Photo by Lucas Lenzi on Unsplash

I’ve noticed something really interesting over the last several months. It has to do with the energy, time and motivation I have for people who are appreciative. Now, while this may sound like an extremely obvious idea, which perhaps has taken me forty years too long to grasp, I’ve also noticed that many of us have a tendency to place far too much attention on people and activities that just don’t appreciate.

Note the duel meaning here; by appreciation, I’m talking about both an expression of recognition and gratitude, as well as an increase in value. As founder of the Happiness Studies Academy, former Harvard Professor in Positive Psychology and author of the book Happier, Tal Ben Shahar states,

“when you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.”

So, what does it mean to “appreciate the good”? Is it as simple as passively taking note of the things that make us grateful, and perhaps even stating them out loud, and writing them down for ourselves? Or, could more be done in the form of appreciation? Is it possible that more of the finer things in life could appreciate, like love, deep friendships, rich conversation, success, wealth and overall life satisfaction, if we took more time to actively express our appreciation of others?

At times, it seems like there is a cultural epidemic of either asking and taking without showing any appreciation, or perpetually giving to those who just aren’t appreciative. While the idea of “take what you need” may lead to short-term gains, it rarely results in long-term success and satisfaction. After all, it’s hard to grow and succeed without the help and encouragement of others, and relationships deepen through the active expression of our own appreciation.

It’s one thing to have passive gratitude for the amazing things in our lives, and quite another to actively take time and show our appreciation to the very people who have, no doubt, played a part in our successes. A simple call, email, or heck, even a text message can go a long way. Yet, it amazes me how many people are willing to take without ever feeling inclined to acknowledge another person’s help, time and energy with a simple “thank you.”

As a coach and service provider, I typically bill for my time. I am so grateful to all of the amazing clients who courageously show-up with me, session-after-session, ready to do the work. After all, these are the very people who keep my business’ lights on – both literally and metaphorically.  

Amidst gratefully servicing my clients, I also get a lot of “can I pick your brain for free” requests. And, recognizing that generosity is also an important leadership quality; not to mention, an active way of expressing my own appreciation for my own successes, I always try to find time for people; even when my plate is full.

Here’s what I’ve come to notice. Some people book their time to “pick my brain” and proceed to ask me every question under the sun from how I got started, to how I developed my packages, to hair-splitting details about my rates, only to part our meeting, and never be heard from again. No “thank you,” or even minimal acknowledgement of the time I took to cater to their needs and agendas. So, what happens with these relationships? Well, nothing really. They tend to fall flat – fizzled and forgotten.

On the other hand, there are those who take the time to follow-up our time together with a genuine appreciation and acknowledgement. They’ll notice that the entire objective of our conversation was centered around us getting their questions answered and their needs met, so they will go out of their way to actively express their gratitude.

What happens with these relationships? They’ll typically last well beyond the initial meeting. Ongoing collaboration occurs through the discovery of mutually beneficial opportunities, and what began as a mere “pick your brain” conversation, often evolves into an ongoing dialogue, active partnership, or even a lasting friendship.

Okay, so what am I ultimately getting at here? Plain and simple – spending time with and on appreciative people and activities is far more rewarding, and for this reason, things that appreciate are most worthy of our attention. The best part? One doesn’t have to be rich, successful, or famous to show her/his appreciation. Yet, those who regularly express it, tend to rally more help and support from other successful people, versus those who don’t.

So, why do so many of us waste a lot of time on activities and people that will never “appreciate”? We’ll try to win-over our biggest critics, rearrange our schedules for those who are the most demanding, and spend endless time to try and solve for the most perpetual complainers. While the answer to this question is pretty clear, the remedy seems less so.

Let’s start with the easy part – it’s very easy to mindlessly give our time and attention to people, simply because they’ve asked for it. And, there are a lot of needs and agendas out there, so there will never be a lack of requests. The hard part is recognizing who and what is most deserving of our attention, based on their levels of appreciation.

So, we may want to start by asking ourselves who and what is actually showing us appreciation, or appreciating in value, in any form – in terms of deeper friendships, invaluable learning opportunities, personal growth, interesting dialogues, simple expressions of gratitude, or on a straight business side, increased revenue, door opening opportunities, and professional growth. Once we identify our most appreciative relationships and activities, not only does it make sense for us to focus on them, it’s also extremely important to nurture these things with our own appreciation!

I recently read about an amazing exercise in best-selling author and diversity leader, Jauna Bordas’ book, Salsa, Soul, and Spirit, where she suggests a radical way of expressing appreciation:

“On your next birthday or milestone (a promotion or graduation), announce that you are having a giveaway to recognize that your achievements have been possible only because of your family, coworkers, and friends who support (and put up with) you. Then, be deliberate about buying gifts or finding mementos that are meaningful.”

Just think of how meaningful you would feel to be on the receiving end of such a “giveaway” – where someone actively took the time to recognize your contributions to their progress, learnings or success. Would you notice this sort of extreme action, and better yet, would it inspire you to support this person even more? I think the answer is a clear “yes”!

What better time than right now to take an inventory of the appreciation in your life? Personally, I’m ready to put more attention towards people and activities that have the potential to appreciate. And, one surefire way to make time and space for these things, is to identify and put less attention towards the things that don’t. Meanwhile, I appreciate you taking the time to read the words I’ve put on this page – I hope you’ve found your time spent doing so, “appreciative.”