How does it make you feel if someone properly thanks you for something? Or someone praises you? The feelings from each of these are slightly different: someone being grateful to me gives me a gentle satisfaction, like a warm blanket; praise gives me a stronger, buzzier feeling. But both are definitely positive things to feel. They raise my spirits.
Well, it turns out that not just receiving these two things but also giving them makes us feel good. And, over time, being grateful for what someone has done for us and remembering to offer praise when someone deserves it will increase our own self-worth and rebound on us in positive ways. If we are generous with thanks and praise, for example, people around us are likely to learn from that and also to feel warm towards us, so they are more likely then to think of thanking or praising us. That’s not why we should so it, of course, but it’s a happy result of doing those two simple and valuable acts of thanking and praising.
If you’d like some links to the research and a bit more detail, see below.
There’s a useful overview of some of the science behind gratitude on Happier Human, including an interesting study (though small) suggesting that Germans are more often grateful and attach greater value to it than Americans! On the same site, you’ll find a quiz to assess your gratitude and some suggestions for “practising” gratitude. I’ll be honest and say I don’t rate the quiz in terms of bringing you any meaningful answer but it does get one thinking about what it means to be grateful. The Happier Human site has lots of links and resources about happiness in general.
There’s a simple video here, explaining some of the science (though without providing references) and giving tips for how to show more gratitude.
Here is a full-length radio programme presented by Susan Sarandon, called The Science of Gratitude.
There are two forms of praise. There’s the religious sense (praising a god) and the human sense (praising a human). That makes praise rather like gratitude, because religious people would also be grateful to their god as well as grateful to a person.
I’m not qualified to talk about the religious or spiritual aspect of praise, as it’s not my thing. I am certainly both grateful for and full of admiration for the natural world around us and all it brings (though not for the plum moths which have just destroyed my entire crop of plums and damsons) but I don’t have a being to address that gratitude or praise to. On the other hand, I do know the range of science suggesting that having a religious belief – and therefore a relationship with a god – benefits well-being; some even call spiritual belief a “character strength”. But it’s not something I have or want. If you are religious, then you’re likely to get the same well-being benefits from praising god as from praising a person. However, the human will benefit from you praising them so please do it anyway!
Praising humans is important. It’s important for them as well as you, just as showing gratitude is.
- For example, growth mindset theory advocates praising effort more than talent. “Well done – you worked so hard for that” is better than “Well done – you’re so talented/clever”. “Well done – you’re so talented/clever at that because you’ve worked so hard” is also fine.
- Praise needs to be honest. Praising someone when they didn’t really do anything to deserve it will be hollow: even young children soon get a sense that you dish out praise regardless of what they do and they’ll soon find it patronising and meaningless.
- Praise for physical appearance can be fraught with problems, too. This can be especially problematic when it relates to losing or gaining weight. “You’re looking so well” can be interpreted as “Oh no – I’ve put on weight” for someone who has a weight issue. The more we are praised (or criticised) for appearance, the more we are likely to feel that appearance defines us and that it’s more important than what we are and what we do.
There are some pretty good tips for parents about giving praise on Parenting Science here. They apply more widely than parents.
Think about how you feel when someone says, “You did a great job!” It’s the best sort of praise, and it will inspire you to do it again. If you say that to someone else, you’re empowering and helping them and that should feel really good for you, too. Next time you praise someone, notice carefully how you feel. Does your heart lift, do the corners of your mouth turn up, do you actually stand a little bit taller, feel a little bit lighter in your heart?
For the previous Ways to Well-being in this series, put “52 Ways” in the search box near the top.