How often do we find ourselves appreciating someone, or thing after we have lost them or it has left? If we’re truthful, probably too often. We’re focussed on the task of getting something done, achieving to our potential, doing our best, giving it our all and we grapple with so much along the way. If the task has taken effort and energy the final outcome can be an anti-climax. We’ve expended so much in the getting there we haven’t taken time to enjoy, appreciate, or focus on the journey … and then it’s gone.
It’s like that in our relationships. We recognise the roles different people play and how those roles support us. Yet, it isn’t until they leave that we appreciate the significance of that person’s contribution to our wellbeing. Life can pass by the front door and we wouldn’t notice until one day we realise all the opportunities that have slipped through our fingers. Opportunities to show appreciation and speak words that acknowledge the value we see in those who journey with us.
Recently I was brought up short by someone I’d been working with for some months. We’d been working on finding ways she could continue to remain abstinent from alcohol. She’s been alcohol free for seven months now and it has been a bumpy ride but she’s stayed the distance. We were reflecting on her journey; from homelessness, to couch surfing, to refuge-hopping, to homelessness again, to supported accommodation and finally to stable long term accommodation for herself and two little boys. We laughed about the first four visits when I was trying to establish rapport and she was under the weather and wanted to be left alone. And then we were both teary-eyed as we talked about the losses in her life: her home, her husband, her family, her job and her dignity and self-value as a person. But then she paused and started to talk to me.
She spoke about her appreciation of the compassion shown to her when she was being deliberately difficult; she appreciated that judgement did not walk in with me when I visited; she told me she was still alive because someone cared; that because she had found someone who listened she felt heard for the first time in her life. She appreciated that I could, and would, sit and listen, care, reflect and encourage – she said it made her feel someone saw a worth and value in her as a person.
So what do you say to that outpouring of earnest and heartfelt sentiment? Yep, not a lot. How interesting that someone who has been dependent on alcohol for most of their lives can see qualities and value elements of another’s persona that (educated, middle-class upwardly mobile) colleagues have difficulty acknowledging, even if they did identify them. Yes, I get recognition for my skills, commitment and competence and I get paid for those things. But it has been a very long time since I have been so well and truly appreciated.
I’ll probably remember her when I’m a crone, for the one person who stopped to express appreciation and say thank you. I cannot express how it made me feel. Humbled, valued, worthy, all of those and more … There are so many benefits of expressing appreciation I wonder why we don’t do it more often. We carry self-blinding judgement about that it is hard to be appreciative of someone’s positive qualities. Perhaps one of the reasons is that we’re not very practised at accepting appreciation or even being mindful of other people’s positive qualities. Appreciation is a gift, yet more often than not we’ll brush it away when someone else rejoices in our positive qualities.
“I so appreciate that you are there to hold Aunt Jessie’s hand during the funeral,” someone says. They are appreciating the quality of caring and empathy.
“Oh, it was nothing, anyone would do it,” you say. You’ve just negated your own positive qualities and refused the gift of appreciation.
When someone does this to me I feel my ‘gift’ wasn’t worthy of acceptance. Next time I notice that person exercising a positive quality I may be less likely to voice my appreciation.
It’s taken years of practice to be gracious when someone shows appreciation but what I have learned is that without appreciation it is difficult for our positive traits to grow. False humility serves no one. Instead, when someone notices positive qualities we become accountable for those qualities and there is an expectation that we will trot out those qualities as and when appropriate.
Research shows that when we accept appreciation from others, not only do our levels of serotonin bubble up, those of the giver do too. Serotonin is the ‘happy’ brain chemical, the one that helps increase our sense of well-being and contentment. It is also one of the brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that when levels are depleted can cause us to experience feelings of depression. It seems to me that showing and receiving appreciation is a good thing, both emotionally, mentally and physically.
When was the last time you (verbally) appreciated someone? How long since someone appreciated you?
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