Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Most of us live truly blessed lives when we consider the roof over our heads, we have the food we have to eat, and the love of our family and friends. But despite all those blessings, our days are filled with anxiety and frustration….Why? With so much to appreciate and be grateful for, why do we let the things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things impact us every day?
Mostly because of how society has “programmed” us.
OUR PROGRAMMING The majority of us were raised to understand that there is “good” and there is “bad”. For example, helping an elderly person with their groceries falls under the “good” category. Shoving an elderly person because they aren’t moving fast enough falls under the “bad” category. I know, that was a really simple way to sum up morality, but the point is, in any given situation we are programmed to assess situations as “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong”.
What does that have to do with appreciation and gratitude, you might wonder? Well, thanks to the programming we’ve all gotten used to, we may not have noticed that we aren’t programmed to CELEBRATE “good”. We are simply expected to BE “good”. Because of that, we forget to appreciate, acknowledge, and be grateful for the times when people do good things.
Think about what happens when you’ve done something “bad” whether that be missing a deadline, or forgetting to pay for parking, or yelling at a loved one over something when you’re upset about something else. You get that gut-wrenching feeling, and when someone inevitably discusses the “bad” deed, those negative, distracting emotions arise. When we’ve done something “bad” our body feels it and it doesn’t feel good.
Yet, when we do something “good”, it’s often glossed over with barely any recognition at all. We don’t get to spend much time basking in the happy feelings of accomplishing something, and more often than not, we don’t take the opportunity to share the joy. If anything, most of us have been raised to believe that sharing something positive might come off like we’re bragging. (How silly is that?)
WHAT OUR ACTIONS SAY
One lesson we all have learned in our lives is - when we do something “bad” or “wrong” we feel the negative effects and from then on, we are (or at least we try to be) very careful not to make the same mistake again. Why is that? Because it feels like crap when we are “bad.” So by making a mistake, we learn not to make the same mistake again.
On the flipside, how do you know when you’ve done something “good?” There’s rarely any appreciation or acknowledgment. When you do take out the trash, or make a deadline, or make a loved one happy, how often is it recognized? In today’s society unless you're getting married, having a baby, or got a promotion there’e barely any recognition.So, if you don’t know you’re doing something “good,” how will you know to do it again?
If you’ve read any couples therapy books, you’ll know that the majority of them encourage couples to focus on positive reinforcement rather than negative. When we experience negative reinforcement, it comes across as nagging, creating negative feelings towards the other person. However, when we practice positive reinforcement, our partner feels good about themselves because they feel recognized for their efforts. And that motivates them to repeat the good deed again and again because it feels good!
HOW DO YOU FEEL?
William Arthur Ward said it best-
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it
is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
Now, why would you wrap a present if you don’t intend to give it?l That’s the same thing as feeling appreciation and gratitude every day but neglecting to act on it. Sometimes we make the mistake of telling everyone in our life how grateful we are for our coworkers, our spouse, our kids, whomever, and the only person we forget to tell is the person we actually have feel gratitude towards towards...Why is that?
Let’s take a step back, and examine how it feels to be appreciated. Have you ever had someone express appreciation toward you and you think, “What a jerk”? Probably not. Normally, when someone acknowledges you or appreciates you, you feel awesome! You know you did something right that had a positive effect on someone else. AMAZING! Think about how you feel when you express appreciation. Maybe the worst you’ve ever felt is awkward, but most of the time you feel good because you know you’ve made someone else feel good!
There’s a saying -
“What you appreciate, appreciates.”
That means - when you value something, its value increases. So try applying that principle to your relationships. If you place value on your friends, family, spouse, children, and coworkers, their value increases. What could feel better than that?
GRATITUDE VS APPRECIATION Gratitude and appreciation feel similar, so what’s the difference? According to Google, gratitude is defined as,
“The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation and to return kindness”
The keyword is “readiness”. Gratitude is a great feeling, but it lives within us. We are the only ones who feel gratitude, UNLESS we act on it. It makes you ready to show appreciation, but it doesn’t make you actually show appreciation. Appreciation, on the other hand, is defined as,
“Recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.”
Now we’re talking! That’s the good stuff! So, the difference between gratitude and appreciation is, one ignites the other. FEELING gratitude motivates us to SHOW appreciation. The problem is, way too often we forget to take action. Each and every one of us deserves to be appreciated, yet, if you were to take a poll, the majority of us would express feeling a lack of being appreciated, and the people we love most, who we feel the most grateful for, don’t know because we forget to tell them. That shows that we’re all forgetting to ACT on our gratitude.
So, we need to remember, “What you appreciate, appreciates.”
Strangely enough, throughout COVID-19 we have recognized a lot of things we should be more appreciative of. Being able to hug loved ones, spending time with friends and family, going to work and laughing with coworkers; these were the simple pleasures of the “old world” that we took for granted. Hopefully, when we return, we don’t lose sight of how precious those moments were.
But what about this “new world?” In the “old world” we all wanted more time with friends and family. Well, now we have a whole lot of time with family and we’re wasting it. We’re spending more time on the frustrations of what COVID-19 has done instead of being silly with our kids, or embracing our spouse, or laughing with friends.
What’s happening is offering us a strange opportunity to embrace all that “family time” mean - the good and the bad. Appreciate this time with your family because you will soon miss it, just like you miss hugging friends and family or laughing with coworkers now. It’s ironic that the things that annoyed us about the “old world” we now kind of miss, and when we eventually return to work we will miss all the time with our family, the good and the bad.
So live in the moment! Laugh as much as you can, and don’t let the little things get to you because this is precious time you’ll never get back. Make sure you are taking action to express the appreciation you feel! Don’t let the reason your loved ones don’t know how you feel be that you forgot to tell them.
SIMPLE IS GOOD
To make it a little easier to express appreciation. I’ve, provided a list of nine ways you can easily show appreciation to anyone. If you’re unsure if the person you’re appreciating feels the love you’re trying to give…ASK!! Whether they felt it or not, asking shows them you care that they feel appreciated.
1. Write a handwritten note.
2. Do something unexpected (take out the trash, make the bed,etc).
3. Praise those you care about in public, and if you need to correct a behavior do it in private (#respect).
4. Connect in a meaningful way, make a phone or video call vs. sending a text.
5. Be specific about what you appreciate (why did that action make you feel grateful?).
6. Identify and appreciate things you want more of (how will they know you like it if you don’t tell them?).
7. Find the good in the world when it’s really easy to see the bad (give a random compliment to someone outside of your inner circle).
8. Be neighborly (take out their trash, bake them something because it’s Wednesday).
9. Don’t dwell on the little things ( “Give it the 5 minute rule: if you won’t remember it in 5 years, it doesn’t deserve 5 minutes of your time”)
So here’s your challenge: appreciate one person a day for the next week and notice how YOU feel after you do. Be the change the world needs!