At a recent workshop, a participant told me, “It feels awkward to spot strengths in a conversation and even more awkward to deliberately express appreciation.” This can be true for many people. But isn’t that a sad reality, that so many of us find it personally challenging to label a positive, core quality in another person?
Some practicing of strengths appreciation, along with some knowledge of the research, can go a long way in shifting this awkwardness, at home or at work.
I have previously made the argument for taking time to express your strengths. (See Talk About Your Strengths and Eight Reasons You Should Talk About Your Strengths.) To express appreciation is to express value for someone else. Many times our appreciation is vague and general, involving a mindless “thank you” or a passing comment like, “I appreciate your help.” One way to bring deeper meaning to appreciation is to be specific—and what aspect of a person would it be better to be specific about than their core personality traits?
This can be done in many ways. Here is a simple 3-step approach:
- Offer the rationale for the strength; strengths-spotting doesn’t have much substance without this step: “I’ve noticed curious you are because you are always exploring new foods and restaurants.”
- Express appreciation. Tell the person you value that they used the strength. This is a way to drive home step 2, and really help make it stick, but it is important to be genuine. Remember that appreciation can be expressed verbally—“I really valued hearing about how brave you were yesterday”—or nonverbally via a well-timed pat on the shoulder or a hug.
These steps can be viewed as sequential in that each builds upon the other and the impact becomes stronger.
But what’s the point? What does science say about appreciation?
- Appreciation matters. Those who express appreciation with their partner are more committed to them and more likely to stay in the relationship.
- Those who are taught to savor their past or present have greater happiness than those who do not.
- You can spur appreciation by mentally subtracting positive events. Imagine yourself not having a particular positive event occur in your life or consider: What would your life be like if you hadn’t met your partner? This strategy improves people’s positive emotions and well-being.
- Feeling and expressing gratitude toward your partner has been associated with stronger relationships, higher marital satisfaction, and greater willingness to share concerns in the relationship.
- Appreciation is not all positive. It can have negative effects as well, such as lowering one’s aspirations. If we spend all of our time being appreciative and content with the status quo, we draw attention away from future possibilities. Be mindful of a balance between aspiration and appreciation in your life.
- Be cautious when drawing comparisons. Attempting to foster appreciation by comparing yourself with others has been shown to boost both positive and negative emotions.
- Adler, M. G., & Fagley, N.S. (2005). Appreciation: Individual differences in finding value and meaning as a unique predictor of subjective well-being. Journal of Personality, 73(1). 79-114.
- Algoe, S. B., Gable, S. L., & Maisel, N. C. (2010). It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships. Pesonal Relationships, 17, 217-233.
- Bao, K. J., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2013). Making it last: Combating hedonic adaptation in romantic relationships. Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(3), 196-206.
- Koo, M., Algoe, S. B., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2008). It’s a wonderful life: Mentally subtracting positive events improves people’s affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1217-1224.
- Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2012). The challenge of staying happier: Testing the hedonic adaptation prevention (HAP) model. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 670-680.
Originally published at www.psychologytoday.com