The great American psychologist William James once said that the greatest of human needs is the need for appreciation. Wow, he was right on track with that one!
Whether we’re talking about personal relationships or business relationships, we all crave appreciation. We all want to know we are valued. We all want to know when we’re doing a great job, and that what we do really matters. Appreciation celebrates the relationship and gives it the positive energy it needs to grow and thrive.
Several years ago I graduated from the Authentic Happiness Coaching program run by Dr. Martin Seligman; that makes me an “Authentic Happiness Coach,” and I’m proud of it. Today I participate in a worldwide group of happiness coaches dedicated to learning new ways to create more positive workplaces, so we can share them with our clients who understand the link between positivity and profitability. As you might imagine, appreciation and gratitude come up often.
Over the past sixteen years or so there has been a lot of scientific research on the benefits of feeling gratitude and appreciation. Dr. Seligman and others in the field of Positive Psychology have proven that by regularly practicing simple exercises in gratitude (making gratitude lists, sending a “thank you” letter to someone who made a positive difference in your life, writing down three good things that happened to at the end of each day), happiness goes up and depression goes down. Research also proves that these tools often work better than therapy or drugs – and they’re free!
The challenge we have is to convince people that regular practice of these small actions that take very little time, cost nothing, and are available to everyone can actually work as well as it does. Trust me. It does.
Years ago I studied at the Institute for Heartmath in California (www.heartmath.org). I went there to study stress management and learned so much more; I learned that the heart is electrically more powerful than the brain, and that it has a unique intelligence all its own. I learned that the key to accessing the heart’s intelligence is appreciation.
Simply shifting your attention from your head to your heart while remembering something that you deeply appreciate will, in only seconds, change the variability patterns of your heart and give you access to a deeper intelligence. The longer you can keep yourself in a state of appreciation, the longer you have access to that intelligence which they call “the little brain in the heart.” Imagine what it will do for your caring when it comes from your heart!
It’s my pleasure to share a few simple yet powerful things you can do to increase the level of heartfelt appreciation at work:
1. Start and/or end meetings by asking each individual to express appreciation. (That could sound like, “Before we start, let’s all share something that happened since our last meeting that you are grateful for, or something you really appreciate.” Or, “Let’s end with each one of us, in just a few words, sharing one thing we are grateful to have learned or experienced during this meeting.”)
2. Make it a point to find someone doing something right – something in alignment with the organization’s mission – and tell them how much you appreciate that. (And tell them why.)
3. Tell every customer you deal with that you sincerely appreciate their business – and mean it. Let’s face it, without customers, uh… there is no business.
4. Figure out what the lifetime value of the customer is to the company and share that number with all those who take care of customers. This way, even if employees can’t appreciate the customers for who they are, perhaps they can appreciate them for what they are worth to the company. Some people need to see that light bulb fully lit before they can get it.
5. Send three handwritten cards a day expressing your appreciation to employees, customers and/or suppliers.
6. Get a blessings or gratitude journal and, at the end of each day, write down your blessings and the good things that happened during the day for which you are grateful. (I do this every night!)
7. Make sure that your recorded message for missed calls sincerely thanks the person for calling.
8. Learn to take short (delicious!) appreciation breathers throughout the day. I combine a healthy deep breath or two in my appreciation practice. It brings oxygen to my brain, clears out the cobwebs and really centers me as I remember or imagine something or someone I deeply appreciate. It takes less than a minute and feels like a mini-vacation.
Yes, it truly is that effective! That’s because the brain can’t tell the difference between something that is vividly imagined and something that actually happened. So, when you go to a special place of appreciation in your mind, your body believes it really is there and it starts pumping out all kinds of good chemicals that make you healthier, happier and more resilient. (You can read more about these kinds of practices in my book “54 Ways to Stay Positive in a Changing, Challenging and Sometimes Negative World”)
9. Do good deeds. Psychologists are proving that when you do a good deed and practice generosity it makes you feel real good, too. In fact, brain scientists say that good deeds actually “light up” the pleasure centers in the brain! Take good deeds to a whole new level by getting the whole team together to clean up the highway or the beach, or to build a house for someone less fortunate. Notice the positive, powerful difference it makes.
Appreciation is an important ingredient in the nurturing of relationships. While at first glance making appreciation a priority on your to do list may seem frivolous or “fluffy” I will leave you with one of my favorite questions, “If you’re not romancing your customers, who is?” sm