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For some time now, I have expressed appreciation straight-forwardly. Simple Appreciations make people light up with happy smiles; it is one of my favourite communication habits.

After picking up Simple Appreciations, I have started getting invited to more contexts. People tell me that I brighten their days and help them appreciate life. They want to spend more time with me. I feel more appreciation and happiness, leading to increased productivity and general well-being.

In this post, I will tell you about Simple Appreciations, go through why I believe they are so effective, and end with the practical steps I’ve taken to incorporate them into my life.

I hope that this post will help you live a happy life with friends who support you in growing as a person.

 

What is Simple Appreciations?

The core of the idea is simple: whenever I experience a positive emotion directed at someone, I express appreciation as simply and directly as possible.

Here are some examples, all said in a heartfelt, emotionally connected way: “I’m happy you are here”, “I start smiling when I see you, I like having you around”, “I like you”, “I like talking to you”.

 

The Benefits of Simple Appreciations

Expressing positive feelings in simple ways has a lot of benefits! Let me run through the benefits I’ve experienced!

 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy & Gratitude Journalling

The basis of cognitive behavioural therapy is the idea that your actions, emotions and thoughts all affect each other. By focusing on the things you are grateful for, you will feel happier, leading to an increase in well-being. A gratitude journal is one way to focus more on things you are grateful for. I’ll talk about my take on gratitude journalling later in this post!

I haven’t found any research, but I’m confident that Simple Appreciations increase well-being in the same way gratitude journalling does. Similar to gratitude journalling, Simple Appreciations highlights the things you are grateful for. Feeling grateful is a good first step towards feeling great.

Simple Appreciations have a key benefit compared to traditional gratitude journaling— they are social.

Expressing appreciation helps the other person appreciate your mutual connection, contributing to their level of well-being as well as yours. Besides affecting the other person in isolation, your relationship is also strengthened. Mutually appreciating a connection is a win-win-win.

 

Expressing Gratitude - Keeping it Simple

Many people wrap their appreciations into “grown-up” language, finding socially acceptable ways to express appreciation. They might say things like “Thank you for showing up and helping out with X”, or “Thank you for being there for me when Y”.

This doesn’t always work. Sometimes you simply feel appreciation. Sometimes you don’t have a socially acceptable reason for your appreciation. Don’t waste time and energy trying to find an excuse. Expressing the appreciation in a simple and heartfelt way is enough!

Expressing appreciation for one person makes it easier to feel appreciation for someone else. By expressing appreciation in simple ways, you can express appreciation towards multiple people without having to figure out socially acceptable reasons for doing so.

 

Supporting Others Through Performance Anxiety and Low Self-Esteem

People with low self-esteem are appreciation-resistant. They are afraid to be disappointed, and “wave away” expressions of appreciation rather than risking taking them to heart. They fear interpreting appreciation that isn’t there.

My experience expressing Simple Appreciation is that it “lands”, leaving people surprised and delighted. Simple appreciations are easy to express and easy to receive, as long as the requisite feeling is there.

I find this to be especially valuable when I notice people getting intimidated by me. Sometimes when I dive into analysis while talking to a new person, they start doubting their ability to contribute. I usually enjoy the conversation and want to help them get out of performance anxiety-driven self-doubt.

If I meet them in their anxious frame and try to reassure them by saying something like “It’s not a problem, I think you are contributing […]”, I accept the idea that conversations are about performance. This kind of response risks increasing their performance anxiety. It’s likely that they “wave away” the reassurance, not taking it to heart.

A better way to help people let go of performance anxiety is by using Simple Affirmations. When someone I care about starts doubting themselves, I sense into my appreciation for them and express it as directly as I can. I look them in the eyes, and say something like “I like you, and enjoy talking to you”.

By expressing appreciation in a simple, heartfelt, and direct way, the conversation opens up and a sense of safety emerges.

 

Better Compliments

Authentic Compliments & Relationship Building

Simple affirmations are potent compliments. Compliments might be a loaded subject for youmany people feel icky about them. Compliments feel icky because they are often abused.

The best kind of compliments are those that connect with an aspect of relating that’s part of your ongoing experience. This type of compliment highlights and celebrates the act of relating, thereby strengthening the relationship.

Disconnected compliments don’t have this relationship-affirming effect. They can be old placeholdersempty words you say out of habit. They can be transactionalsomething you say to gain an advantage. Flattery is a weak approximation of true connection.

If you want to give authentic and relationship-affirming compliments, it’s important to keep them anchored to your feelings. Don’t just say the words! Express your lived experience of appreciation!

