Words of encouragement and thanks have great power. Here are some key benefits of appreciation and some of the most effective ways to express gratitude.
The summer after I graduated from college, I landed a job with my hometown newspaper. I would be doing a little of everything—writing, page layout, display advertising design and even some typesetting. Admittedly, it was all quite challenging for me, and I learned a lot by trial and error.
At one point, I was sure I would lose this job. I had typed up a wedding announcement and misspelled the surname of the groom, who was a member of a prominent family in the community. His mother called my editor to complain about the error, and my editor then called me into his office.
After I learned what happened, I expected my editor’s next words would be, “You’re fired!” Instead, he told me, “Don’t let this discourage you. We all make mistakes, and that’s how we learn. We really appreciate your hard work and that you’ve been willing to tackle lots of different tasks.”
Power of appreciation
Over the years, I’ve thought back on this incident many times. Rather than hammer me for my blunder, my boss chose to offer encouragement and express his appreciation. His words made me feel like he truly cared about me and recognized my efforts, which helped me keep a positive mind-set.
There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t want—and need—to hear these kinds of words. It feels good knowing others value what we do.
On the flip side, it can also feel good being the one who passes on such praise. Still, showing appreciation isn’t just a nice thing to do. Being appreciative is an essential godly character trait. It’s an important way to show love to other people.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines appreciation as “a feeling or expression of admiration, approval or gratitude.” Saying “thank you” after receiving a gift or in response to a kind gesture is just part of it. Appreciation can also mean voicing sincere praise or compliments to someone, warmly greeting others when we see them, or simply reminding ourselves of other people’s good qualities—as opposed to focusing on their faults or what we don’t like about them.
Words of encouragement
The apostle Paul said we should “encourage one another and build up one another” and “appreciate those who diligently labor among you” (1 Thessalonians 5:11-12, New American Standard Bible). Verse 12 refers to how we relate to our spiritual leaders, but it is a principle that can be applied to other relationships as well.
The right words can uplift and strengthen others (Proverbs 12:25; 16:24), and some of the most encouraging words of all are heartfelt appreciation. When we express this kind of sentiment, we are following the steps of Jesus Christ, who praised people when they did what was right (Matthew 15:28; Mark 14:6-9; Luke 7:9; 21:1-4).
The Bible includes many other examples of the power of appreciation:
- Paul complimented the brethren in Rome, Colosse, Thessalonica and Corinth for their conduct.
- Boaz commended Ruth for her kindness and devotion (Ruth 2:11-12; 3:10).
- Jethro instructed his daughters to invite Moses to eat a meal with them to thank him for helping them (Exodus 2:16-20).
- The Proverbs 31 woman was praised by her husband and children (verses 28-31).
We, too, should be thankful for the people in our lives and be willing to bestow praise when it is called for.
How gratitude helps
The No. 1 reason we should offer appreciation to others is that God’s Word tells us we should strive to be like Him—and showing appreciation is part of God’s unselfish nature.The No. 1 reason we should offer appreciation to others is that God’s Word tells us we should strive to be like Him—and showing appreciation is part of God’s unselfish nature. Beyond that, it’s also helpful to understand exactly how appreciation is beneficial to the giver and receiver. Here are some of the fruits of appreciation:
- It makes others feel valued and loved. To tell someone, “I was impressed by your music performance,” or, “Thanks for your help; I couldn’t have finished the project without you,” and mean it, communicates to him or her that it was worthwhile, and that he or she is needed and wanted. We all want to know that our lives count and that we matter to someone.
- It can inspire others to work harder, persevere and stay on the right path. When Paul expressed appreciation to the brethren, he knew he would be spurring them on and encouraging them to live godly lives. And when my editor pointed out what I was doing right, that gave me a resolve to not give up when the job got challenging.
- It deepens the bonds between us and others. Psychologists tell us that when we express appreciation to other people, they appreciate us more, which amplifies those positive feelings. Connections between people strengthen when each person feels appreciated.
