Several years ago, I was enjoying a particularly beautiful autumn day. The weather was unseasonably warm, and although I knew this was an indication of global warming, I was extremely appreciative of the weather at that moment.
Each person I encountered said something about the weather. When I responded with enthusiasm and appreciation, I was shocked by the responses. Over the course of one morning, the majority of the people said things such as, “Oh, just you wait, we’ll be paying for this,” or “Oh, it won’t last.”
I was fascinated by these remarks, so, for several days, I continued asking people how they were enjoying the warm weather. Very few people expressed any appreciation. Instead, I was treated to a variety of dire predictions, all having to do with paying later for the day’s loveliness. I thought, Hmm. Strange.
It was almost as though people were afraid to express gratitude; as if by doing so, everything they were grateful for would somehow be taken away from them. People seemed able to enjoy the nice weather only in secret, as though to express enjoyment openly would jinx their lives.
My dictionary’s definition of gratitude is “the state of being grateful; thankfulness.”
Gratitude is a feeling and feelings are meant to be expressed. As humans, our expressions are what make us unique. In the human body, as our cells are formed, each cell contains all the information needed to become any cell. The difference between a liver cell and a brain cell is in how it expresses itself.
It’s our nature as humans to express ourselves. And since we are part of a larger collective body, our individual expressions determine where we fit into the whole.
Expression is important for another reason: it creates our experiences as we move through life. Have you noticed that people who continually complain about life seem to have experiences that are worth complaining about, while people who are optimistic and cheerful seem to find a lot to feel happy about? This is because we interpret and draw experiences that mirror our expressions.
Withholding our behaviours, thoughts and feelings has become normal in our culture. Yet withholding our gratitude and appreciation can have devastating results on relationships. When one doesn’t feel appreciated, one cannot feel “known.”
Without appreciation, our acts of kindness and compassion are muted, and any incentive for us and others to become better people is lost. Withholding then becomes a tennis match, with each person finding new ways to withhold his or her emotional energy from others. This eventually results in the dynamics of relationships dropping off until there’s nothing left to sustain them.
By expressing our appreciation for others, particularly for things they do that we ourselves can’t or don’t do well, we inspire others to explore and improve their own behaviour.
Punishment and reward systems encourage children to barter their good behaviour and pressure their parents in exchange for not acting out. Appreciation encourages children to strive to greater and greater heights because they are self-rewarded and so are continually inspired to do better.
it’s all part of the service
Another thing I often hear people complain about is a lack of service—from store assistants and fast-food personnel to hotel workers. I believe this is due in large part to the fact that we’ve forgotten to express our appreciation to them.
We take them for granted, complain if we don’t get what we want when we want it and generally allow ourselves to take out our frustrations about many other things on these people. We focus on what they do wrong and often fail to acknowledge the things they do well.
It’s no wonder we’re seeing an enormous shift in people’s willingness to take on an “average” job. Without appreciation, a worker will quickly lose interest in doing his or her work well.
One of the most powerful forms of expression is gratitude. Gratitude is expressed through acts of appreciation. Appreciation is gratitude in action—gratitude as a verb. Appreciation is an asset that can’t be measured or used as currency, yet it creates an astonishing range of benefits. When freely given, the other person’s self-esteem rises, inspiring him or her to continue his or her positive behaviours and he or she achieves a satisfaction that often can’t be achieved any other way.
Appreciation costs nothing, but it provides satisfaction to both the giver and the receiver. It feeds and nurtures a vital link in the intricate systems of community relationships. It has the capacity to continually increase its value the more it is given away.
Unlike giving material goods, which are quickly consumed, appreciation is given, enjoyed, fed upon and then passed on, larger than before.
If your feelings are a form of currency, what kind of bank account do you have for them? Are you investing in criticism, judgement and gossip? Or are you investing in optimism, appreciation and joy?
It is a powerful choice—either to withhold or invest ourselves in others. Yet withholding pays no dividends, adds nothing to the world and creates a dearth in our lives. Investing in others through our feelings generates energy that goes out in ever-growing circles of influence.
Investing our feelings of gratitude, thankfulness and appreciation opens our channels of receiving wider and wider, creating an ever-larger environment of even more things to be grateful for.
The more of ourselves that we share, the more potential there is to communicate, inspire and improve our ways of being in relationships. When we see that appreciating our differences feeds and sustains communities, we are well on the path to healing our territorial disputes and overcoming our fear of those who are different from ourselves.
If our expressions are of gratitude, appreciation and happiness, our lives begin to reflect those feelings in our interactions each day. We begin to create new experiences that generate more of the same feelings and form life-sustaining loops of wonder.