 

Authentic Connection, not Performance

If you feel insecure about expressing appreciation, one possible response is trying to be smooth. I think this is misguided. Trying to express yourself smoothly risks turning the heart-felt appreciation into a performance. Focusing on the performative aspects of your expression pulls focus away from your sense of appreciation. If you lose connection to your sense of appreciation, you lose the ability to express an emotionally connected compliment.

Smoothness is overrated. Focus on the emotional connection and keep it simple. If you focus on describing your sense of appreciation in the current moment, you will never end up not knowing what to say.

 

Relational Gratitude Journaling

Gratitude journalling is a potent practice. Every four days, I sit down and write about the things I’m grateful for. Doing this practice leaves me feeling happy. It’s also a good check⸺it’s hard to write about gratitude when I’m stressed, so if I find myself unable to get into the gratitude mindset, I know that I’m due some self-care.

I have tweaked the practice to be more relational, by committing to reaching out and sharing any appreciation that’s connected to people in my life. Sometimes, I feel gratitude towards someone I haven’t interacted with for a while. Reaching out and sharing my appreciation has always been appreciated.

I’ve translated a message for you! I sent it to a friend some time ago. Here it is:

”I wrote a gratitude journal now, and started thinking of you. You are nice to hang out 1on1 with, and amazing at holding fantastic spaces 🙂 I am glad to have you in my life 🙂”

Ending Notes

I hope this post inspires you to express more appreciation in your life. If you try it out, please leave a comment sharing what happened! Best of luck!

New Comment
11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:19 AM

I have written on this recently on my Medium account although I called it validation. A compliment is pointing out sometime nice about someone. And is magic just as you say.

Validation to me let the person know I noticed them and what they did/created, I compliment them on what they did in a way that lets them know I read/listened to them, and then I offer constructive advice on possible future paths. And then re-iterate that I appreciate them and can't wait to see what they do next. 

All of this rests on doing it authentically as you mention. Empty praise feels empty and a savvy recipient will be able to sue that out easily. Just saying good job without acknowledging something in the what they did or their work that spoke to you, is empty.  

And it doesn't have to be anything they created, just them being themselves is enough to notice and praise. It makes everyone feel better, including yourself.

I find that happiness is a positive feedback loop. And validation is one way to keep it spiraling upward.

Appreciating things is a symptom of good health. If you're in a group or community, take a look at the beginners and compare them to veteran users.
The veterans are often cold and uncaring, whereas the beginners have a positive, energetic reaction to everything going on. They see and experience something that the veterans no longer see and experience.

Reactions are extremely important in social contexts. The fact that "Reaction videos" exist on Youtube shows us just how much we value other peoples display of emotion. This is also arguably the main appeal of movies and books. A closely related social desire is novelity, and I believe that seeing other peoples reactions allows us to experience a sense of novelty through them.

People who appreciate things give them value. This is basically the opposite of cynical and nihilistic mindsets. The entire value of art is increasing the value of things so that we may enjoy them more. Given that the modern society tends towards nihilism, it's not strange if we seek out people who are the antithesis of this.

I think your messages may give some people the "ick", but it depends on the sort of role you play out. The more casual you are in general, the more casual behaviour you can get away with. I can't get away with adding heart emojis to messages, but most teenage girls can. It's creepy if I do it, and lovely if they do it. Why? Skill issue on my part. My personal is not lighthearted enough (which also means that other people will find it hard to be lighthearted around me). I will be working on all these things. Thanks for sharing your insights!

There are a lot of things about my social behaviour that are confusing.

I engage in radical honesty, trying to express what is going on in my head as transparently as possible. I have not been in a fight/argument for 8 years.

People have said it's pleasant to talk to me. I tend to express disagreement even if I'm mostly aligned with the person I'm talking to.

I break all kinds of rules. My go-to approach for getting to know strangers is:

  1. ask them to join me in 1on1 conversation
  2. open up by saying: "I have this question I like asking people to get to know them. Are you open to try it?" -> "yes" -> "what's important to you?"

At the same time, people all say they feel safe with me, expressing gratitude. (with one memorable exception)

And it's not all in my head. I keep getting invited to amazing places/communities. I have an easy time landing jobs. I bootstrapped a philosophical guidance practice over a few months, and have recurring paying happy clients.

