Are you sick of feeling unappreciated?
Taken for granted?
You probably do at times. Or maybe all the time.
It’s a terrible feeling.
Unfortunately we live in a world where we feel unappreciated by spouses, bosses, friends, and children.
While it would be great to receive sincere appreciation for our efforts, the fact is that we aren’t always going to get it.
So you can either complain about it and curse all these unappreciative people in your life, or you can take control the situation by changing the way you think about appreciation.
Feeling Unappreciated at Work
I had a boss back in my IT days that would criticize me for everything I did wrong. What he never observed was all of the things I did right.
And if I was right about something and he was wrong, he’d claim I got lucky and give me no credit whatsoever. And he would never, ever, admit an error on his part.
Later on, I had a fitness manager that would “test” me by leaving equipment on the gym floor to see if I would notice it and clean it up.
Anybody who knows me will attest that I pride myself on being conscientious. If I’m training people who are paying me, my focus is on them, not on gym equipment that I didn’t use and thus wouldn’t enter into my field of attention.
But what irked me most was that my manager never observed the times I did clean equipment up that I didn’t use. So I got called out in gym meetings, in front of the whole training staff, for not cleaning up. Obviously I could never be recognized for when I did clean up equipment, because my manager never noticed it.
I’m sure you can relate to my experience.
Get a Dog
10 years ago, I would have been upset about this situation.
These days, no big deal.
Why the change?
It’s reported that Harry Truman once quipped “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog”.
I came to that conclusion about appreciation.
The more you need anything, the more you desire it, the more troubled you become when you don’t get it.
There are three ways out of this mess:
1. Get a dog.
2. Find your “verse” by living an authentic experience. When you live a life of your own choosing, you know you are doing the right thing and don’t look for other people’s appreciation to validate your choices in life. Receiving appreciation becomes less important.
3. Give appreciation less importance by thinking about it differently. Learn to value its scarcity.
Even CEOs Feel Unappreciated
A recent opinion piece in Fortune has garnered considerable attention for its subject: a millionaire CEO who feels unfairly criticized, and thus unappreciated, by Bernie Sanders. In his mind, if more people were like him, America would be a better place.
The CEO goes on to extol his virtues:
1. he worked himself through college and avoided college debt
2. He worked really long hours and had no time for fun
3. his first business ventures failed yet he didn’t give up
4. being a CEO is very stressful
5. He’s a multi-millionaire
While many of his points fall under the “who cares?” category in my view of life, I emphatically agree, he is not what is wrong with America.
In fact, he’s a regular Horatio Alger. The kind of story Americans love to hear and believe possible, that of the self-made man.
The Study of Humans Are Worthless?
Towards the end of his op-ed, he took a gratuitous swipe at something near and dear to me: the humanities.
It’s fashionable these days to bash humanities degrees, or the humanities in general. I understand the argument. A humanities (or liberal arts) degree is impractical in an era where the STEM skills: science, tech, engineering, and math are what is needed for the high paying jobs of the future.
While I agree that these skills are important for our country and its economic prosperity, and that jobs based on these degrees are often high paying, I disagree with the idea that the liberal arts are worthless. It just depends on what you want to do with your life. If you want to get a high paying job, STEM is a good option.
But life isn’t about getting a high paying job.
Most people want to be happy.
The focus on high paying jobs is often a direct hindrance to personal happiness.
If my 10th grade Brit Lit teacher had bothered to tell me that Shakespeare was telling me something about life and happiness, I’d have paid more attention. But she didn’t frame it like that. So I tuned out. I think this is a common experience when students study the humanities.
They don’t feel these subjects pertain to them. But they do. These subjects don’t just pertain to us.
They are us.
While science studies human life on the biological level, you are not studying life as we humans consciously know it. You may learn how life comes to be, how it continues, but you aren’t studying the expression of life itself.
The humanities are the study of the story of life. Your life. My life. Everyone that has come before us. Everyone yet to come.
You are Julius Cesar. Do you not have pride and ego?
You are Macbeth. Do you not have ambition?
You are Ebeneezer Scrooge. Do you struggle with empathy?
You are The Great Gatsby. Do you not have financial concerns?
You are the great philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Buddha, Epicurus, Goethe, Spinoza, Kant, Ricardo, Adam Smith, Karl Marx. Do you not ponder the world around you?
You are Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Martin Luther King. Don’t you have problems to solve or great challenges to face?
The humanities examines life as it is: good and evil, brutal and tender, hilarious and sorrowful, exciting and boring.
They are the world’s vast collection of wisdom that transcends race and nationality. And that wisdom, which most people are regrettably unaware of, has something to teach you if you would only listen.
The single most important question the humanities pose is this:
What type of life is conducive to obtaining the greatest degree of happiness?
If you ponder what Robin Williams talks about in this clip from Dead Poet’s Society, you will be on your path to greater happiness.
How To Think About Appreciation
Appreciation is sincere.
It’s not sycophantic. It’s not flattery. It’s not praise. Those are all devoid of real meaning.
True appreciation is given in response to something beneficial you have done. Perhaps something you’ve done to help someone, a positive impact you’ve made in someone’s life.
So when sincere appreciation is received, it’s fantastic. It provides affirmation that you matter, that you have done something important.
Yet, appreciation is rarely expressed.
Mainly, I think most people are too concerned about themselves to even think of acknowledging their appreciation for you. But it doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate you. It just means they don’t express it. Or they don’t think of expressing it. I’m certainly guilty of that.
“Well, it shouldn’t be this way” you may think to yourself.
Why shouldn’t it?
You must deal with life the way it is, not the way you wish it were. Just because something would be better if it happened more often, doesn’t mean it should be that way. The world is the way the world is, and things have hardly changed over the course of human history.
Furthermore, why do we automatically assume that getting more appreciation would mean that our lives would be better?
I suspect that If you were shown appreciation every day, it would soon lose its effect. Humans habituate to everything, and once you become accustomed to a particular experience, the nature of the experience changes. It’s become normal. Once something becomes normal, you fail to notice it. Only novel things are noticed. But to be novel, it has to be infrequent.
Perhaps appreciation has to be rare in order to be truly appreciated. Maybe that’s the nature of appreciation (along with most things that make us feel good).
We do things, often unconsciously, out of a deep longing for recognition and to feel important. But it’s a losing proposition. It never works because appreciation of this type comes from external sources, and external sources never cure what is truly troubling you on the inside.
For me, living an authentic experience has made me appreciate myself. I don’t teach, train, and write in order to receive appreciation. I do them because they are, collectively, my verse. Every now and then I do receive some appreciation. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t feel good, because it does. But even if I didn’t receive the occasional appreciation, I would still do what I am doing, because my verse is me.
In a sense, I’m not pursuing my passions, or doing what I love. I’m doing what is simply the conscious expression of whatever it is inside me that makes me tick.
I stumbled upon this realization a few years ago. I awakened to the fact that I was doing what the world’s collective wisdom has always been telling us to do. I just hadn’t realized it yet.
And I never would have realized it if I hadn’t studied the human story.
If I hadn’t studied the humanities.
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