Appreciation is one of the foundations of any thriving relationship whether the relationship is with yourself, friends, family, romantic partner, or even a life event. One of the biggest influences, in how we interpret and interact with the world around us, is our level of appreciation for whom and what is here right now.
Forgive me, as the weather provides an easy example. No doubt about it, winter in the mid-west provides ample opportunities to complain: days of minus 30 degree wind-chill; lots of shoveling; salt encrusted vehicles; and icy driving. And, yet, at dinner the other night, friends were cheering the copious amounts of snow and excellent skiing conditions; the upper-body workout of shoveling; the frigid cold as the perfect excuse for no-guilt movie nights or the opportunity to snuggle by the fireplace with a good book.
Winter can either be a giant pain-in-the-ass or the perfect season for non-traditional workouts; a glittering landscape; and time for quiet reflection.
The Appreciation Formula: Five to One
The same can be said for the people who populate our life. They can either be giant pains-in-the-ass or we can look for the good and enjoy them through the lens of possibility.
Appreciation is the hinge on which the door to vibrant, thriving life – filled with easy relationships with events and people – swings open.
Turns out, there is even a happy, little formula to think about when considering adding appreciation to your life. John Gottman, co-founder of the Gottman Institute, and world renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, found thriving relationships have at least a five to one ratio of appreciations to negative comments. FIVE to ONE.
Five Blocks which Stop the Flow of Appreciation:
One: Insufficient experience with being on the receiving end of appreciation. It’s true, most of us go through our days without hearing a “Thank You” or “I appreciate you for…” any of the good efforts we put towards projects at work or activities at home.
Two: We are trained to look through the lens of what is wrong or missing or could be improved. Our jobs often depend on us to do this in order to avoid mistakes; and it is easy to think we are doing our kids or spouses a favor by pointing out areas where they could step it up.
Three: It feels stupid and contrived and Polly-Anna-ish to focus on appreciation. We are somehow afraid all this focus on “the positive” or “gratitude” is going to make us soft.
Four: “What about me” scarcity or stinginess. We get caught in the trap of righteousness – really, they are the ones who should be showing and expressing appreciation, first.
Five: We fail to practice appreciation towards ourselves. Instead we fill our days comparing ourselves to others, or noticing our flaws, or generally listening to the scolding voice in our heads.
Eight Ways to Boost Your Appreciation Levels:
Focus Your Lens: You can choose to learn to appreciate by choosing to look for what is right. Consider: What is unique about this day, this event, this person?
Play the Five Appreciations Game: Every time you catch yourself making a complaint or stating a criticism, on the spot, generate five appreciations. This activity helps open a wave of appreciation rather than sending you down the downward spiral of criticism.
Appreciate Ordinary Things: Do a 30-second experiment in appreciation right now. Look around your environment until your eye lights on something ordinary — something you may have seen a thousand times before — perhaps your morning coffee cup. Study it carefully, appreciating its unique shape, color, texture. Appreciate the effort of those who designed it and those who brainstormed the witty caption. Appreciate the labor of the many hands involved in harvesting and roasting the coffee beans.
Notice and Make Lists: Pay attention; make a list of daily activities, or behaviors, people close to you do, and which make your life sweeter or richer. Make a list of the people in your life whose contributions you appreciate.
Lead with appreciation: Spend a few minutes in the morning generating genuine appreciations for the people you are likely to interact with that day. Focus particular attention on individuals with whom you might have a difficult relationship, and generate a list of at least five qualities you can appreciate and admire in them.
Demonstrate Appreciation: Handwritten notes of gratitude to the individuals who help make your life easier, sweet and more fun is an especially fantastic way to express appreciation. Pay particular attention to people who have made it on your list.
Get Talkative: Verbal appreciations have more power if they are specific…”I appreciate you” is a good start; and “I appreciate how you carefully tie up the garbage and remember to take it out each week” is even better as you’ve noticed what and how your partner does something. Your appreciative sentiment lands because it is grounded in a particular time and space.
Practice self-appreciation: Personal change expert M.J. Ryan assures us, “Self-appreciation is powerful stuff: it reinforces the behavior we want to bring into being. It tells the brain: do more of this.” Celebrating our strengths and successes allows us to recognize the positive in ourselves; we come closer to living that greatness in all its dimensions.
Appreciation broadens our focus. It moves us from fear into celebrating the ordinary, the magnificent, the best in ourselves and our friends and family. A daily practice of it reinforces what is good and all that is right and well in our world, especially during times of crisis, challenge or change. Because of its expansiveness, actively practicing appreciation opens up the potential for our unique form of greatness to take shape. And, even better, when we focus on seeing the world through the five to one ratio of appreciations to criticism, it allows our friends and family and co-workers to shine in their own form of greatness.