Oh, I’m a gold star junkie. I always want to see those gold stars stuck to the top of my homework. I crave praise, appreciation, recognition.
I’ve done a lot to combat my craving for gold stars (here are 5 tips for dealing with feeling unappreciated). I also try hard to give other people the gold stars they deserve. As my mother once told me, “Most people probably don’t get the appreciation they deserve.” Like my own mother!
But it’s not always easy to dole out those gold stars in an effective way. Here are 7 tips:
1. Be specific. Vague praise doesn’t make much of an impression.
2. Find a way to praise sincerely. It’s a rare situation where you can’t identify something that you honestly find praiseworthy. “Striking” is one of my favorite fudge adjectives.
3. Never offer praise and ask for a favor in the same conversation. It makes the praise seem like a set up.
4. Praise process, not outcome. This particularly relevant with children. It’s more helpful to praise effort, diligence, persistence, and imagination than a grade or milestone.
5. Look for something less obvious to praise—a more obscure accomplishment or quality that a person hasn’t heard praised many times before help people identify strengths they didn’t realize they had. Or praise a person for something that he or she does day after day without recognition. Show that you appreciate the fact that the coffee’s always made, that the report is never late. It’s a sad fact of human nature: those who are the most reliable are the most easily taken for granted.
6. Don’t hesitate to praise people who get a lot of praise already. Perhaps counterintuitively, even people who get constant praise—or perhaps especially people who get constant praise—crave praise. Is this because praiseworthy people are often insecure? Does getting praise lead to an addiction to more praise? Or—and this is my current hypothesis—does constant praise indicate constant evaluation, and constant evaluation leads to a craving for praise?
7. Praise people behind their backs. The praised person usually hears about the praise, and behind-the-back praise seems more sincere than face-to-face praise. Also, always pass along the behind-the-back praise that you hear. This is one of my favorite things to do!
Also, because the way we feel is very much influenced by the way we act, by acting in a way that shows appreciation, discernment, and thoughtfulness, we make ourselves feel more appreciative, discerning, and thoughtful. And that boosts happiness.
Have you thought of any other good ways for giving people praise? Are you a gold-star junkie, yourself?
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller, The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. Gretchen is also on Facebook and Twitter.