Pioneering psychologist William James is best known for his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, where he wrote, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Is this true for you?
I read that line when I was seeking new inspiration on the perennial theme of encouragement. Thinking about it for several days, I found it increasingly fruitful, not least because it seems to say that quietly appreciating our own lives and selves is rarely enough. With few exceptions, we crave to be acknowledged and appreciated by other people and most of all by those with whom we work or share our lives.
These are the facts: we are social beings; we need one another. And we especially need kindness from one another and the confidence that we matter. James’s statement brings that interdependence sharply into focus, particularly once we begin to see ourselves through others’ eyes and wonder what on earth it is we are being appreciated for.
My hunch is that while most of us are delighted when we are appreciated for our actions and achievements, the deep and perhaps unconscious craving that James refers to is for something still more profound. Beyond our rare big moments, beyond whatever prizes or promotions we manage to accumulate, or goals we manage to attain, we want to be appreciated for ourselves. We want to be appreciated for our being, not just our doing. We want our private, vulnerable self to mean something. That’s often what we crave most from those we love: the reassurance of being wholeheartedly and unreservedly accepted.
In hoping for appreciation from others, we are forced to recognize that we will never be able to control how or even if other people will express their appreciation towards us. Where we can take charge is in how generously we will offer our appreciation and encouragement to other people – and especially those we claim to love.
This must go beyond kind words, gifts, as lovely as they are. If it is even half as important as William James claims then appreciation, like kindness, needs to become a way of life. Our acts of kindness, good humor and gratitude, our moments of conscious restraint, our willingness to forgive, compromise and tolerate, our confident acceptance that sometimes our agenda will not prevail: these are all ways to express and develop the deepest levels of appreciation that are in our hearts.
They are all ways to say, unceasingly, “You matter.”