The Art of Appreciation - Christine Kane

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
– Albert Schweitzer

It’s the holiday season. Another year is coming to a close.

A few years ago, I started a practice that makes me look forward to this time of year. It’s my own little way of getting into the spirit of the season. I call it The Art of Appreciation.

Appreciation is gratitude in action.

It’s wonderful to be grateful and recognize the blessings in your life. But it’s a whole other level when you take action on that gratitude and go out of your way to say, “Thanks. You were an important part of my year. You matter to me.”

First off, you become profoundly aware of how many people bless your life.

And second, you touch the hearts of those who work hard to serve people like you.

Appreciation Gifts

So, how do you show appreciation? What do you do? What do you give?

This time of year, most of the world seems bent on giving plates piled high with blobs of baked dough frosted with green icing. Or clumps of nut and fruit glued together with maple syrup, bourbon and axle grease.

In the spirit of not forcing food on people, I try to come up with ideas for gifts that are non-edible, meaningful, and perhaps even usable.

Here are some general thoughts on appreciation gifts:

• For anyone who has been of service in my home or business, I give a monetary bonus with a card and a special note. This includes, but is not limited to, employees, housekeepers, regular contract help – like WebGuys who did a great job in the year, etc.

• For other gifts, I ask myself what kinds of things I would love to receive, but don’t want to spend money on.

• Bookstore gift certificates are always great. Especially from a local bookstore.

• One year, I bought several big handmade aromatherapy candles from a funky local store here in my town. I picked out the Lemongrass smell because it was subtle and light. I also bought some beautiful rustic trays as candle holders.

• Great smelling body lotions. EccoBella is my favorite. (Note: Use caution with anything smelly. Avoid “aromatherapy” stuff from Big Box Stores. They’re overpowering and will make a home smell less like a sacred space, and more like a brothel.)

• Tuned wind chimes are an extravagant and lovely choice. I gave a set of these to the Artist Rep at Takamine Guitars, and he told me recently that he thinks of me whenever he hears them at his mountain cabin.

• Wine and specialty beers are fun. (Make sure you know the person is okay with alcohol.)

• Handmade Christmas ornaments. (Be sure they celebrate Christmas and/or have a tree.)

• If you’re on a budget, you can a make a mix CD of workout tunes. Or meditation music. Write a note with the CD explaining why you created this CD, and why this music touches you. (I made three mix CD’s called “Cool Women Songwriters” for a friend to play in the car with her three girls. She has thanked me for these CD’s over and over this year. It lets her not have to listen to High School Musical for the 100th time.)

• If you’d like to give a CD that you purchased, I recommend choosing a genre of music that’s neutral – like a meditation music. My favorite is Anugama’s Shamanic Dream. Write a note about why you love this CD and why they might enjoy it.

• If the person is someone you know well – another parent, for instance – you could gift them with a “time certificate” by babysitting their kids for a few hours while they go to the movies for an afternoon, offer to do their dishes one evening or cook them a meal and bring it over.

Please us the comments section below to add any ideas for Appreciation Gifts. (Or, better yet – write down something you wish someone would gift to you that’s not fruit cake!)

Appreciation Notes

Set aside several hours on a day early in December to write notes for each person. The note is the most important thing.

I try to put some thought into the note and make it about them, not about me. (“Here’s what I like about you.”) I let them know that I appreciate their presence on the planet.

Appreciation Recipients

It might be a little overwhelming to consider reviewing the whole year to figure out who made a difference in your life, or who you appreciate.

Here are a few ideas that might help you…

1 – Teachers

This is the most obvious beginning place. These are the neighborhood heroes. Tutors who have helped you one on one. Your childrens’ teachers. Or a yoga teacher. Music instructors. Teachers of adult extension courses at community colleges.

2 – Anyone who has made your business travel easier

If you are a business traveler, then you’ve probably gotten to know the airline employees at the check-in or at the gate. Most likely they’ve offered a friendly word in the mornings, or they’ve moved your seat a time or two. I’ve watched hotel desk clerks greet guests by name and go out of their way to welcome the regulars. What a difference this makes.

3 – Anyone who services your home or your family

Your cleaning person. Your handy-man. Pet sitters. Postal carrier. Garbage pick up crew. Recycle pick up crew. Baby sitters. The UPS guy. The FedEx woman.

4 – Anyone who helps you in your self-employment or home office

Anyone who has fixed your computer or made your office life easier. When you’re self-employed, you often know the guys at the post office by their first names.

5 – Anyone in your local hangouts

Librarians are top on my list. (Librarians rock. And believe me, they light up when someone pauses to notice the work they do.) Favorite wait staff at local restaurants. Counter help at UPS FedEx or Kinko’s.

6 – Anyone you just happen to notice doing a great job

A few weeks ago, my husband was getting out of his car in our driveway, and noticed our neighbor raking leaves in her yard. He walked over and told her that he just wanted to acknowledge what a great mom she is, and that she does so well in the world with her daughter and her dogs and managing her home on her own. He told her he appreciates who she is. She told me later that she ran into her house and burst into tears. She had been having a bad day, and she was so touched to hear such kind words. It was a simple acknowledgement given in the moment it was felt. I’m sure you know many people in your life who inspire you even in small ways. Can you let them know?

———–

Now, obviously, you don’t have the time to get a gift for everyone and create the perfect appreciation note. I try to pick five to ten people when I do this. It’s not hard to do at all! Start with just five.

A final note:

Practicing the Art of Appreciation sounds like a selfless and kind thing to do. And of course, it is.

