Living: Art of appreciation

Master the skill of appreciating and bringing a smile on someone’s face
Last Updated 04 June 2018, 16:40 IST

On a bright, sunny morning, a woman was caught in the rush-hour traffic on her way to work. She was excited as it was her first day of work in her new, promoted role of human relations manager at the organisation she joined fresh out of university a few years ago. Her consistent excellence and pleasing personality won her steady promotions. She felt upbeat and looked forward to the new assignment with enthusiasm. Yet, on that morning the slow moving traffic on the highway annoyed her and dampened her spirits. Looking out of her car window, she let out a sigh in anger at the growing chaos of urban development. And in that mess of a situation, she caught sight of a music store across the road where a piano was on display. She noticed a man sitting in front of the piano and by the rapt expression on his face, inferred that he was playing melodious music.

With all the cacophony on the busy road, the woman couldn’t hear a single note that was being played. Even so, she was fascinated just watching him play with such rapture. Being the sort of person who always looked for something to appreciate in every person and in every situation, she waited for the man to look up from the piano keys. When he did look up soon, she caught his attention, held her hands up and applauded, mouthing the words, Bravo! Bravo!

Promptly the pianist stood up and took a bow. Then, they both laughed, the traffic light changed, the woman drove away, pleased with herself, humankind and life in general. That simple act of expressing appreciation, even to a total stranger, morphed the exasperating situation into an unexpected cheer. It made the world a better place, both for the one expressing appreciation and the one who was being appreciated.

A humble effort

“Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary,” said Margaret Cousins. History is full of examples of those who would have never made anything out of their lives had it not been for the sincere and constant appreciation they received from some source. In moments of discouragement and days of weariness, an unexpected word of appreciation comes as a whiff of fresh air to a stifled person and revives him.

The daily drudgery and burden of life are lightened when admiration and appreciation flow freely between people. For, when appreciation is not expressed, it leaves one of the deepest human need for acceptance and approval of others unfulfilled. When it is expressed it enriches both the giver and the receiver, because when we appreciate something or someone, we endorse the good and open ourselves to imbibing that good.

Perhaps this is what Voltaire meant as he said, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” In whatever way it is perceived, appreciation is a wonderful gesture which can be grasped by all. It just takes a few simple and consistent efforts to get at it. These few tips are good enough to get a hang of this delightful art of appreciation:

Look for the good

A professor I know once shared with me this insight he gained from the results of an unusual and surprise test that he had given to his students. The question paper had just one black dot in the centre of the page and at the end of the page was an instruction to the students to write a paragraph on what they observed. The class of brilliant youngsters was quick to pen their para-long answer.

When they had finished, the professor reviewed their answers. Though the answers varied in style and depth, each one of them had the black dot as the central theme. The answer revolved around its shape, size, location and other features. He described to me how everyone focused only on the black dot, ignoring the entire white sheet around the black dot. He used the analogy to explain how we tend to focus on the small, dark areas of life instead of at the bountiful, brighter side. And this tendency to overlook the good and concentrate on the gloom limits our capacity to be appreciative, he concluded. It left me convinced that the simplest way to express appreciation was to always learn to look for the good around us.

Express explicitly

Reena, a friend of mine, told me of an incident at her workplace. It was about Sonu, a recluse, who was perceived to be a snob and thus kept out of the social circle from the day she joined work. Sonu felt alienated and unappreciated which in turn affected her performance at work. Then one day all this changed when Reena gave her an impromptu compliment appreciating her hair-do. Surprised, Sonu smiled shyly and thanked Reena for her appreciation. All too soon Reena realised that Sonu’s aloofness was not because of snobbishness but rather because she was shy. Reena continued the chat with other pleasant observation about Sonu. Delighted at the avalanche of appreciation, Sonu started feeling at home. Noticing the pleasant conversation, others in the vicinity joined and slowly Sonu felt included in the social set up of the organisation.

With this acceptance, the listlessness she was experiencing vanished and she began to blossom at her job. “I discovered the joy of being instrumental in kindling the enthusiasm of another person and that also left me feeling enthusiastic,” Reena declared happily. Choosing to express our appreciation explicitly leaves a trail of goodness all around us.

Find a role model

Some people have an inborn ability to express appreciation sincerely and spontaneously. Whether it is a simple thank you or in the form of an elaborate gesture, they are natural at it. Chances are that we know or have read about some or many such people. For instance, I’ve read about the natural ability of the American President Theodore Roosevelt, in expressing appreciation warmly and instinctively. It is written that even during his campaign trips when the demands of his duties might have excused him from showing admiration, he always left his private train to stop and applaud the services of the engineers and the firemen for a safe and comfortable trip. People like him — and others we may know — stand as role models for us to be inspired by and follow.

Make it a daily exercise

Appreciation should not be expressed grudgingly, once in a blue moon for some selfish reasons. Rather it should be a daily exercise, done with sincerity and out of genuine friendship and gratitude. By practising this wonderful art consistently, we can master it. And there are plenty of ways in which we can show our appreciation to all around. On the way to our work, we can thank the traffic cops or the stranger who stops to allow us to cross the road with a gesture of the hand, a nod or just by a grateful glance or a smile. At a deeper level, we can say a few words of appreciation to people we run into on a daily basis. Sending an email, a thank you card or a handwritten letter thanking someone on a regular basis works wonders to uplift the person and leaves us feeling happy.

Appreciation in any form meets and satisfies the basic human desire to be accepted, approved of and admired. When we yearn appreciation ourselves, why should we shy away from expressing it to those who really deserve it? It’s time we learn to say aloud as often as possible, “Bravo! Bravo!”

(Published 31 May 2018, 12:10 IST)

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