I just finished reading How To Win Friends and Influence People while I was touring colleges this weekend. It was written in 1936. It could have been written yesterday. It is just as relevant now as ever.
While I’m obviously not involved in the business world at this point in my life, I took a surprising amount of insight from the book. Carnegie’s major point throughout, in my interpretation, was this: Whenever appreciation is genuine, it is warranted. Spread it as freely as you are capable.
I consider myself to be a generally grateful person. I thank my teachers after class, my parents for providing me with opportunities, my friends and boyfriend for supporting me through life. At the same time, I’m an introvert; I’m not one to go gallivanting up to near-strangers to appreciate the color-coordination of their outfit (even if I do) or how much I love the way they spoke about something (even if I loved it). Appreciating people I don’t know honestly makes me nervous sometimes- what if it seems fake, unwarranted, or, God forbid, creepy?
After reading Carnegie, I decided to give appreciation for near-strangers a shot. As I was reading, I looked around the plane for someone to appreciate. The flight attendant on my flight was coming down the aisle, smiling and thanking everyone she spoke with. She had located my family to return my father’s beverage to him at the beginning of the flight, with no reason except to be helpful. I decided she would be the recipient of my first-ever Letter of Appreciation to Someone I Just Met.
Dear Ms. Flight Attendant,
I’m sorry I don’t know your name, but I wanted to thank you for being so attentive and kind. Between returning my father’s soda to him and your engagement with me and the other passengers on this flight, you have proven to be one of the best flight attendants I’ve ever had. Alaskan Airlines is genuinely lucky to have you.
Then I added, for good measure, since makeup art is one of my hobbies:
P.S. Your eye shadow is beautiful. I love the pink!!
I gave it to her as she passed by with the beverage cart, and suddenly found myself getting very nervous. For whatever reason, I was afraid she would be either creeped out or think the note was fake. In the back of my mind, I imagined her coming back to my seat to scold me for my ignorance and offensiveness.
Obviously, this fear had no basis in reality. Instead, she came back to my seat, crouched down with tears welling in her eyes, and said: “That was the sweetest note I’ve gotten from anyone in a long time. Thank you so much.”
Is it just me, or are we afraid to show genuine appreciation to the world? If it is everyone, we are we afraid? Why do we think people will criticize us for being appreciative? I can’t think of a situation in which I would look negatively upon someone’s appreciation of myself. I can’t imagine feeling anything but joy and the tingles of human connection in my chest. So why do we fear it?
I believe appreciating others makes us feel vulnerable in a very special sense. We do not make ourselves vulnerable in the sense of sharing personal things- appreciation is all about discussing the other person’s attributes. I think the vulnerability arises from the fear that we are engaging another’s emotions too much. How often do we discuss emotional and sentimental topics with mere acquaintances? Very rarely.
I don’t know why it’s so taboo to discuss and share emotions with people we don’t know well. As such an emotive species, it seems like it inhibits our ability to connect and fully flourish as social creatures. I would love to live in a world where it was more acceptable to be open about our emotions, desires, appreciation, fear, and feelings on the whole.
I suppose there is a reason why we don’t share these things, as a point of maintaining social order and boundaries. After all, if we confessed our feelings to everyone, how much more often would we fall in love? Much more- perhaps all the time. At least in my experience, I always get a sort of sentimentally romantic twinge every time I open up to someone else in an emotional way. I don’t act on these feelings, but if I were constantly bombarded by them, life would certainly be more confusing.
Regardless of the general sharing of emotions, that plane trip taught me that appreciating others is always worthwhile and positive if the appreciation is genuine. It has also compelled me to appreciate others whenever a situation to do so arises- not only is it beneficial to both parties, but it’s so easy. Saying thank you and expressing a sentence worth of “you are valuable and I appreciate what you do for me” takes seconds, but it can entirely change a person’s day. I hope you will all join me in taking those little opportunities to appreciate others and capitalize on them. I guarantee you will not be disappointed, and who knows; you might change a person’s life. I always hear the stories about people on the verge of committing suicide who change their decision based on a few words from a stranger- why couldn’t that stranger be any of us, in the right place at the right time?
At the end of the day, I want to be a positive influence on the world. Whether that is one person’s world or the world at large is not so important; it is only important that my footprint on the world when I exit it has been more positive than negative. At this point in my life, appreciation is the surest and easiest way for me to spread positivity. Today or tomorrow, try to appreciate one person you don’t know incredibly well, and see what happens (and comment about it if you please!). Who knows? Perhaps you’ll turn around a person’s day, week, month, or life.