I’m not gonna apologize that I’ve had (and have) all these things. It’s not about feeling guilty. It’s about feeling and showing appreciation. I am so incredibly thankful that I’ve had all these things growing up, that I’ve never had a traumatic experience, that my parents have supported me through all my crazy endeavors. I’m very much aware that that’s not normal.
This quote is taken from my most recent article about privileges. There, I pointed out that instead of feeling guilty about your privileges, you should use them to make other people’s lives better. There is one more important factor to it though: appreciation.
I’m currently sitting in a train to Frankfurt, riding through the beautiful, snowy bavarian landscape. Seeing these fields, forests, small villages in their natural beauty reminds of me of a very similar train ride — exactly one year ago. So much has changed in this one year. I’m not going to bore you to death with what exactly has changed that year, but much rather how I feel about it: thankful.
In 2017, many things fell in place for me — seemingly without any conscious effort. Of course, hard work pays off eventually and failures are the best opportunities to grow. However, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in the past year, it is showing appreciation for what and whom you have. It starts with the small things. I booked this train ticket an hour ago, something I would’ve never wanted to afford a year ago when I was a student. And I appreciate the fact that I’m financially able to do that. To sit in a modern train, typing on a Macbook, not having to worry about anything really (aside of what I’m eating tonight — most likely red lentils, grilled cheese and lots of broccoli as usual).
Sure, one could always upgrade. I could be traveling first class. I could be typing on a Macbook Pro instead of a Macbook Air. I could be having hand crafted coffee from happy coffee plants, roasted in the farmer’s grandma’s basement and traded fairly instead of sipping on train station filter coffee. Is that really necessary though? No. I’m happy with the way it is and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world (although sometimes, ya know, I’d love to exchange Germany in Winter for a remote island in Oceania … you know, sun and all that).
When you start appreciating the small things, you also start building more and more appreciation for the bigger things. Family. Friends. Job. It’s not ordinary to have great people around you, no. It’s a blessing. And you should make that known. When was the last time you’ve told someone that you love them? How much you appreciate their friendship? Have you ever spoken to your boss how much you enjoy your work (assuming that is the case — if not, what are you doing there anyway?)? Try these things. Say them as you mean them. It’ll evoke a dynamic you may not have witnessed before.
This fall, we were doing a company offsite in Southern France. Its purpose was to align the team and the strategy, to grow as a team and as a company, to figure out how we’re going to do business in the future. One workshop that we had ended with a very esoteric exercise: Walk up to every team member and tell them one thing that you really appreciate about them. “Bullshit”, I thought. “Fuck this we-love-everybody, everybody-is-a-champion crap. We’re doing fucking business, not some esoteric hippie shit.” Boy, was I wrong. I’ve rarely felt so happy and so loved in my life. The feeling that you get when people point out factors about you that they really appreciate, yet you didn’t know about, is simply awesome. What was even more striking: It felt absolutely amazing to speak open to my colleagues, my friends, about what I truly appreciate about them. It relieved a burden from my heart that I hadn’t been aware of at all. I don’t consider myself a sentimental person — sentimentality isn’t rational, hence it’s not for me -, yet I had to hold back tears. Of joy. Of happiness. Of relief. That was one of the first times where I truly showed appreciation for people.
Ever since, I’ve started to adopt the habit of showing appreciation more and more. These can be small things: genuine compliments, a quick message or simply a hug. They can also be larger things, such as telling people how much I appreciate them and their friendship. This, in turn, has made a lot of my relationships more open and honest, increasing the room for deep, inspiring conversation without the urge to hold anything back.
After all, what’s wrong with showing appreciation? I used to live in a competitive, scarcity-driven mindset: if you show appreciation for someone and their talents, don’t you automatically admit that they’re better at it than you are? If you do that, do you put yourself below them? No. Relationships and life in general aren’t zero-sum games. They feed off each other and become better with every increasing step of appreciation and honesty. Showing appreciation creates abundance and improves the lives of everyone around you. It makes you happier. Try thinking about all the things that you have and then try not to smile. It’s almost impossible, no matter how shitty life may be at times. We all have something, someone in our lives that makes it worth living. Else, we wouldn’t be around. Appreciate that. Show the appreciation.
So, the next time you find yourself in a situation that you find simply awesome, take 20 seconds to reflect. Let the thankfulness flow through you. Make yourself aware how cool that is. Yesterday, I found myself at lake Tegernsee with two very good friends, looking into the snowy mountains with the sun setting behind them. It was beautiful. So was the feeling of appreciation that these small things are available to us, anytime, anyday — and that great friends are there for you, too.
More importantly though, the next time you encounter a friend, a family member or just the cashier at the supermarket, tell them how much you appreciate them. How you like their new shoes. How you love the way they face certain challenges. How you enjoy spending time. Do that, and great things will happen.
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