Gratitude is a superpower. Appreciation expresses why. Recognition shares it.


At this time of year we naturally take stock and think about what we’re thankful for. What we’re grateful for. What and who we appreciate. We recognize what matters to us.

Gratitude. Appreciation. Recognition. Let’s have more of all, please. But what’s the difference, actually, it occurred to me to ask, especially in the context of the organizational culture and communication work I do. What is gratitude at scale, so to speak?

For me, the simple answer is: gratitude names something or someone we are grateful or thankful for. Appreciation starts to get at what it is about that person or thing that makes us grateful. And recognition is sharing that appreciation in ways that others see.

One of the better discussions on the meanings of gratitude and appreciation is here. “One distinction that we found that was commonly shared is that gratitude is the base from which appreciation grows and flourishes…if we’re paying attention. That is, we can be grateful for something in our lives without really appreciating it. The subtle shift from gratitude to appreciation involves being more present  – more thoughtfully aware and active in reflecting on the reasons we feel grateful about something or someone.”

Naturally, the business world notices essential behavioral truths like this. Which is a good thing.

Feeling genuinely appreciated is a top motivator and engagement driver in the world of organizational culture surveys, right up there with meaningfulness and believing in the organization’s direction, and much higher than pay and perks.

“A sense of appreciation is the single most sustainable motivator at work.”

That’s Adam Grant, of the University of Pennsylvania, and author of “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.” Says Grant, “Saying ‘thank you’ is nice; explaining the unique difference someone makes is meaningful and memorable.”

And if being kind and human isn’t enough of a reason in itself, then consider the cold hard business impact of operationalizing recognition in the workplace: an example is a 31% reduction in voluntary turnover.

(No surprise, then, that “recognition” is big business, with companies advised to spend 1% of payroll on formal recognition strategies and technology. That means for a company with 1,000 employees and average salary of $70,000, you are looking at a $700,000 annual investment. Scale that up and it’s estimated to be a $46 billion market.)

And at this Thanksgiving holiday, let’s be those “people who practice gratitude.” We’ll have

·      Stronger immune systems and less depression;

·      More joy, optimism, and happiness;

·      Stronger relationships and more generous behavior;

·      Less feelings of loneliness and isolation.

(This from the Greater Good Science Center’s initiative “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude”)

Lastly, find out if #gratitude is one your superpowers not just this week but all year long. Take the VIA Character Strengths survey here.

And here’s to a New Year we’ll be grateful for, truly.