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Practice the simple art of appreciation
Practice the simple art of appreciation

How does appreciation configure into our well-being?

There is a distinct ring of upward trajectory in the word “appreciate.” It’s from the late-Latin adprentium, meaning “to price.” It’s a business term.

When we set something at a price, when we assess personal value and give it a monetary equivalent, we are declaring something. Something deeply personal and well-attached to our sense of satisfaction.

Interestingly, the use of the word “appreciate” has more than doubled in the past 200 years. My uneducated guess would index its use with the rise in industrialism and technology. More people, more things to sell. Things appreciate in value.

Yet have people? Do we appreciate people more now than 200 years ago? Even looking at the decline in homicides per capita over the past 200 years would tell you the answer is likely yes. Not that that alone would prove it.

What is the benefit of appreciation? I’d think that the answer is dividends. Offshoots of benefit resulting from the benefit of something else. Are there extra benefits when we appreciate someone or something? Are there benefits when we are appreciated by others?

This is my way of establishing a platform to discuss something I have personally noticed to be true. I have a natural tendency to be appreciative of others. I don’t know where it came from, other than to give my parents credit for raising me in an environment of appreciation. Until now, I don’t think I fully appreciated that.

Appreciation is different than gratitude. It feels different. It feels more about bonding. It feels more essential, a balm we seem to need as much as food or water.

I can tell you several instances in my life where I was appreciated for something that made such an impact upon me that I remember those moments to this day. They are no less effective at reminding me of who I am than the day they were first spoken.

I quite distinctly remember the feeling of appreciation I received for a fairly ludicrous portrayal of the character Pee Wee Herman in a Thanksgiving Day football rally back in high school. I wasn’t getting much appreciation back then from my classmates. But even from those whom I’d call my greatest nemeses, I could tell their compliments were genuine. Though I couldn’t fathom why it would be that I, who was bullied constantly for my soft-edged masculinity, should now be lauded for publicly acting effete.

It wasn’t attention I wanted, however. I got plenty of that. It was appreciation I needed most.

So let’s acknowledge that this is part of our emotional food pyramid that many of us neglect. It falls under the category of gratitude but, clearly, is more specific, more nuanced than gratitude. Appreciation is an art form.

The business world knows this very well. And not just because of the monetary and transactional nature of the word “appreciate,” but because they spend real money on learning how to enhance productivity in the workplace. The irony is that all of these studies show us that keeping your workers happy, safe and appreciated, both monetarily as well as verbally, ensures high productivity. Essentially, the studies prove you have to be nice to get more from people. Corporate argument against the findings is that being nice is too expensive.

Surprisingly, to me anyway, was learning that while receiving appreciation is important, it’s nowhere near as effective as demonstrating it. Not just for the sake of those whom we are appreciating, but even more so for ourselves. Psychologically, and even physiologically, appreciation acts as a generator within systems. Appreciation begets enthusiasm, belonging and a sense of ownership.

So what might we do with this realization? I started off this essay with a thought about what happens to us emotionally when someone clicks “like” on something we have said or shown on social media. That “like” is a signal of appreciation. That’s where the dopamine rush comes from. That’s what some of us are addicted to.

A well-meaning but impossible-to-follow maxim I was taught growing up was, “Don’t care what other people think.” It’s not only easier said than done, but I haven’t yet been convinced of a single case where people haven’t cared at least a little about what others think, despite their protestations against it. Many reading this will consider themselves an exception, but I have deep faith in this idea. I think we are hard-wired to care what others think.

An aspect of our communal nature rests squarely on ritual appreciation. We require it. Biologically, appreciation is the vetting process of good ideas and strong genes. Spiritually and emotionally, appreciation is the elevating of our spirit. It is the further entanglement of our unity. It coheses the bonds between us. We might consider doing it on purpose as a prominent aspect of our regular spiritual practice.

But what does the spiritual practice of appreciation look like? How do we practice appreciation? The simple answer is to just do it. But obviously that’s no answer at all. Because practicing appreciation is really the practice of mindful appreciation. Deliberate and intentional use of the act of appreciation for mutual benefit. Something to meditate upon and try out in real life. Just like the concepts of forgiveness or compassion.

The best part is, there are endless opportunities to demonstrate appreciation, most of which we never even think about. How often do we make a point of making a complaint? Start off by giving a compliment to someone for every complaint you make about someone or something else. One for one. Brace yourself. If you manage it, I guarantee you it will be a real eye-opener.

This is another occasion to think about what comes out of our mouths. To be mindful of what we say and to be “impeccable with your word,” as don Miguel Ruiz says in his book, “The Four Agreements.” There is a lot to meditate upon that thought alone with regard to appreciation as a purposeful activity.

I’m grateful that I tend to be an appreciative person. It makes my life considerably better, I can tell you that for a fact. I adore my co-workers, particularly the ones who call me to task. I admire my community for how hard it works to reinvent itself for a new age. I deeply value my family beyond the ability of words.

I express these feelings every day. I compliment good waitstaff in restaurants. I tip the gas attendant at the Montouri’s for washing my windshield when getting gas. I empathize with those experiencing difficulty, for that, too, is a form of appreciation. My favorite thing is to surprise people with an unexpected compliment (provided it doesn’t come across as creepy).

I appreciate the fact that you’ve read this. I appreciate the emails I receive and the occasions I’m politely stopped in Market Basket to chat about something I recently wrote. These are among the blessings of my life, and I treasure them. Mindfully.

Wil Darcangelo, M.Div., is the Minister at First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg and of First Church of Christ Unitarian in Lancaster, and producer of The UU Virtual Church of Fitchburg and Lancaster on YouTube. Email Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at

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