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  • Writer's pictureKhawla Shehadeh

Appreciation & Gratitude

You too must know someone in your life from whom you would have loved to receive (specific) words of gratitude and appreciation but never got them. You would so love to hear that this person sees you, appreciates you for who you are and what you do and how contribute in their life. Who is that person to you? And what would this appreciation sound like? A fun exercise for yourself to put this appreciation in words to yourself.

We often feel gratitude and appreciation towards people and loved ones around us that we just don't express. It's interesting. Something seems to be holding us back. It may be that we feel too vulnerable to say it. Perhaps too embarrassed or proud to admit it. It may be that we fear an inequality or feeling indebted once we admit that the other person has done or meant something to us. Sometimes we think it will be awkward for the other person to receive our appreciation and would bring discomfort to them. Perhaps, we do not express gratitude because we think it is imperative due to the other person's task, role or work, this is what the other person is supposed to do and therefore it does not need appreciation. Maybe you are too busy and too much in a hurry to let the appreciation sink in. It may be that it we take it for granted and don't even really realise how special it is what the other person did for us. Sometimes there is just too much anger and pain to express the gratitude that we also feel to this person. We could also be in a habitual pattern in this relationship where gratitude is not exchanged freely. This may also be because of a generational difference or a culture where it is not custom to express such things causally.

Marshall Rosenberg of Nonviolent Communication (also called Connecting or Empathic Communication) says that receiving appreciation is necessary to continue giving with joy and from the heart. The greatest joy there is, is to contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. Giving with joy is something we all naturally want. Not to get something in return, not for reward and approval or out of fear of punishment and rejection, but giving for the sake of giving because you think you are serving the other person with it. "I feel most given to when you take from me" sang Marshall Rosenberg. However, if I don't get any feedback about how my actions have actually contributed and thereby made someone else's life (slightly) better, then I cannot know if I am doing the right things. Being in the dark about the positive effect of my well-intentioned actions does not motivate me to keep doing more of them.

After all, the intention to contribute is not enough: "With all good intentions, the world perishes" a colleague used to say repeatedly. So how do I know whether my good intention has been conveyed and experienced as intended? Only others can confirm that to me. You send flowers to a sick friend, you offer a listening ear to a colleague who has had a bad weekend, you cook tasty food for the family, you remain calm and patient while your partner is annoyed and irritated, you put your mobile phone away for a moment when a stranger on the train strikes up a conversation, you fetch coffee for your colleague, a myriad acts of kindness.

There is a substantial difference between an authentic expression of appreciation and deliberately giving a compliment to get more done from someone. The latter is a form of manipulation. You give a pat on the back so the other person will work harder for you: "reward the behaviour you want to see" is how dogs are trained. With humans, this is not effective in the long run to keep feeding an intrinsic motivation. After all, people will not keep falling for it. At the workplace, you often see this: A bonus or expressing praise at the Christmas drinks party with the intention that the staff will do their best even more. In the long run it will not have the desired effect.

Authentic appreciation is expressed in Nonviolent Communication by articulating the concrete observation of what the other person did, the feeling it gave you and the need it fulfilled. For example, "I felt joy, warmth and relaxation when you asked me if I wanted to sit with you at lunch. I really appreciate belonging here and connecting with you".

And now, here is a challenge for you: Think of someone who is or has been in your life who you appreciate in a special way. Someone who has contributed to your life, well-being, growth and/or happiness but to whom you have never expressed this fact. If deep down you feel you would be terribly sorry if you or that person passed away without having been able to hear your appreciation, then it might be a good idea to waste no more time and find a way to express your appreciation and gratitude. Let this appreciation be "juicy", state exactly (all) what the other person did for you, how it made you feel and why it was/is important to you. Don't settle for "you were a good father/friend to me" for example, but tell exactly what you appreciate and why. It is a wonderful thing to do and it makes the world a little bit more beautiful.

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