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I was in a bad place until I started giving my friends compliments

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Aldwyn set up the Morale app to give anon compliments to your friends (Picture: Rosie Hallam)

I could tell he had a lot on his mind.

With a baby on the way, the responsibility of impending fatherhood was clearly weighing heavy on my friend’s shoulders. 

So as I walked to the Tube, I pulled out my phone and sent him a quick message: ‘You’re going to be a great dad.’

However, he would never know it was from me because I hadn’t sent him a WhatsApp or a text message. Instead, I’d chosen to deliver the affirmation through Morale, an app I’d created to help others support their friends anonymously.

And the instant boost of serotonin I felt and the warmth that stayed with me the whole journey home reminded me exactly why I’d been so determined to create something in the first place.

I’ve always struggled with my mental health and as a man, it feels like we’re hard-wired to not show emotion or say how we truly feel. 

Even as someone who has had a lot of privilege in my life (I was educated at Eton, grew up in an affluent part of London and come from a military background with a family that celebrates focus and discipline) I struggled to find my true purpose.

In fact I’ve long felt uncertain of my place, always striving to feel secure. 

Aldwyn was at an all time low (Picture: Ed Dilnott Cooper)

For a long time I thought I was alone in feeling this way, but after I opened my first business – a men’s nail bar, Aldwyn & Sons, at the back of a barber shop in Fitzrovia – in 2018, I discovered so many men felt the same.

The prime location meant I found myself giving pedicures to everyone from bankers to gangsters all of whom would really open up to me.

Clearly there’s something about having a stranger hold your bare feet that makes a person feel vulnerable and so I often found myself the sympathetic ear for relationship woes or career battles.

I remember one man coming in and opening up to me about wanting to call off his wedding. I could tell he was burdened by the whole thing and unloading to me made him appear visibly lighter.

It was as if he hadn’t had the courage to admit any of this to his friends or family but I was a random person scrubbing his feet. I was a stranger to him so he felt safe to say how he really felt.

Aldwyn has set up a website to send anonymous messages (Picture: Morale)

What surprised me most though was that most of the men I treated seemed to have the same sense of insecurity regarding their place in the world and a strong desire to feel needed and wanted. 

Working there taught me a lot about men and mental health, however the pandemic sadly had a catastrophic impact on the business and I was forced to close the doors of Aldwyn & Sons for good in 2020.

It was a dark time for me. I had lost my father the year before and living alone in lockdown with a failed business to my name caused me to turn to alcohol to fill a void.

Luckily, I was fortunate enough to have access to therapy and it was suggested that I try self-affirmations in the mirror.

When you’re struggling with your mental health, you often say and think the worst about yourself and positive affirmations are a way to turn your inner voice around and try and boost your self esteem with love and kindness.

Aldwyn found boosting his friends had a positive impact on his mental health (Picture: Ed Dilnott Cooper)

Say that you’re loved or you’re good or you’re worthy of happiness. But I just couldn’t be kind to myself. It felt forced and totally fake. 

Weirdly, I had no issue complimenting my friends and telling them how amazing they were, how proud I was of their achievements and how great I knew life was going to be for them. Especially if they’d hit a difficult patch and were doubting themselves. 

In fact, raising them up and offering them kind words of encouragement had the most positive impact on my mental health than anything else I’d ever tried.

So I decided to really put my focus into that and make it a habit to check in with my close friends daily, set reminders to ask them about things I knew had been bothering them or push deeper if I felt they were brushing things off. 

Around the same time, I had been reading the Julie Smith book Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? in which, she discussed the power of compliments. Not just of receiving them but the mental health benefits of giving them. 

The app was a simple premise (Picture: Morale)

In the book Julie Smith cites the work of Professor Inagaki who conducted research into the power of complimenting giving and noted there were positive effects for both the one receiving it and the one providing it.

Realising it was a scientifically backed phenomenon sparked an idea and I wanted to create a platform where people could give compliments to their loved ones without them knowing.

The original idea was that people could connect with their friends and send five unique messages every day anonymously. I wanted it to be anonymous because I felt we often disregard a compliment if it comes from a loved one and just assume they’re saying something nice to be kind.

And unlike many social media apps, I didn’t want this to be a way for people to feed their profiles or egos. It wasn’t about algorithms or followers. I didn’t want people to give a compliment to make themselves look good.

Compliment-giving is a powerful tool (Picture: Morale)

I wanted the power of a compliment to remain pure. The anonymity would also provide a sense of security for those who struggled to say how they felt.

Towards the end of 2021, I struck up a friendship with an app developer called Will who lived nearby. We chatted through my rough idea for Morale and he graciously offered to help. 

The process was fairly straightforward, Will and I luckily worked really well together and managed to build and prototype the app very quickly. By mid-2022, we were ready to go live. 

The app was a simple premise. You sign up and send anonymous messages to other friends and both parties had to be on the app. 

Soon after, we set up a website too, so you could send it to anyone in your phone book regardless of whether they had the app or not. And the response we’ve had has been so positive and powerful. 

Some of the most popular messages to send are ‘being around you is always uplifting’, or ‘you deserve all the love and happiness in the world’.

A lot of my friends use it and love the concept and I’m so touched when I go on our social platforms and see people speaking about the positive impact a message had on them. 

The biggest thing I’ve learned throughout my life, from my time as a pedicurist to my darkest moments to today, is how vital it is to keep talking. 

For me, compliment-giving is a powerful tool for my mental health and I’ve been so happy to hear other people say they’ve discovered the same through Morale.

It’s not a magic cure but I hope it’s a small way to help people smile. Sometimes the best way to achieve happiness is to focus on making sure other people feel it too.

As told to Kat Romero

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