Feeling and expressing appreciation are critical for healthy relationships. Here’s how to get more appreciation if you feel taken for granted and how to make others feel more appreciated.
The Importance of Appreciation
When was the last time you felt so appreciated that you just wished it would stop? “I get it. You value me and the effort I’m putting it in. it makes a real difference to you. You’re grateful for me and can’t imagine what you’d do without me. Stop it already. I’m over it!” Said NO ONE EVER.
Appreciation is a driver – something that motivates us, fuels us, connects us – that we can’t get enough of. Our appreciation tanks don’t get full. There’s always room for more.
Appreciation – both feeling and expressing – is important for a number of reasons. It has an impact on performance and behaviors. People who feel appreciated are going to be more willing to work hard and are going to be more engaged than those who feel taken for granted, whether that’s at home or the office. It’s the whole “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” bit of Southern wisdom.
There’s also an important relationship aspect to consider as well. Feeling appreciated by and for others in your life is something that can enhance the bond between you, foster positive and healthy connections, and buffer you against the negative effects of inevitable tension or conflict. Unfortunately, we don’t always feel recognized, valued, or appreciated, and, as difficult as it might be to admit, we’re not always great at giving those things to the people we care about.
Why We Don’t Always Express How We Feel
Sometimes we just expect others to know how much we value them. Trust me, though, unless you are point blank telling them in some way, they don’t fully realize it. We all need to hear “good job,” “you matter,” “what you do makes a difference in my life,” “I see your hard work.” Without it, we can feel taken for granted or devalued, and those are recipes for resentment, disengagement, and hurt feelings.
Sometimes, people have the thought, “I shouldn’t have to express appreciation for every little thing.” We have expectations about what others should or shouldn’t do. Those expectations are demands from our minds about how reality should be and are not necessarily realistic or helpful. They don’t take into account that expressing appreciation isn’t a fluffy, frivolous thing to make someone feel good. While it typically will have that effect, it also has a functional purpose in that heaping on the recognition is likely to get you more of that very thing you’re recognizing and appreciating. Assuming that’s desirable, check that unhelpful expectation at the door and accept that appreciation can be a powerful tool.
Finally, it can also feel a little forced or fake to express appreciation, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you. The good news is that this is a skill, and skills can be learned and mastered. It just takes willingness to put in the effort to practice and some experimentation to find the style that works for you.
Our Brains Are Working Against Us
Here’s where it can get really interesting. Because our brains have to process so much information so quickly to keep us alive and functioning in the world, they’ve had to develop some short cuts that lead to some biases in the way we think and contribute to a lot of problems. One of the most well-known of these biases is the negativity bias. Our brains have a natural tendency to notice and hold onto negative information. That means that negative stuff stands out to us significantly more than positive stuff does. It’s like there’s a spotlight on the bad, and the good is obscured by shadow.
It gets worse than that, though. The negative stuff gets encoded in our memories 10 times faster than the positive stuff. Not only are we more likely to notice the negative, but it gets stored in our memories pretty much instantaneously, while the good stuff takes a solid 10-12 seconds to really register. That might not sound like long, but the implications are huge.
Overcoming the Negativity Bias to Express and Feel More Appreciation
When it comes to appreciation, there are some real considerations to overcome our mind’s negativity bias and some practical action steps that can help.
First, keep in mind that it’s easy to gloss over things that are going well, but you will naturally notice problems – things that need to addressed or resolved. Thus, we tend to give more feedback when there’s a problem rather than when there isn’t. This means you’re going to have to intentionally train your mind to look for opportunities to slather on appreciation. A nice side effect here is that in looking for more opportunities to express appreciation to others, you will also be training your mind to be more grateful and balanced, which can increase your own happiness.
Second, when it comes to expressing appreciation, up the frequency. Every piece of correction, criticism, and constructive feedback weighs so much more than any expression of gratitude, appreciation, or praise. That’s why parenting and business leadership books alike recommend a much higher ratio of positive to negative comments (a good rule of thumb is 5 positives for every 1 negative, and remember that what you intend as constructive or helpful feedback is going to land as a negative even if you don’t see it as or intend it to be “bad.”).
If you’re feeling under-appreciated, under-valued, or taken for granted, it could be the case that people in your life are not good at expressing appreciation. That’s definitely worth a vulnerable conversation in which you can share how vital it is for you as an individual and for your relationship for you to feel appreciated. It might also be worth making a concerted effort to notice the expressions of appreciation or thanks. It’s quite possible that they are there and that your negativity bias is discounting them.
Because it takes a full 10-12 seconds for positive stuff to register and have a chance of getting saved in our memories, we have to really savor expressions of appreciation. Think about how much time it actually takes to say, “Thanks for doing that. I appreciate it.” Speaking slowly, I clock that at 2 seconds. Nowhere near long enough to really count in our minds unless we make an effort to savor it. On the receiving end, that means pausing and really registering that the other person appreciates you, sees your efforts or strengths, and values them. You have to hold it in mind for 10 Mississippis or it’s like it didn’t even really happen.
On the giving end, keep that in mind and expand your expression. Be more detailed about what you appreciate and why. Not only will that help the other person register it, but it’ll come across as more genuine. It’s a win-win.
In the spirit or practicing what we preach, thank you for being a part of the Peak Mind community. Dr. April and I appreciate you subscribing to our newsletters and podcast, sending us messages, and working diligently on building your psychological strength. We see you, and we value you!