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Appreciation: A Fundamental Human Need
There’s a simple way to show it.
“The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” — William James, 1896
The words “thank you” and “I appreciate it” are often tossed around as casually as year-old magazines in medical waiting rooms.
They’re responses to kind gestures that we emit almost autonomously. (At least if we were raised with good manners.)
But let’s pause a moment and reflect on how a minor change in our language can lead to a major change in our thinking.
Gratitude itself is a wonderful thing. It’s when you take the time to reflect on something and you’re moved to feel a certain way. But gratitude is a personal feeling.
What if your gratitude could extend a little deeper, into appreciation?
Appreciation is gratitude expressed.
“I am grateful, not in order that my neighbor, provoked by the earlier act of kindness, may be more ready to benefit me, but simply in order that I may perform a most pleasant and beautiful act.” — Seneca, c. 60
Even better, if you can express your appreciation of the person rather than of the action, you make it deeply personal.
That is, telling someone I appreciate you rather than I appreciate it.
The mere substitution of a three-letter word makes all the difference in the world.
In April 1896, William James’s students at Radcliffe College sent him a potted Azalea plant. In response, he wrote the following letter to the class:
DEAR YOUNG LADIES, — I am deeply touched by your remembrance. It is the first time anyone ever treated me so kindly, so you may well believe that the impression on the heart of the lonely sufferer will be even more durable than the impression on your minds of all the teachings of Philosophy 2A. I now perceive one immense omission in my Psychology, — the deepest principle of Human Nature is the craving to be appreciated [emphasis mine -ed.], and I left it out altogether from the book, because I had never had it gratified till now. I fear you have let loose a demon in me, and that all my actions will now be for the sake of such rewards. However, I will try to be faithful to this one unique and beautiful azalea tree, the pride of my life and delight of my existence. Winter and summer will I tend and water it—even with my tears. Mrs. James shall never go near it or touch it. If it dies, I will die too; and if I die, it shall be planted on my grave.
Don't take all this too jocosely, but believe in the extreme pleasure you have caused me, and in the affectionate feelings with which I am and shall always be faithfully your friend,
And there you have the difference. James responded to the gesture from his students — a gesture that demonstrated their appreciation of him as a professor.
It made him realize that it’s more than just a need — it is so essential that it is a craving. And the intentional expression of appreciation makes a significant difference.
Let me try it here and you can tell me if you can feel it:
You’re a subscriber, and I appreciate it.
You’re a subscriber, and I appreciate you.
One is a throwaway, the other is a deliberate pause.
Perhaps the difference is subtle.
Then again, not every human need cries out to the heavens.
Wait — are you a subscriber?
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
Oh, one more thing:
Stay tuned later this week. I’ll have another edition with more on gratitude and appreciation, and if you’re a paying subscriber, you’ll receive some essential reading and listening material on that topic. Just check your status here: