Appreciating Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence – the strength booster!
“That is a strength? I never thought of it that way…” that is what one workshop participant said when we debriefed character strengths. Her top strength of Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence is not something she had ever identified as a strength or even special. And yet, as she explored that strength further, she started to recognize that (a) not everyone experiences appreciation as deeply as she does (b) this strength is her go-to strength to create balance, perspective, hope and happiness.
For those of you who have not read about Character Strengths before, here are five facts to know:
The Cream of the Crop
My top character strengths – my signature strengths – consistently include Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Curiosity, Fairness, and Gratitude. Others wander in and out of my top five, but my top 10 -12 stay pretty consistent too…
My #1 strength is always Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence (hereafter Appreciation!). It is core to who I am. I cannot imagine a day without it. But what does having a top strength of Appreciation mean?
Appreciation is ranked as a top strength (in the top five out of 24) by approximately ¼ - 1/3 of the population[i]. After 20 years of research into character strengths, we have not yet discovered much about Appreciation. It is not one of the five happiness strengths (which are Hope, Curiosity, Gratitude, Zest & Love)[ii]. It is not strongly correlated with any of the seven team roles of Idea Creator, Information Gatherer, Decision Maker, Influencer, Energizer, Implementer or Relationship Manager. It does not particularly support lower stress or higher self-esteem. All in all, we don’t have much to say about Appreciation as a strength and what it might be helpful for. I could find only one positive reference to Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence[iii] which as about how it contributes to an appreciation of life and to post-traumatic growth. The same research that identified the happiness strengths highlighted Appreciation (along with Judgment, Humility, creativity, and love of learning) as being the least correlated with happiness!
And yet, as important as my other strengths are to me, I would be nothing without Appreciation. In my mind, it is the supercharger for all my other strengths. Curiosity is so much more gratifying when I sprinkle in appreciation of the research, the skill, the work that has gone into a research paper or a new gadget. As I ask, “what does that do?” I am also thinking, “who came up with that? It is amazing that someone could think of that!”
As I am trying to be fair and take the interests of all parties into account, I cannot help but think about, the way in which each person got to where they are, their unique experience of life, the unique path they have followed and to appreciate that they are special.
When I am feeling grateful, it is magnified by being specific about what I am grateful for – appreciating the skill of a musician or … my dentist! The beauty of the surroundings at my house or during my walk. Or the opportunity to appreciate the clouds from a plane. It is so much easier to feel gratitude when I have Appreciation to shore it up!
Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence - seeing the best in people and things around us! VIA Institute on Character defines Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence as “you notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
Research shows that Appreciation has three components.
There are three types of "goodness" for which individuals high in Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence are responsive to:
The Power of Appreciation for Project Managers
Appreciation can help us as project managers in several ways. It can lead to a general sense of wellbeing - for example, lifting our mood when we take a walk outside or feeling excited by a virtuoso performance.
And at work, this strength can be really helpful when it comes to noticing and highlighting the good work – and strengths - of others. Using appreciation makes it easier to provide recognition when someone goes above and beyond, and we are more likely to feel comfortable showing recognition in front of others, sharing their accomplishments and downplaying our own - supporting the strength of humility. When team members feel their efforts are acknowledged and appreciated, they tend to give more discretionary effort to project tasks. And people who give discretionary effort are engaged, and get more done!
Other strengths that are closely related to Appreciation are Gratitude, Curiosity, Love of Learning, Kindness, and Creativity[iv]. You may want to focus on one of these related strengths to help boost your strength of appreciation. You can practice using appreciation by looking for experiences that create a sense of awe, admiration, elevation, and inspiration. As you identify those experiences, you will hone your skill with appreciation.
I am an avid strengths spotter. I will point out the strengths I see in people wherever I go, whoever they are. I trust that my strength of Appreciation will guide me wisely and make my feedback feel authentic and warm. This strength gives me the confidence to speak up when I might otherwise observe and say nothing. I will give you an example.
"A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet" Juliet in Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare
The other day I was riding my bike through our neighborhood. Every day I have been exploring because we only moved to our new location a few months ago. As I was riding on this particular day, I noticed that one front yard had the most amazing display of roses. It reminded me of the rose garden at a historic home I used to visit with my parents when I was growing up. In that historic garden, the perfume was intoxicating. I found myself wondering whether the blooms in this particular garden had that same wonderful perfume – so many flowers seem to have no smell at all these days. I moved closer to the garden, took some photos and leaned in to smell. The aroma was at once sweet and aromatic. The perfume was beautiful and rich. Taken aback by the beauty of the flowers and the wonderful smell, I wanted to express my appreciation and gratitude. How could I let the owner know that in some small way they had made a difference to someone else’s day? I wanted to knock on the door to express my pleasure, but the unwritten rules of neighborhood living, social mores that make approaching strangers at best risky and for some people downright threatening, made me pause, but then I thought about how I would feel if I rode away without saying anything.
I climbed off my bike, took off my helmet and sunglasses, and walked to the front door and knocked. I could hear a dog barking inside and appreciated the way it was warning its owner of a stranger at the door. A woman came to the door looking puzzled through the glass. She opened it tentatively, and I immediately apologized for disturbing her and for if what I was about to say seemed like a thing a stalker would do but told her I wanted her to know how much I appreciated the sight and smell of the roses in her garden. She beamed with pleasure and took me out to show me the different roses, explaining that they are her husband’s pride and joy. In that moment, we two strangers were united in our enjoyment of a simple pleasure.
That day my Appreciation boosted my Bravery and Gratitude.
When talking about Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, one of my favorite clips to share is from The Journey of Purpose - (Google "TJOP - Follow Your Heart"). The images show great feats of expertise and skill. And they make me smile and I feel a great sense of awe at the feats that we can accomplish when we dare to try.
I feel equally moved when I see a blue lizard on the path in front of me, beautiful intricate bark on a tree, all the shades of green on a hillside. Another favorite video of mine is an amazing musical group's performance of the Eagles' classic song Hotel California. (Google "Hotel California Cubanos Acapella") I feel admiration for this band as they make this beautiful music with no musical instruments except their amazing voices! And I feel inspired to try my hand at new things. I am also moved by movies – the bravery, perseverance, social intelligence, self-regulation, love, and kindness in my favorite movie, V for Vendetta, and the richness of the costume and the music, the creativity, love, kindness, humor, forgiveness, and self-regulation in Moulin Rouge.
June 1st marks the 25th anniversary of my immigration to the US and I have just reached 150 consecutive days of meditation. To celebrate I am starting a daily Appreciation post! In it, I will share an example of Appreciation every day. As photos will be the best medium for this, I will share on Instagram and on Twitter - check my profile for details at https://www.projectmanagement.com/profile/ruthpearce/. Twice a month I will use appreciation to explore another strength because as I mentioned earlier, I believe appreciation boosts my other strengths like no other strength in my profile. Those posts will be longer, and I will share those here.
Why not share your experiences of appreciation whenever the mood takes you? What gives you a sense of awe and wonder, what inspires you? Who or what do you admire?
Share your experiences using the hashtags #appreciation and #sbpm and #mbpm
[i] McGrath, R.E. (2017). Technical Report: The VIA Assessment Suite for Adults: Development and initial evaluation, Cincinnati, OH: VIA Institute on Character
[ii] Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.
[iii] Posttraumatic growth in various dimensions corresponds with particular character strengths: improved relationships with others (kindness, love), openness to new possibilities (curiosity, creativity, love of learning), greater appreciation of life (appreciation of beauty, gratitude, zest), enhanced personal strength (bravery, honesty, perseverance), and spiritual development (religiousness; Peterson et al., 2008; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995). 1. Peterson, C., Park, N., Pole, N., D’Andrea, W., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2008). Strengths of Character and posttraumatic growth. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 21 (2), 214–217. 2. Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1995). Trauma and transformation: Growing in the aftermath of suffering. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
[iv] Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Boston: Hogrefe. p141
There is a famous story about the making of the movie The Greatest Story Ever Told. During a rehearsal, the Duke—John Wayne—was asked by director George Stevens to deliver his line about Jesus Christ “with awe.” So, in the next take, the actor, doing exactly as he was asked, changed the line to, “Aw, truly this man was the son of God.”
Clearly not what the director was looking for and, by all accounts, not a true story. But what if John Wayne had never experienced awe? How would he know how to express it?
And have you ever considered that one person’s awe is another person’s boredom? I was in awe this morning as I stood on the terrace of a local historic home and marveled at the landscape in front of me. I turned to my guest and said, “Isn’t this awe-inspiring? Don’t you just marvel at the beauty and majesty of the landscape? Doesn’t it just blow your mind that this is right here on our doorstep?” To which my guest flatly replied, “Not really, it’s just trees.”
What Is Awe?
The dictionary definition is “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” Albert Einstein described it beautifully: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
New research is showing the benefits of experiencing awe—that sensation that’s created when we feel a sense of vastness as we contemplate something literally or symbolically bigger than ourselves. Often, it is a stunning landscape, but it can be almost anything, including an outstanding performance or a great work of art. Like me, you might be awestruck by the view right in your own backyard, which for me is the Housatonic River in western Massachusetts. The peace and beauty of the river creates even more awe in me, because this is a river previously associated with poison and contamination caused by man.
Another source of awe for me is being confronted with the sheer power of nature. This picture is of a tree close to my home that was struck by lightning and was literally blown apart from the middle. Even so, the tender shoots of the tree kept blooming, and the trunk is sturdy and rooted in the ground—it epitomizes resilience. This tree occupied my attention on many walks—to the point that my dog, Milo, learned to stop for the inevitable tree exploration, patiently waiting in the shade of the detached branches.
And then, contrast the power of nature with its delicacy. These frost patterns, while the sign of a particularly brutal winter in the Northeast, nevertheless cause awe in me with their delicacy, intricacy, and perfect geometry.
After awe, researchers say, comes a process of mental adjustment called accommodation, originally proposed by psychologist Jean Piaget. He suggested that, when we are presented with novel and challenging information, new input that challenges what and how we view the world, we literally rearrange our thinking. When we experience awe, our minds need to make room for the onslaught of information that comes at us, and that accommodation helps us to be more creative and curious, and to see things in a different way.
Recent preliminary studies suggest that this change causes some pretty mind-blowing effects. For example, the experience of awe expands our sense of time by helping us to focus on the moment and be more mindful; it helps us to be more discriminating and weigh evidence more carefully; and it helps us to focus our attention outwards, toward collective goals and community instead of ourselves.
What experiences have you had that inspired awe in you? Can you recreate them? Do you have photos, or can you find something online to act as a reminder?
To get you started, watch this four-minute video taken at Yosemite. About two minutes in, it gets really awe-inspiring! Then see where you can find awe in your world, every day.