Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > December 2020

Riddle: What can you give that everyone craves, that is easy to give, but difficult to obtain?

Answer: Appreciation.

"The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated." - famous quote from William James (American psychologist)

"The desire for a feeling of importance is one of the chief distinguishing differences between mankind and the animals." - Dale Carnegie in his classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence people (part 1, chapter 2)

It is easy to give appreciation, because it has no cost. One merely needs to be observant.

If it is so easy to give, why should it craved? It is because it is rarely received! In one's career one is expected to "do one's job" without requiring praise, and so the only kind of feedback typically received is when there is a failure. Likewise with other responsibilities, such as caring for children.

That is why appreciation is difficult to obtain. One cannot rely on receiving appreciation from others.

A wise person will not stake his (or her) self-esteem on the praise of other people, because it is outside of his control. Instead, he will judge himself on his own ideals, of the kind of person he wishes to be, which is within his control (both to succeed and to fail). Nevertheless, it is a very pleasant occurrence if one does receive some words of appreciation.

If we accept the motto to "spread happiness," why would we not provide this source of joy that costs nothing to give, yet is so rare and widely craved? Even if we do not receive it much ourselves, it is easily given, and it casts a vote for a more pleasant world around us.

Moreover, if we give some careful thought to generosity and to the principle of the expanding wave of generosity, we can see that a generous person achieves a greater impact by giving to people who will spread the wave than to those who will not. "Spreading the wave" means paying it forward, to help others after they themselves have been helped or rescued.

And how shall a generous person determine if the recipient of his kind action is likely to do that? He needs some kind of clue. One method is to give a small gift at first to see what feedback he gets. The most obvious feedback: appreciation or the lack thereof!

So, people benefit by giving appreciation not just by spreading joy, but by making themselves more worthy for the generosity of others.

Little children display their appreciation instinctively, which is one reason why adults find them to be so adorable. They display their displeasure vividly too, but children are typically happy more often than sad, so the joyful expression is what is most observed and remembered. When my children were little, they were so happy to meet me when I returned home from a day of work, that I wasn't just a dad, papa, or "pop"--I felt like a "pop star."

But as people grow older, they must study or work, and the exuberance of laughter and joy can get in the way of study just as much as fits of frustration. Of necessity, people learn to "tone it down." They learn to stop expressing whether their motives are fulfilled or not, and in hiding their emotions they also feel them less intensely. Instead, frustrations are left to smolder slowly, appreciation is left unsaid, and opportunities for joy are lost.

There needs to be a balance between "getting the job done" and "expressing one's self." It can be a matter of finding the right time, but also of making sure to find the time.

As I am writing this, it is the Christmas season of 2020. In this season, the Covid Pandemic is still engulfing the world, and people are avoiding contact outside of their own immediate families. But still it is a time of generosity and giving. It is a time to appreciate those people who are close to us, who love us and whom we love. It is a time to communicate to those who are far away, to wish them well or to mail gifts. For those of us who have avoided the Covid virus or who have recovered from it, it is also a time to remember how important life is, and to appreciate more the future opportunities ahead of us.

Because no matter what disaster may befall us in the world, there is one gift that cannot be taken away. It is the gift of knowing that someone appreciates us for who we are. No matter if that person can no longer be near, or if they someday pass away, that is a fact that remains so regardless. That is a gift you can give that does not disappear.

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