What’s the secret to a thriving relationship? Appreciation.
When we feel appreciative, we’re looking at what’s right and good. It becomes the lens framing how we interpret and interact with friends, family, co-workers, and romantic partners. When we feel appreciated – for who we are and what we do – we’re more likely to show up as better and brighter versions of ourselves.
Appreciation is the hinge on which the door to vibrant, thriving life – filled with easy relationships – swings open.
Yet, admittedly, it’s easy to think that those around us need to “shape up” or “get it together” before we can truly appreciate them. And, there are plenty of things we do which stop the flow of appreciation to and from us.
What Stops the Flow of Appreciation:
Experience: Insufficient experience 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.
Training: 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.
Fear: 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.
Righteousness: “But, what about me” scarcity leads us to get caught in righteousness, a thinking trap in which we believe others should show and express appreciation to us, first.
Self-loathing: 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.
The Appreciation Formula: Five to One
However, to start appreciation flowing, there’s a formula to consider: Five appreciative comments for every negative comment. John Gottman, co-founder of the Gottman Institute and world-renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, found thriving relationships actively utilize this ratio. While it may seem like thriving relationships are a function of chemistry, more often than not, they created through dedicated effort. When we let appreciation do its magic, the problematic behaviors of others lessen or dissipate.
In fact, the happiest of relationships probably use one or more of these appreciation boosters on a regular basis.
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. “I appreciate how you carefully tie up the garbage and remember to take it out each week” is even better. Your appreciative sentiment lands because it is grounded in a particular time, space, and activity.
- 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 and the magnificent. Through it we acknowledge 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 allows our individual forms of greatness to take shape. And, even better, when we focus on the five to one ratio of appreciations to criticism, this practice allows our friends and family and co-workers to shine in their own form of greatness.
Practice saying it today, “I appreciate you….”