It can be altogether natural to feel overwhelmed and stressed even amid pandemic circumstances. Formerly isolating from friends, co-workers, and even family, worrying about getting sick or losing a job, and navigating an economic recession are all active agents of stress that many had to battle throughout last year and into the new. As part of a biological survival system, stress allows us to meet any challenges and demands within our environment. Various neurochemical and neuro-electrical reactions allow us to assess our surroundings, motivate us to meet goals, sharpen our ability to attend, and very briefly boost our immune system. Usually a stress-based response allows us to experience these benefits within a matter of hours and days, not weeks and months. Stress responses that become more long-term negatively impact our body’s ability to handle viral infections and adapt to immune system needs. With even more heightened stressors in our global season of navigating a healthcare crisis, there has been rich evidence to indicate that sharing compliments and expressing gratitude to others have mitigating effects on stress, can lift our mood, and increase agency for our well-being. 

Inside the current-day pandemic activities of daily demands, roles, and responsibilities, people can often hold back unnecessarily from giving compliments as well as demonstrate acts of appreciation for others due to a skeptical pessimism that positive messages shared will have on others. Self-doubt and anxiety are part of the hesitancy in giving meaningful compliments and verbally affirming others. Skillfully conveying praise or verbally calling forth positive acknowledgement of others can become hindered when we neglect to understand the benefits that these messages can carry. Those that seek to contribute to the well-being of their workplace, peer network, or family culture currently realize that keeping the morale up through praise and affirmation are essential interpersonal ingredients for boosting health in the relational atmosphere. Alan Mulally, a former CEO of Ford, would often be observed praising his employees, “It’s all about appreciating them, respecting them and thanking them at every step of the way.” In essence, the research tends to be very clear that praise and affirmation of others can positively increase health in any culture; yet, people tend to diminish the impact that tenderhearted and good-natured words of care can have on others. 

Study after study shows confirming evidence that richly supports how receiving compliments and verbal praises can brighten an individual’s day than originally anticipated by the “compliment-giver.” Appreciation can leave the recipient feeling much better and at ease, less uncomfortable in their surroundings. In many ways, gratitude contrasts the deleterious effects of stress on individuals in a culture and positive feedback promotes personal value. One study demonstrates how our brains respond to appreciation similarly to financial and monetary rewards. Giving compliments and positive affirmations can be a natural form of relational activity to uplift someone’s daily mood. However, people shy away from actually putting this into practice to make others genuinely feel appreciated and valued. We agree that one of the more straining parts of building a culture of appreciation will be coming up with some artful, tender, and meaningful ways of conveying our gratitude and affirmation. While the opportunities may be present, we tend not to take advantage of them to verbally appreciate, value, and praise someone. In one sense, our anxiety over its delivery prevents us from contributing meaningfully to a culture of appreciation. 

Whether giving compliments, verbal affirmations, or noticeable verbal praises – current evidence also reinforces that building a culture of appreciation not only has a positive mood-lifting effect but also enhances individual health. This allows both the givers and the receivers of affirmation to mutually benefit when an ecosystem of appreciation becomes formed. Pursuing and building a positive culture of appreciation with those around us has been important now more so than before. We can give consideration to the process of valuing, thanking, and regularly appreciating others and noting how these beneficial social gestures can create a ripple effect on our relational health. 

One critical emotional barrier to becoming more affirming can be our mistaken expectations of whether appreciation can truly benefit others. Adequately revising our personal beliefs about building a culture of appreciation and its many positive effects can allow us to overcome this problematic bias. A particularly effective strategy to overcome this concern is through a shift in our attention on how sincere, friendly, and warm our verbal affirmations can actually produce an authentic regard and interest in others. 

Senders and receivers both win. Focusing on the effects of our appreciation on others can minimize this bias to constantly evaluate if we are competently conveying our appreciation. Historic research also demonstrates that those who give compliments and affirmations underestimate how much recipients enjoy this appreciation. 

When repeatedly and routinely practiced, here are specific examples of how building a culture of appreciation around and within you can accompany more positive emotions: 

  • Being appreciative of others has been linked as a gateway into other positive emotional experiences that strengthen the quality of our relationship bonds. Interest in others, mutual enjoyment around them, and pride in the workplace can be restored. 
  • Similar to the routine activity of exercise and strength-training, gratitude for others and building a culture of appreciation can increase dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, the key neurotransmitters that serve to increase joy and contentment. Regularly appreciating others can increase the neural pathways toward ongoing experiences of happiness. 
  • The Greater Good Science Center at the University of Berkeley suggests journaling 3X per week on what you can be grateful for – use this as an opportunity to reflect on what you appreciate about others and implement a physical record to build your momentum. This practice can take up to 8 weeks to shift brain pathways and neural patterns. 
  • Researchers have recently indicated that appreciation “maintains positive emotions resulting from a positive experience.” In hindsight, the various reflections incorporated the view that gratitude and appreciation can “maintain elevated levels of positive emotions” for periods of time. 
  • There is nothing too small or insignificant to appreciate and be thankful for in this season. The habit of appreciating and thanking others can form favorable effects within culture. Regular practice can move toward constructing this reality. 
  • Building a culture of appreciation will be symbiotically involved with an upward spiral of joy and gratitude related to well-being according to empirical findings. With many seeking to feel better in this global season, experiencing and demonstrating appreciation and gratitude will be one of the most useful tools to wage effective warfare against despondent emotions and stressors. 

Seeking to build a culture of appreciation will yield great fruit in creating an inclusive environment where people foster meaningful and engaging dialogue with authentic interactions, acknowledge and view other perspectives, and ultimately produce vibrant connections.

Skillfully conveying praise or verbally calling forth positive acknowledgement of others can become hindered when we neglect to understand the benefits that these messages can carry.

By Deepak Santhiraj, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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