The Joyful Practice of Appreciation


I have always been eager to grow. But real change has been elusive. In my marriage and parenting, I saw things in me that I did not like but seemed powerless to change. I was losing hope about making real changes.

But in recent years, I have changed — around appreciation. It seems like a small thing, but it has made a huge impact on me and on others.

Some years ago, I ran across an author who argued that if a congregation would identify even a few basic spiritual practices and “practice” them regularly, they would be transformed. That’s how change came to me. I have become a more appreciative person through a simple practice that I repeated.

Experiencing My Feelings

This change began with my feelings (sad, angry, scared, happy, tender, excited) and pausing to actually feel them. For most of my life, I have been a frenetic doer — to win love and experience peace, I had to do and do.

In recent years, I noticed a heaviness — a sadness. I practiced slowing down and actually feeling my sadness about something that I had lost. Another time, I felt a queasy fear about a mistake I made and followed that fear to get the reassurance that I needed. On another occasion, in my jaw I felt the tightness of anger and used that energy to ask my manager at the hospital to give me more advance notice about schedule changes.

The practice of feeling my feelings led to my being more alive and joyful. I was changing.

Experiencing Appreciation of Me

In this same timeframe, a man I was coming to admire expressed appreciation for something that I had just done. I responded with, “Yeah but …” I deflected his appreciation of me. The man understood what I did and he called me on it. So then he paused and spoke his appreciation of me again. And this time, I didn’t deflect. Accepting appreciation — letting it soak in — is an important practice, too.

That April conversation in a church parking lot started me on a journey down two roads I hadn’t explored much before:

  • Actually feeling my feelings. Especially warm feelings toward others.
  • Accepting appreciation from others.

At first, I just practiced becoming aware that I appreciated something. I began to feel appreciation for myself, for the way I reached out to my son or phrased something in a sermon. Simply feeling this appreciation for me and for others was leading me to joy. I was changing.

Extending Appreciation to Others

Next, I practiced voicing my appreciation to specific people when I felt those warm feelings. I can be a critical, demanding person, of myself and others. Feeling and expressing appreciation was softening my demanding side.

In fact, a long-time colleague experienced me as “hard to please.” But I began to feel appreciation for specific things he had done and things I saw in his character. Several days after the fact, I approached him in the lower level of our church and voiced my appreciation for something he had done to help a single mother. He began to cry and said, “That you would say this several days later touches me. Thanks.”

As I began to express appreciation toward this man more frequently, he said, “You have changed. You are different.”

Experiencing and extending appreciation also has brought new joy to my marriage. I appreciate the gentle way Deb is with our grandsons. I appreciate her generosity around baking for others. I appreciate her ability to hear God’s Spirit and act. And I tell her my appreciation, which oils our relationship.

For me, real change has come through repeating a few simple practices:

  • Noticing my feelings. Feeling them.
  • Noticing warm sensations of thanks and appreciation.
  • And now … speaking this appreciation to people.

When I experience and feel appreciation for me … I feel more joy. And when I experience and extend appreciation toward others, it brings joy to them. It takes practice. But it produces change.

Some things for you to ponder:

  • What are the body sensations you have with various feelings? Do you allow yourself to experience those feelings, or do you dismiss them?
  • In your body, how do you experience appreciation? Do you deflect it or receive it?
  • What have you learned about how to express appreciation to others?

– By John Casey

John completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2005, is a graduate of our two-year transformational program and is a weekend leader for The Crucible Project. He enjoys writing about authentic living for men. As a senior pastor for 32 years, he has written and preached hundreds of sermons on God’s character and mission, our purpose and mission, spiritual transformation and effective relationships.

Photo Credit: The Justified Sinner