Let me start by broadly defining a human relationship as the “connection between two people”. Obviously, you have a multitude of relationships in your life: your partner or lover, your family, your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors, people you occasionally see and people you’re happy never to see again. All of these can be defined as relationships. Even when you don’t see, talk or interact in any way, you may still have a relationship with a person, based on past encounters or current feelings. So, we see that relationships are an intricate net of connections, associated with feelings; some of these connections are stable, intense and pleasant, others short-lived, insignificant or even bothersome.
Clearly, not every relationship has to work. Some relationships are better ended than mended. After all we do have the freedom to decide with whom to spend our precious time, so choose wisely!
Appreciation creates connection.
The quality of a relationship is based on a variety of factors. Nevertheless, one that cannot be excluded is appreciation. Follow me in this thought experiment: try to take any one of your relationships that you consider as being good or even great, choose one you are truly happy about. Think about all the ways you interact with each other in this relationship. What do you do together? What do you say to each other? How do feel when you’re with that person or know you will be seeing that person? What do you think about, when your thoughts wander to that special person? Give yourself some time to go through some of these situations in your mind before moving on.
Now proceed to do the following: in your mind, eliminate any form of appreciation from all your interactions and feelings for that person. Literally remove appreciation from the equation. Try to imagine how this relationship would change... If you genuinely strip it of every component that entails appreciation, can you possibly still have a good, let alone great relationship?
Appreciation is the base upon which every relationship is built. The more solid the appreciation, the more stable the relationship.
Being appreciative of a person we love, does not seem something highly challenging, right? Therefore, it should not come as a huge surprise that we can identify a high level of appreciation in each and every one of our relationships with the people we love most. But what happens when we dislike someone, when we have a bad relationship with a certain person?
Lack of appreciation is the stepping stone to a failed relationship
Take any bad relationship. Choose one and think about it briefly. What qualities come to mind? Any good or positive attributes? Any appreciation for the other person? Most likely not, or if at all, these are not the predominant qualities. And this is exactly the root of the problem. Every person has positive and negative characteristics. “Positive” and “negative” are not absolute values but a matter of interpretation and preference. What you see as a negative quality in a person, might be perceived as a positive aspect by another.
The way we feel about a person does not depend on how that person is per se, but rather on how we see that person.
Furthermore, even if a person has lots of qualities that you feel are “absolutely negative”, she will necessarily also have positive qualities – even if you find this hard to believe in some instances. Hence, the real question here is what are you focusing on? The way we feel about a person does not depend on how that person is, but rather on how we see that person.
Take any well-functioning relationship, start actively finding the negative aspects, give it a few days and you will see it start to fall apart before your own eyes… So yeah, don’t do that! Instead – if you dare – try the opposite. Take a person you don’t like – and I mean someone you really dislike – and do the following: simply write down as many positive attributes of that person as you possibly can. When you’re done, find ten more! This may seem impossible at first, but almost magically something will happen: you will start looking for the positive attributes with such high intention, that all of a sudden the bad feelings you were directing to that person start to fade and eventually vanish… Of course, this can take a big initial effort, because when you dislike someone it seems close to impossible to start focusing on what you do like. But trust me, it is possible and it is worth it!
Thus, if you want to keep your relationships great and constantly make the good ones better, show appreciation! And be generous with it. No one has ever received “too much” appreciation.
We are far too stingy with appreciation and way too generous with criticism.
How can we practically apply appreciation?
There are fundamentally three ways to use and express appreciation.
- Think it! The first one is the simplest one, but also the most important one. Whenever you are trying to show appreciation for something you don’t truly believe, you are being deceitful, inauthentic and in most cases your fake behavior soon becomes transparent. Find qualities that you genuinely appreciate in a person. Everyone has them – yes, even that person whom you “hate” with all your passion. The beauty of this shift in focus, is that whenever you start looking for things to appreciate you automatically stop looking for all the things you could dislike about a person. Furthermore, if you get into the habit of doing so, you will feel better yourself and you will also emit an entirely different energy towards your peers. You will no longer scan for faults in people, but rather look at them for qualities to appreciate. Trust me, it can work wonders!
- Show it! Many of us – fortunately – see lots of positive attributes in people and appreciate what their friends and close ones do for them. Still, too often, we forget or neglect to actively show our appreciation. People may infer or presume our thankfulness at times. But if we actively and purposefully show it using explicit actions, we can help others confirm their positive hypotheses as being true. Thinking is the start, showing it is the next big step! There is, however, a third step which is unfortunately scarcely present in our modern-day life.
- Say it! Words can be extremely powerful! If you don’t believe me try to think that you’re in love with your partner and show it to him/her… but, leave out the words “I love you” entirely and see what happens! I think you get the picture here. Words help feelings take shape, they can draw a picture and clarify or reinforce our feelings. In fact, this is not a particularly arduous task to do: whenever you appreciate something in a person, tell them! We are far too stingy with appreciation and way too generous with criticism. Actually saying what you appreciate directly to a person, will not only make her feel exceptionally good, loved and recognized, but you yourself will feel great about it too.
Words can draw a picture of our feelings.
If you truly feel it and genuinely show it, people will believe you and will feel flattered to receive your appreciation. We all deserve more appreciation than we get. So, start by giving and give as much as you can… and who knows, you may soon end up receiving more than you expected.