An Exercise in Appreciation

The more you complain, the better you get at complaining.

When you consistently feed the part of yourself that emphasizes what’s wrong with a situation, you actually become more proficient at seeing what’s wrong. The same is true of expressing gratitude. The more you practice the art of appreciation, the better you get at recognizing things that can be appreciated.

I suspect that you don’t need any help at knowing how to complain, but if you’re interested in developing an “attitude of gratitude” here’s a little exercise you might find fruitful:

Action step #1: Make a list of 5 people who annoy you.

Action step #2: For each person on that list, make a list of 5 qualities you genuinely appreciate about them.

Rule #1: Don’t use any disclaimers.

If one of the people on your list is your Uncle Jimmy, you can’t say something like “Even though Uncle Jimmy is really impolite, I appreciate the fact that he always speaks the truth.” Instead, try something like “I appreciate that fact that Uncle Jimmy always speaks the truth and that you never have to worry about him lying to you.” Instead of saying something like “Even though Mark has terrible breath, he sure is a very considerate person,” try something like “I appreciate the fact that Mark is very considerate of others and he never forgets important dates.

This can be a very difficult thing to do because we often feel as if negative qualities must be explicitly called out whenever we discuss a person’s positive qualities. It takes a lot of creativity and effort to become good at emphasizing someone’s positive attributes without feeling like we have to be “honest” (what we actually mean is “explicit”) about their negative attributes. Isn’t it interesting how we never apply that logic in reverse? We’re very good at discussing people’s negative qualities without making the slightest mention of their positive attributes. And we hardly ever feel dishonest when we do that sort of thing. Fascinating.

Rule #2: Don’t force it.

When you identify attributes that you want to include on your list, make it genuine. This is not an exercise in forcing yourself to feel grateful about things you aren’t sincerely thankful for. This is an exercise in learning how to sort out the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, the praiseworthy from the blameworthy in a manner that is honest and thoughtful.

“Hey T.K., why does the exercise focus on people that are annoying? Shouldn’t it focus on people we like?”

If the world only consisted of things that you liked, there would be no need to be thankful. If all forms of goodness were easily seen, we’d never need to remind ourselves of the power of appreciation. The real power lies in our ability to look past the obvious. In every situation, there is something to like and dislike.

No matter how wonderful a situation is, there’s something you can find that’s worth criticizing. Most of us are already good at that. But the reverse is also true. No matter how bad a situation is, there’s always something worth appreciating.

When you can learn how to appreciate the good things without feeling like it’s the same as condoning the bad things, you will have developed a rare quality that truly makes life worth living.

Even if you disagree, I appreciate the fact that you took the time to hear my point of view.

Happy Thanksgiving,