- It takes the focus off of us, which keeps us grounded. God created us to need the help and support of others. Yet the natural human mind wants to exalt the self. As a culture, we tend to idolize the self-made man. These approaches make it harder to see what others have to offer. However, when we direct our attention to other people’s skills, talents, hard work and good ideas, it helps us remember how much we benefit from them and that we should celebrate others’ accomplishments—not just our own. This helps us develop a more godly approach when interacting with others.
- It helps us stay positive. By trying to appreciate those around us, our demeanor improves. There is little room for gossip, backbiting or complaining when we’re focusing on others’ strengths—instead of zeroing in on their weaknesses. This is true even if we don’t verbalize our admiration. Just being more mindful of what there is to appreciate about others can put us in a thankful attitude and make us more pleasant to be around.
- It creates harmony. Being appreciative can prevent tension and conflicts. We’re less likely to be frustrated or irritable with people when we’re truly thankful for them. One woman confided to me, “My husband has certain idiosyncrasies that really grate at me. When I find myself getting annoyed, I start thinking about all his good qualities, and that helps me keep things in perspective.”
How to show appreciation
As important as it is to show appreciation, it’s not something we see a lot of in society today. In fact, the Bible warns us that during the years leading up to Christ’s return, mankind would be “unthankful” (2 Timothy 3:1-2), among other destructive attitudes.
We can see it all around us.
Turn on the television, go on social media or walk into the office breakroom or school cafeteria and very often the talk is critical, negative or destructive. “Negativity is pervasive in our world today,” writes leadership expert Mike Robbins in Focus on the Good Stuff (2007, p. 21). “We tend to focus on what we don’t like, what gets on our nerves, or what annoys us about other people” (p. 24).
All this negativity is a reflection of our extremely competitive society, explains Mr. Robbins: “Many of us are quite proud of our competitiveness and our drive to succeed. … When we relate to others from this place of comparison and competition, someone has to win and someone has to lose. This naturally sets up a negative dynamic that makes appreciation, acknowledgment, and gratitude difficult, if not impossible” (p. 31).
But while ingratitude and negativity are all around us, we must strive to live differently. There are many ways to express gratitude, but some of the most effective are:
- Verbal recognition. The obvious way to show appreciation is, when you see others do things right, sincerely praise them. If you’re at a restaurant and your server provides exceptional service, tell him or her. At the supermarket, thank the bagger for carefully packing your groceries. When your children get their homework done without grumbling, commend them for their good attitudes. Be specific. Tell others exactly what you appreciate about them.
- Positive body language. Your body language should reinforce what you say. Even if you don’t say a word, positive gestures such as smiling, making appropriate eye contact and listening attentively send the message that you value the person.
- Handwritten notes. Write notes of appreciation not only to thank others after they’ve done something for you, but also to compliment them on a job well done or to tell them how much they mean to you. You might mail a card to congratulate a friend on his or her promotion. Leave notes in your spouse’s laptop bag or on your coworkers’ desks, expressing your gratitude for them. The fact that you took the time to write a note will mean a lot.
- Service. Do favors for the people in your life as a way of thanking them for doing a good deed or simply to encourage them. Prepare your husband’s favorite meal after a rough workday. Do your daughter’s household chores for her during the week she’s studying for school exams. Sit with a single mother at church so you can help watch her children. Serving others in these ways tells them you recognize their efforts and appreciate what they’re doing.
Of course showing appreciation starts with being appreciative. Our thoughts turn into our actions, which is why Philippians 4:8 should be our goal: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, … just, … pure, … lovely, … of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things.”
This is not to say we need to completely gloss over the negatives about someone. Back to that incident on my first newspaper job—my editor didn’t pretend my mistake didn’t happen. But he also didn’t dwell on it. We, too, should be striving to see others in a positive light. True, this isn’t the way humans naturally think. But God will help us monitor and control our thoughts if we ask Him.
It’s when we truly have an appreciative mind-set that we’ll be able to genuinely and effectively express our appreciation to others.