large group anonymously is useful in many ways. It’s pretty cool. A little reminder every day to think positively,” he said.
Licensed marriage and family therapist George James, Jr. sees the online compliments as a "morale booster" and a way to facilitate a positive atmosphere.
"The giver and receiver can feel good about it. There can be a lot of negative energy due to the competitiveness [on campus]. This is a great way to combat that," he said.
The following compliment was posted Tuesday about a sophomore: "Carley Boyle does everything imaginable and still manages to care and make time for her friends. She is the person we should all strive to be. She's a true role model.”
Boyle says she knows exactly who wrote the anonymous compliment, “so even though I wasn't surprised, it was still incredibly warming to hear. To know someone thinks that highly of you is a great feeling.”
People are usually surprised and shocked to see they’ve been given a compliment. The profile page tags a person on Facebook and that’s how they find out they've received it.
Freshman student Eric Jiang described receiving a compliment as “something that can turn a rough day into a good one, which was the case for me."
"Positive gestures can impact how we think of ourselves. If we have positive thoughts... that can impact our behavior and improve productivity," said James Jr., a therapist with the Council for Relationships.
Spreading good cheer has become contagious. The “Penn Compliments” founder said there are now 133 university compliments pages representing schools in the U.S., Canada, England and Asia. They communicate with each other via a secret Facebook group. He said Penn’s profile was one of the first five profiles to spring up.
“It gives me a boost and helps me see things in a different light, especially people I don’t like or those that annoy me. The page has opened me up a lot,” said the moderator.
Some of the more memorable compliments for him include: a professor who was nice around finals time, a nod to Penn's squirrels for being so cute and cuddly, and a recent compliment of sophomore student Arya Singh who died suddenly. Right now, posts average about five per day and can reach 20 on busy days.
Offshoot Facebook profiles have popped up, such as: Penn Admirers, Penn Laughs, Penn Backhanded Compliments and Penn Secrets.
The Penn Compliments moderator recently reached out to 20 friends to build up a volunteer base with hopes of identifying ways to extend the profile’s reach offline. He’s also interested in finding a pipeline of students who can shepherd the effort to spread cheer after he graduates.
“I think it’s awesome it worked out and has had the impact it has had. I do feel good about it. My parents think it's cool," he said.