I think there are some keys to it:

  • I work really hard on virtue/being a good person instead of just signalling
  • I've worked on communication A LOT, including various intersubjective communication practices (circling etc), nonviolent communication, authentic relating
  • I habitually take the kinds of initiatives that lead to high status in groups
  • I am generally successful money-wise, and have high intelligence, and am not part of a marginalized group, so I think I have a lot of leeway.
  • I hang out with people that are far from normative (burning man extended communities)

From a signalling point of view, I'm taking the risk of being seen as cringe, while expressing something positive in a skilled way so as to not elicit threat responses. This ends up being a strong signal since:

  • I take a risk (being seen as cringe), signalling that I have social capital enough to not fear the risk of judement
  • I do it in a calibrated way, building trust
  • I express positive intent, being the oppsoite of self-serving

In essence, I communicate:

  • I have power, and don't give a fuck about social customs
  • I have strong goodwill, and will accept you without judgement
  • I demonstrate that it's okay to relax and act in very direct (yet ethical) ways, establishing social spaciousness.

I haven't analyzed this that much, since I tend to avoid explicit signalling considerations. I want to avoid the risk of anxiety-inducing self-consciousness and prestige-seeking impulses.

I hope this piece of context has given some additional insight.

I'm basically in roughly the same social equilibria as eccentrics.

I think I understand you quite well, even if most people will not. I know you have no ill will, that's sufficient.
The transparency is interesting and helps make the topic clear, but in case it's a form of self-defense, I'd like to warn against it.
One should not feel pressured into denuding oneself, laying all ones cards on the table. To begin with, good taste demands beautiful surfaces, and it's perversion to want to see through all veils. It's proper in intellectual conversations, but in everyday life, disillusionment only makes things less appealing. If you're watching a movie with a group of people and you make a sound to break the immersion, you've been rude. It's the same with social reality. The fear of being exposed/seen though is similar to the fear of being judged. Not looking too closely is good manners.

If I "see through" somebody , it's only to compliment them. I try not noticing their flaws too much. This helps them to relax. I'm also not always direct with others, as ambiguity has a lot of power. If I don't tell others who I am, they will tell me, and their version is better, and I will go along with it. Social skills are a form of art, subtext, teasing, banter and pretend-play helps everyone have a good time. This is not mutually exclusive to your response, but perhaps only 1 in 10000 people can unify these two extremes skillfully.

I have no doubt that people like you and that you're breaking the right rules for likability. But I have a nagging feeling that you're committing a mistake I once made myself: That of being an observer rather than an actual person. A guy explaining the rules to others rather than playing himself.

I hope you are allowing yourself to be human, to not always be correct, moral, and objective. That you allow yourself immersion in life, rather than a birds-eye-perspective which keeps you permanently disillusioned. Perhaps this is the anxiety-inducing self-consciousness you're avoiding? If so, no problem!

And yes, thank you, you've explained it well. Societies fear-based approach to socialization is indeed poor, and you describe a better system quite nicely. But I assume you know how slatestarcodex got shut down despite having high ethical standards? The closer one is to public opinion, the less they can get away with. And if you find a good semi-isolated group with open-minded people, you can break even more rules.
I have stories that I can't write online without putting myself in danger - and yet everyone involved had a great time, thanks to the complete absence of self-appointed moral police. That reminds me, I need to do more of that. I don't feel like I'm actually alive otherwise.

in case it’s a form of self-defense, I’d like to warn against it.

Nope! It's a conscious decision. I challenge myself and discover things I've been avoiding. (hiding from others -> hiding from self). It's a way to step into my power.

If you’re watching a movie with a group of people and you make a sound to break the immersion, you’ve been rude. It’s the same with social reality. The fear of being exposed/seen though is similar to the fear of being judged. Not looking too closely is good manners.

It's complicated! I tend to break it in interesting ways, with people that enjoy creative reframings. I know the power/joy of narratives, and try to do this in ways that serve the group. Hard to put into words, but people who are usually "stuck" in social reality express that they are surprised over feeling safe enough to open up, and seem happy enough.

If I “see through” somebody , it’s only to compliment them. I try not noticing their flaws too much. This helps them to relax.

I almost never judge. I've practised nonviolent communication, creating "mental handles" for my judgements. When I start judging someone, I relate to my judgement as something occurring in me, rather than projecting it on the other person.

I also don't think of people's actions as good or bad. I rather try to understand why they are acting as they do. Some actions are untrained/unskillful.

At the same time, I'm very selective with who I hang out with :)

I hope you are allowing yourself to be human, to not always be correct, moral, and objective. That you allow yourself immersion in life, rather than a birds-eye-perspective which keeps you permanently disillusioned. Perhaps this is the anxiety-inducing self-consciousness you’re avoiding? If so, no problem!

I'm not improving my moral character because I think I should. I do it because I enjoy progress and challenge. Virtue is the sole good ;)

I feel generally happy and life feels meaningful. It feels more meaningful the more I learn about it.

Some of my writing is on the wilder side, exploring dominance dynamics, tantra and similar. I'm not at risk of being morally inhibited, and tend to value (virtue) ethics over inhibiting norms/morals.

