The True Purpose of Appreciation

March 27, 2024

This week’s article by Wise Heart dives a little deeper into the true purpose of appreciation as well as common obstacles we encounter in either giving or receiving appreciation. Appreciation is relationship competency 1 (of 12) within the Mindful Compassionate Dialogue system. In next week’s blog we’ll look at the Three Types Of Appreciation.

When there is a sense of clarity and trust between you and another about the intention to consider each other’s needs, all other parts of relating are easier. Appreciation is one of the most simple and direct ways to create that clarity and trust. Unfortunately, other ideas interfere with this simple practice. Here’s a snapshot of a common conversation:

Adriana: I just want some appreciation for doing laundry and making dinner, but it’s not like I need compliments. I mean I make dinner and do laundry because I want to.

Chris: I give you appreciation all the time. I don’t see why I have to appreciate you for what you are supposed to be doing anyway. You should just do it.

Ugh, I feel heavy just writing this dialogue. Sadly, I hear some version of this quite often. In this example, both Adriana and Chris are confused about the true purpose of appreciation.

Adriana longs for appreciation and at the same time resists this longing because of thoughts that it’s about building up self-esteem or ego.  Adriana also wants to be seen for a natural willingness to contribute to the relationship and doesn’t want Chris to think it’s about doing something to gain approval or get some external reward.

Chris is likely confused about the difference between appreciation and praise. Chris thinks that using labels like “great, awesome, perfect” etc. is appreciation. Unfortunately, this is the very thing that Adriana doesn’t want. Labelling someone or telling them who they are, even if you think it is a positive thing is a form of judgment.  No one likes to be judged.  Appreciation is an expression of your own experience of someone’s actions; not a judgment of who someone is or is not.

Chris also wants Adriana to contribute because it is an expression of heartfelt giving and is afraid that a request for appreciation is an indication of obligation or duty.  Asking for appreciation doesn’t imply obligation or duty or desire for reward.  Appreciation is a universal need and when you ask for it you are taking responsibility for your need rather than silently hoping someone will figure it out.

Both Chris and Adriana may avoid appreciation because it triggers shame.  When shame is up, appreciation is perceived as criticism about all the times it wasn’t working.  Avoiding appreciation will not help resolve shame; in fact, the very opposite is true.  If you can simply name shame as it arises and remain present while even the smallest part of you receives the appreciation, shame will dissolve little by little.  

When Adriana asks for appreciation, what’s really being said is something like this, “It’s so important to me to contribute in a meaningful way. I want to know how what I do affects you. Am I effectively meeting needs for you and our family?”

Hearing this, Chris understands that expressing appreciation isn’t about judging Adriana or trying to build self-esteem. Chris gets that it’s about expressing an experience of behaviour that meets needs. So, for example, the next time Adriana does something to contribute, however mundane, Chris can express the experience of that, “Seeing such a clean kitchen I feel relaxed and have a sense of peace. Thanks!”

Hearing this from Chris, Adriana feels satisfaction knowing that cleaning the kitchen has contributed meaningfully and knowing which behaviours meet which needs.

As Chris and Adriana share appreciations daily around the special and the mundane, their natural desire to contribute is enhanced and their clarity about how to truly support each other deepens. Over time they experience an incredible sense of ease as they move together in harmony.

The true purpose of appreciation is to become aware of and communicate about what meaningfully contributes to life.  Experiencing and offering appreciation is fundamentally a practice of directing your attention to what’s working.  An untended mind will automatically focus on discomfort and then look for what’s wrong.  Directing your attention towards what’s working and allowing a feeling of gratitude to arise is a habit worth cultivating.  This focus on what’s working contributes to resilience, communication, clarity, trust, and creativity.

As you develop the habit of attending to and expressing appreciation for what’s going well you may struggle with a few things.  Shame, fear of manipulation, and fear of inauthenticity are the most common obstacles.  Many experiences of offering and receiving appreciation in a new way are needed before these obstacles cease to arise.

I encourage you to look for what works and express appreciation as often as possible to develop the habit and a sense of comfort with it.  Light-hearted humour and gentleness can help with the awkwardness of giving and receiving that is inevitable at first.  Let your partner know that even when your expression of appreciation is awkward it is still authentic.  Frequent reassurance about authenticity may be needed at first, as you both overcome previous associations with appreciation.


Take a moment to reflect on appreciation in a significant relationship. Ask yourself if you are caught in any of the confusion or obstacles listed above.  Reflect on them and how and when they show up.

Challenge yourself to express at least one appreciation to your partner (or any other significant relationship like parent, child, sibling, friend, etc.) every day for a week. Remember, appreciation isn’t praise or a simple thank you. It’s an expression of your experience (feelings and needs alive for you) in response to something someone does that meets needs. 

Here’s one of the Mindful Compassionate Dialogue appreciation formats to use:

When I notice that you…, I feel…, because it meets my need for… Just wanted to let you know.

With love.

If you would like to learn and cultivate the relational competencies, communication skills and emotional capacity needed to create compassionate, skilful and thriving relationships with yourself and others, have a look at our upcoming Mindful Compassionate Dialogue course. Click HERE.

You are also invited to join our free biweekly Empathy Circle, where you can learn and discover what empathy is, and more importantly, practice giving and receiving empathy, allowing you to be deeply seen and heard in whatever challenge or celebration you’re navigating. Click HERE.

If you’d like to experience a powerful coaching conversation, book a complimentary 1:1 Coaching Call with me. Click HERE.

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