When it comes to relationships that you can put your stock in, the one thing they have in common is a heavy investment in appreciation. It’s true whether we’re talking about relationships between friends, coworkers, life partners, parents and kids, and not least of all, your relationship with yourself.
When you see appreciation going on, you know you have a winner. Along with attention and affection, it’s part of the AAA formula for vitality in relating to others. (I’ll talk about those in another post.)
We toss the word around pretty lightly, without giving it much thought: “Johnny, I would appreciate it if you would pick up your socks!” we say, with anything but appreciation in our hearts.
But it’s exactly the heartfelt kind of appreciation that I’m talking about here–The kind that opens you up to see and understand another person’s viewpoint, even when it is different from your own; the kind that notices another person’s strengths and says so right out loud; the kind that’s built on respect and that treasure’s another person’s value and worth.
A relationship that’s invested in that kind of appreciation is a solid one.
You can tell when your appreciation is coming from your heart. It feels warm and grateful. Sometimes it’s almost like reverence. Sometimes it has a kind of nobility to it, too, a feeling of honoring, respectfulness, or pride. It lifts your spirit and makes the world feel like a better place.
Here’s what the folks at HeartMath say about it:
Every time you make an effort to activate appreciation, its shifts your perception of the world around you for the better. You can apply appreciation in any situation you encounter.
Really? In any situation you encounter? Yes, really! Not a single moment passes that doesn’t contain something worth appreciating—if only for the lessons and insights it brings.
Appreciation and Relationships
The pioneering American philosopher and psychologist William James said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” That’s a pretty heavy statement, coming from a man who devoted his life to understanding human nature. We don’t simply want or enjoy appreciation; we crave it.
And when we receive it from someone else, we’re so relieved and grateful that we appreciate them in return. That’s where the power and beauty of it lies. That’s why it can make all the difference between a relationship that’s withering and one that’s full of life.
How to Ramp Up Your Appreciation
Increasing your experience of appreciation is as simple as giving your attention to it. Here are some pointers:
Start Small: Look for things you appreciation. Start with easy things—your environment, your possessions. What brings you pleasure? What gives you a feeling of peace, contentment or meaning? What inspires or comforts you?
Appreciate Yourself: What parts of your face and body do you appreciate? (In one episode of the old TV series M.A.S.H., the character Hawkeye did a whole, wonderful monologue about how miraculous it was to have opposing thumbs!) Which of your talents and skills do you appreciate/
Appreciate Others: Once you have tapped into the feeling, hold a specific friend or loved one in mind and make a mental list of the things you appreciate about him or her.
Martin Seligman, in his landmark book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, suggests you review the list of personality strengths and pick out the ones that you see most clearly in your mate, or child, or friend. Then watch for concrete ways that he or she expresses those strengths and write down specific examples. If your teenager is filled with curiosity, for example, and spends an hour researching something on the Net, make a note of it and then tell her that you really enjoy how inquisitive she is.
You may find it rewarding to keep an appreciation journal where you record your thoughts of gratitude every day. I’ve been keeping one for years, recording three things that I appreciated during the day. It helps me keep a positive attitude to see that, even on ‘bad’ days, I have experienced at least three things for which I’m grateful.
Appreciation in Action
Now comes the magical part. Once you’re tuned in to the feeling of appreciation, share the wealth! Express it!
Do Dr. Seligman’s strengths identification exercise that’s described above, and show the other person what you wrote down. If you’re in a close relationship, ask your partner if they would like to try doing the same for you.
Interestingly, when we give someone the gift of recognizing their strengths, it motivates them to live up to our positive perceptions even more. What you praise grows. (Just be sure your praise is authentic, not a cheap gambit to manipulate. It will be seen for exactly what it is either way. Speak from your heart; that’s the only way to go.)
Marriage expert Mort Fertel suggests you make or buy a special gift for your partner that you thoughtfully choose to reflect something you appreciation in him or her—a recognition of his favorite hobby or sports team, or of her love of teddy bears or her passion for antique jewelry. That you went out of your way to give a deeply personalized gift is such a powerful gesture, Fertel says, that it can even be the act that begins turning a failing marriage around.
On the more casual side, communication coach Betty Lochner offers a game of “Caught Ya,” where you let someone know when you caught him doing something thoughtful, helpful, or kind. You can even use this one with strangers to boost their day and give yourself some practice in building your awareness skills. Lochner shares 10 additional appreciation exercises here.
Relationship expert John Gottman, Ph.D. suggests that you show your appreciation physically, with a literal pat on the back, a hug, a big grin, or with a gentle brush of the cheek.
Whatever way you choose to do it, let your appreciation show. Send an email or a hand-written note. Make a phone call. Just express it, and watch how it nurtures and strengthens your shared bonds.
If you appreciated this post, “Like” it using the button below. And you can leave a comment, too, sharing how you build your awareness of appreciation and what your favorite way is of letting it show?
For more information on appreciation, see Appreciation: Positivity’s Power Tool.