“A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but is miles ahead in results,” humorist Bennett Cerf once wrote. This month, readers share the praise that has made the most lasting impact.

By Real Simple
Updated February 13, 2013
Christopher Silas Neal

“Very bright” and “attractive.” A social worker used these words to describe me in the notes that she wrote during our first meeting. I was 16 and in need of foster care: My grandmother, who had been my primary caregiver, had died five years earlier, and since then I had struggled to find a permanent home. At that time, I was painfully insecure. But this assessment, which was on an official document, changed all that. The words were seeds of hope in my teenage years. They helped me become a successful, confident adult.

Barbara K. Hughes

Vacaville, California

Ever since I was little, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher so I could share my passion for reading. Needless to say, I was elated when one of my first-grade students said, “Mrs. Heckman, my sister told me that you have a special spell that makes kids love books.” Tears came to my eyes because I knew I had accomplished my goal.

Patti Heckman

Ripon, Wisconsin

After I helped my senior manager understand some data I had put together, he said, “My IQ goes up the minute you walk in my door.” His flattery made me want to work even harder.

Kalli K. Saland

Ankeny, Iowa

For several months after my husband’s passing, I attended the meetings of a bereavement support group. On my last day, Jill, our facilitator, said, “Kathy, how lucky Charlie was to be loved by you.” To this day, those words provide me comfort.

Kathy Hynes

Chicago, Illinois

I love working in an assisted-living home, but I rarely receive recognition for it. That’s why it was so meaningful when the daughter of a patient said, “You clearly have a gift for working with the elderly.” Remembering her kindness helps me stay motivated.

Emily Downey

Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

After working late for a few nights on a project, my husband came to me and said, “I need your help with something.” Then, almost to himself, he added, “I need you for everything.” It’s so wonderful to know that the man I love values me so much.

Sue Curtis

Troy, Ohio

When I was a young girl, I was self-conscious about my above-average height and size. When I told my aunt how awkward I felt my hands were, she said, “Those look like very capable hands to me!” Her compliment didn’t just help me stop hating my hands; it made me feel as if I could accomplish anything.

Lois Miller

Louisburg, Kansas

Soon after quitting my job to start my own business, I began to second-guess myself. That’s when my best friend said, “I really admire you. You don’t settle until you’re happy.” Her vote of confidence persuaded me to stick with my plan.

Beth Fornauf

York, Maine

“I love watching the two of you.” A friend said this to my husband and me at a party over the summer. I was tickled that after 13 years of marriage our love remains apparent to anyone looking.

Christina Draper

Culpeper, Virginia

To calm my crying baby on a plane, I sang her a few peaceful songs. Once she nodded off, a man in the row behind me leaned forward and said, “Your daughter is lucky to have you sing to her like that.” People usually complain when a baby is fussy on a flight, but he was compassionate. I was so touched.

Evi Pazmanczyk

Portland, Oregon

Back in June, I had a double mastectomy to treat aggressive breast cancer. As I was contemplating additional reconstructive surgery, my husband said, “You’re beautiful just the way you are, so why go through more pain and suffering?” I can’t tell you what it felt like to hear him say this. And ultimately I decided not to have the operation.

Pamela Andersen

Puyallup, Washington

I’ll never forget what my eldest daughter told me when she was eight. The two of us were driving home from a day at the lake when she said, “Mom, you’re not like the other mothers. When I’m in the water and I say, ‘Watch me do this trick!’ you really watch. The other moms just say, ‘That’s nice,’ and don’t even look.” I had been feeling as if I did more wrong than right as a parent, so her comment really mattered to me.

Vicki Bickel

Grand Rapids, Michigan

A cashier recently asked me to show ID when I was purchasing wine. My 56th birthday had been just a week earlier. I framed the receipt.

Rebecca Palmer

Naples, Florida