But I assume you know how slatestarcodex got shut down despite having high ethical standards? The closer one is to public opinion, the less they can get away with.

I don't see the danger. I'm open to my family and friends - no blackmail leverage. I keep away from culture war stuff, writing to an advanced audience. I am independently wealthy, enough to semi-retire. I earn money by facilitating philosophical inquiry, no boss to fire me.

At this point, I'd rather not live in fear. I'm as safe as it gets, and want to shift the overton window. Re: slatestarcodex - it seems to be going well for Scott.


P.S: It's interesting to reflect with you, but this is getting a tad long for my taste, so I'll try to stop at this point. If you are curious about anything and would like me to write about it, I'm open for suggestions.

I'll stop here then, but allow me a final attempt at explaining the potential problem.
If you realize the legitimacy and pros and cons of every viewpoint, it may be difficult to create or believe in your own viewpoint. The "inside-out" perspective becomes inaccessible, one is stuck in the outside-in, detached, analytical, impersonal birds-eye view.
This likely makes it hard to hate others or even get angry at them. It can also make it difficult to be assertive, as every viewpoint cancels out. Everyone is right from their perspective. One becomes a mere observer.
And a therapist or doctor-like relationship to another person allows for quick intimacy, but it's not personal nor equal. A programmer and a player will experience videogames differently, the latter having a much more magical experience precisely because they lack knowledge. It's this magic that a lot of rationalists rob from themselves through knowledge, and it applies to relationships as well.

These problem led me to change my approach. One of the changes being intentionally lowering my own self-awareness, letting system 2 do as it pleases despite its irrationality.
If you've managed to avoid these problems and/or you live a happy life, there's likely no issues!
It's important for me to share these insights though, as they don't seem to exist anywhere else in the world.

Posts like yours are gold, and contain a lot of obscure/rare knowledge, so you have my full appreciation! For now I will act on my knowledge rather than collecting more of it, but I will be reading your future posts

I get where you're coming from and appreciate you "rounding off" rather than branching out :)

I wrote a post on "inside-out identity", here: https://honestliving.substack.com/p/inside-out-identity

Also, I only post some of my writing on lesswrong, so if you're interested, I can recommend subscribing to my substack :)

That's a funny coincidence! I came up with the concept independently. I will share a few thoughts here, as I don't yet have a substack account. If I make one, I will definitely subscribe to you :)

If we generalize the problem of asking "who am i?", perhaps we can conclude that assertions are valuable. Not discovery and doubt, but creation and affirmation.

Outside-in perspectives aren't inherently bad, what's bad is increasing the scale too much. Feel free to include your friends or perhaps family. But if you zoom out to the entire nation, or the entire universe, and you lose yourself. Even your friend and familities are reduced to nothingness. I wouldn't go beyond Dunbar's number (~150 people) myself. The more things you compare, the smaller the overlap between them. Regression to the mean means that, as you zoom further out, you destroy the particularities/uniqueness of every individual (and their values, etc). At least that's my intuition

Here are some examples, all said in a heartfelt, emotionally connected way: “I’m happy you are here”, “I start smiling when I see you, I like having you around”, “I like you”, “I like talking to you”.

I'm trying to imagine myself receiving this sort of compliments from someone other than a close friend, and I probably won't be very happy about it... "I start smiling when I see you" in particular is vaguely scary (while the others are just blunt and would leave me embarassed).

I think it depends on the role of the person talking to you, including their age and gender. The more young, casual, and carefree they are, the more love they can get away with showing you.

The older, more professional and serious they are, the more weight their words will have, and the less love they will be able to show you.

The former group is less threatening, more lighthearted, and more naive. Even if they make a mistake, you will likely perceive it as adorable, whereas the latter group making a mistake is more likely to make you cringe.

For your example, "I start smiling when I see you", it would probably be cute if a 4-year-old girl told you. Or perhaps a foreigner learning English could tell you this line, until they grow past a certain level of proficiency, after which they appear more mature and professional. When they act less correct and mature than what their character allows, the same words will change to look cringy or pathetic rather than adoring. You may get a feeling that they're "trying too hard" or that they're immature/childish in a negative way. I think these dynamics are really interesting

Interesting! I guess (sub-)culture plays a role here. I'm particularly surprised that hearing "I'm happy you are here" would likely lead to feelings of embarrassment.

I'd like to know more about your cultural context, and whether people in that same context would react in the same way. If you feel comfortable expanding/asking a friend (in a non-biasing way), I would be curious to hear more.

There's likely to be nuances in the way I go about things that are hard to capture in text. Thanks for reminding me of the contextual nature of advice.