Appreciate the Good

The word “appreciate” has two definitions:

  1. to be grateful for something (as in, “I appreciate your help.”)
  2. to grow over time (as in, “The value of your retirement account appreciates.”)

But these two meanings aren’t always separate; sometimes they are intertwined. For instance, when something good, such as the value of our home, appreciates, we like that – we appreciate that. This is fairly intuitive.

What I want to discuss is the less intuitive link between the two definitions of appreciate, and for that, I’ll now pass the mic to former Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar, because he said it best:

“Appreciate the good, and the good appreciates.”1

When we are grateful for the good things in our lives, more good things tend to come our way. When you thank someone for doing something nice, they become more likely to do nice things in the future. When you count your blessings, you might find that you have more blessings than you originally thought. That’s why gratitude journaling tends to make people happier. (The flip-side of this is that complaining tends to make things worse.)

In the world of teaching, coaching, and parenting, this principle is normally called “positive reinforcement.” When a child does something right, praise that behavior. The reward of praise encourages the good behavior to be repeated. This tends to be more effective than criticism at producing behavioral change.

And this would be a good time to remember how to praise children well. The type of praise that encourages children to develop a growth mindset emphasizes the choices they’ve made rather the character traits they have.2 Good praise is focused on the details of their behavior – the techniques and strategies used, the effort that was demonstrated.2

We probably spend too much time addressing weaknesses and too little time developing strengths. It’s often better to pour our energy into growing what works rather than fixing what is supposedly broken, and one way to do this is to recognize and be grateful for that which is working. This is critical for developing healthy self-esteem. Appreciating what is going well helps people who feel like everything is going wrong remember that some things are actually going right.

This isn’t to say that you should never criticize that which you don’t want a child to do. It’s often necessary. Rather, this is a reminder that correcting what’s wrong shouldn’t be the primary device in your toolkit. Correct the bad, but don’t forget to appreciate the good.

Thank you for reading.

1 Ben-Shahar, Tal. Psychology 1504: Positive Psychology. Harvard Open Course, 2009.

2 Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books, 2007.

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