The Art of Appreciation

The Art of AppreciationThis is the month we celebrate Thanksgiving, the holiday dedicated to thanking God for our bounty of blessings. On this day, we may also be mindful to thank others in our lives. But what about the other 364 days? Are they days of appreciation or criticism?

What’s your score?
With your closest relatives/friends in mind, answer the following questions for each:
When was the last time you spoke an appreciation to them?
When was the last time you criticized them?
What is your appreciation versus criticism ratio for them?
Did you find that you are the most critical of those you are closest to? Don’t feel guilty if you found yourself on the negative side of that ratio. We are trained to look for errors. Remember those children’s magazines that presented a picture with errors in it? The goal was to find everything that was wrong.

Beware of comparisons
Awards may be considered a type of appreciation, but they pose a risk. They are generally based upon comparisons which can demoralize the “losers.” When compared to others, we may feel as if we cannot measure up. For example, in a contest for greatest acts of community service, only three nominees won awards. But everyone had done great things. Galatians 6:4 warns us: “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.”

Who is your greatest critic?
For most, we are our own greatest critic. Various studies show that, of the 65,000 thoughts we have each day, 65% to 80% are negative.
Now consider your ratio score from above. Let’s say that you found that your appreciation ratio for your spouse was mostly critical. If they are their own greatest critic and you are their second greatest critic, where are they supposed to get their encouragement?

The criticism cycle
We often slip into cycles where we are quick to criticize, but neglect to appreciate. This happens most often with the people closest to us, such as our spouses or our children. In marriage, we often assume that our spouses know that we love and appreciate them, but we forget to express it. Then when they forget to take out the trash or pick up our dry-cleaning, we jump on them. Sometimes we ask (or unfortunately nag), our spouses to change a behavior which is a sacrifice for them. But then when they do change, we neglect to appreciate it. So they give up, and the cycle continues.

The good news
In The Law of Happiness, Dr. Henry Cloud, co-author of Boundaries, states, “The good news is that you can learn to express gratitude and have it play a bigger role in your life with positive results.” Dr. Cloud goes on to say, “God has actually, literally, wired our brains and bodies to respond, come alive, and do better when we are practicing certain activities. When we give thanks, our chemistry changes in a positive way from when we are envious or resentful.”

The science of appreciation
Research has shown that when we express thankfulness to others, we are happier and healthier. We have more energy and a better outlook. When we are not appreciated, both our emotions and our immune systems are depressed.

In an article by Dr. Noelle Nelson entitled “The Science of Appreciation,” she demonstrates two physiological responses to giving/receiving appreciation. First, when someone is thinking or feeling appreciation, their heart rate is smooth and harmonious, leading to a sense of well-being. When they are feeling negatively, their heart rate is erratic. Secondly, when someone is experiencing negative emotions, blood flow to the brain is diminished and overall function is impaired. When you are appreciating, blood flows freely and overall function is improved.

A group of psychologists from the University of Pennsylvania did a study in 2005 that measured the benefits of a “gratitude visit.” Those studied had increased happiness and decreased depression that lasted for several months. Launching from this study, a media group called “Soulpancake” produced a video study documenting the increase in happiness that results from expressing thankfulness. They reported a 2-4% increase in those who wrote down what they appreciated about a particular person. That number jumped to 4-19% when they actually called the person they appreciated to express those thoughts.

The ministry of appreciation
Just as we can fall into a criticism cycle, we can grow into an appreciation cycle. Your health and attitude improvements translate into better relationships. As those relationships improve, there is a ripple effect. Something as simple as focusing on appreciation can become a ministry that blesses God’s Kingdom.

Practically speaking
Make a habit of finding at least one thing to appreciate about your spouse every day and expressing that to them.
No BUTS. Don’t say I appreciate you taking the trash out, BUT I had to ask you to do it. That negates the effect.
If you need to bring up a problem, start and end with an appreciation. It’s called the sandwich method, and it’s a great way to stay focused on the positives.

Share appreciations every day at your dinner table with your family.
Share appreciations at work, especially at business meetings, and watch how the dynamics of your work relationships improve.

Be sure to write a thank-you note for others’ acts of kindness.

Try to express appreciation to everyone you contact every day.

At our dinner table, we not only give an offering of thanksgiving to God, but we also encourage one another with appreciations. What a gift it is to us to witness the expressions on people’s faces both when they give and receive an appreciation. Hebrews 20:24-25 reminds us, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Make every day Appreciation Day!

Patricia (Trisha) Hartman is a forensic CPA/partner at Kofsky, Hartman & Weinger, PA. She works with clients going through divorce. She volunteers for Live the Life Ministries, dedicated to strengthening marriages and families. She is also an author and speaker. She can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @TrishaHartman.

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