I run a small polling group on Facebook, where ~200 of my friends and followers give snap judgments on questions that interest me, or create their own questions for the group.
(If this sounds like fun, you’re welcome to join!)
Recently, I asked the group:
Thirty-six people responded (besides me — my answer is checked).
Twenty of them (56%) said that they don’t manage to express most of their gratitude, appreciation, and love. Ten of those twenty felt like their friends didn’t really understand the level to which they were appreciated.
I plan to ask the question to a larger group soon, but for now, I have some reflections on this result.
Many (Most?) Other-Directed Positive Feelings Are Never Expressed
These ODPFs (there must be a better acronym) include appreciation, gratitude, admiration, and love.
Saying “thank you” is easy. We do it often. But I’d guess that most of what we love in other people isn’t the specific things they do for us — it’s what they do for others, or simply who they are.
My friends make my life brighter every single day. I follow their adventures on Facebook. I read what they write. I learn about the struggles they’ve overcome and the people they’ve helped. I wake up each morning knowing that, somewhere in the world, they are living out their own lives, and the very thought fills me with joy.
(Somewhere, Jack is pondering his next article! Jess is doing original research into computer security! Tammy is healing the sick! Ken is playing with his son! Isn’t it all fantastic?)
But if I want to tell them how much they mean to me — that they make me happy just by being themselves, just by existing… it can sound a little awkward. The people around me seem to save those sentiments for birthdays, or for times when everyone is simultaneously drunk.
I created the poll because I thought that a lot of people might feel the same way I do: That finding actual words to explain how much you care about people, or just appreciate their existence, is difficult (especially if you have to say those words to the people themselves).
It seems to be true!
So if you’re reading this, and if you are anyone’s friend, keep in mind that you may be more appreciated, and more loved, than you realize.
How To Express More Positive Feelings
Over the years, I’ve tried to become more consistent in the way I express positive feelings.
Here are a few methods that have worked for me:
- Making a conscious habit, at least once a week, of sending a thank-you note to someone who created something that made me happy. (At Yale, I sent these notes to student journalists; now, they go to a mix of journalists and bloggers and video creators and people I see do something worthy on the internet.)
- Adding a “what are you grateful for today?” question to my daily journal emails. This helps me remember to find and thank people who make the list.
- Sending Patreon payments to creators whose work brightens my life and the lives of others. This costs money, but the value I get from the Internet is at least an order of magnitude higher than what I spend.
- In a similar vein, making one-time donations to people who create something good, once. (This includes When2Meet, the best event organization site on the Internet, whose creator never even thought to add a PayPal button until I suggested it. More proof that we don’t always understand how much our work means to other people.)
Most of these involve thanking strangers. I still haven’t figured out how best to thank my friends more often, but I’d love to hear your ideas.