When you do it, however, you realize that you are also gifting yourself. You are spending some time acting on your gratitude. You’re turning your attention to the joy and delight of your life. This can’t help but make you feel wonderful.

Intend to have a great holiday season this year. Practice the Art of Appreciation.

24 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • Bonnie

    I make herbal products such as tea/coffee coasters, eye pillows and dream pillows filled with organic aromatic herbs. This year I am also making rice wraps to soothe aches and pains. I think a lot of people like homemade gifts. I give them to people who I feel will use and appreciate them. They are very time consuming to make but worth it for special friends. I think a great gift is a certificate for a massage. My daughter is a massage therapist, and she gave me a massage last Christmas for my gift. It is really all I needed and wanted. We all tend to collect too much stuff, so a gift certificate for a massage is useful and does not clutter up the house.

  • wesley jeanne

    Christine–
    I have been reading your blog for a couple of months now and want to tell you how much I appreciate YOUR words.

    At Thanksgiving, I wrote a heartfelt note to my daughter’s daycare teachers, telling them exactly how much I appreciated that they take such good care of my child that I can go and do my work without worrying about her. The two lead teachers were so touched by the note they kept thanking me over and over for writing it. Apparently, no one had ever taken the time to say such things to them.

    So, yes, a little appreciation in the form of even a sincere note can go a long way.

    Thank YOU for reminding us, and for bringing your wonderful spirit to the world.

    Wesley

    PS I bought your CD today and can’t wait to get it! I wanted to see you with David Lamotte in Asheville but couldn’t get a sitter for a night out.

  • Luci

    As always, you’ve given me loads to consider. Many blessings to you for the gift!

    And I’ve *gotta* ask … are you willing to share the playlist for those women singer-songwriter discs you compiled? Loving your music as I do, I’d love to listen to the musicians (particularly the women’s voices) who you appreciate, too. Plus, buying more CDs for Christmas is always a good idea, right? *wink*

  • Heidi Caswell

    Wonderful post, Love your words “Appreciation in gratitude in action. I’ve found it much easier to send out cards of appreciation using http://MailCardsEasy.com. Most important is the words you use, taking time to express your appreciation.
    I don’t need more stuff around my home to collect dust, but I do enjoy books, good music, can always add more to my collection. I don’t mind food gifts, less cooking and shopping for goodies during the season, and I don’t have to find a place to keep it afterwards. Dinner gift cards and a warm personal note, who could turn such down?

  • Todd Schafer

    Would that I could just keep it to ten!
    By the time I get done appreciating all those who give me business during the year, I’ve spent literally thousands…$50 here, $50 there, all adds up..

  • Joy Gardner

    This is a very healing exercise, not only at this time of year, (though I’m glad for the holidays’ motivation to us) but throughout the year. The Daily Grind can create so much tension and stress, and these little personal acts of kindness dissipates a whole boatload of “junk”. Sometimes you get the benny of seeing the grace happen, sometimes not. I enjoy baking bread – not little loaves, big ones. Whole grains, time-consuming, wonderful acts of love. During the kneadings, I pray for the people I’m baking it for. Each loaf is sort of blessed in that way. How can you go wrong consuming that? 🙂 I also think that gift cards for dinner out is a great blessing too. I also resonate with the personal notes thing. I always write mine out longhand. I can type a lot more a lot faster, but, that’s not what these acts of love are about for me…it’s about taking time, care, intentional pure kindness for its own sake. Wonderful!

  • m

    I sympathise with the becoming a world class bitch thing. One year I decided to make decoupaged boxes for the presents for all my friends – covering shoe boxes. Anyway I spent so much time individualing each box with images out of magazines (I had chronic fatigue at the time) I ended up lying on the sofa directing another friend which items should be put in which box… a sort of crafty hell developed!

  • Christine Kane

    m – one year, I tried to make my mom’s very special cut out cookies for everyone. and on top of it, i used organic ingredients – which made them expensive! and it took me so long to make them – that i have refused to do it since. (mostly because I became a world-class bitch during the process. that can’t be good mojo in those cookies!) I love the idea of inviting people to your house for such a great venture. yay you.

    thanks stacey – yes, dancing queen was quite the improv moment. heifer international is a great foundation. what a wonderful family you have!

    thanks kate! i’ll let him know that it moved you so!

  • Kate Robertson

    Christine,

    I am sitting in a coffee shop writing, no reading your blog instead of writing and i have tears running down my face as a result of the gift your husband gave. This is such a wonderful Idea that I am going to do that this year. What a great way to change your outlook on this season. I have a bunch of great ideas floating through my head. Thank you so much for this.

  • Stacey

    I had to laugh when you disparaged cookies and fruit cake. The only thing my husband wants for Christmas is the homemade fruit cake I make from the Frugal Gourmet’s recipe. (It takes over 2 weeks to make from start to finish and it’s amazing.) I also make up a large batch of chocolate gingerbread cookie dough, roll it into long tubes, wrap and freeze them and then bring to my clinic staff so they can defrost and bake them at any time. My co-workers who are parents say they love that they can do this with their kids. People now ask, “You’re going to bring the cookie dough again this year, right?” I love to think of them enjoying them some cold winter night. I also bring in crates of clementines for those, like you, who want a break from the holiday sugar. 🙂

    I also LOVE to give from Heifer International. For the last few years my family has decided to pool the money we would have spent on each other to buy farm animals for families in need. Through Heifer, you can spend anywhere from $10 for tree seedlings to $5,000 for “the whole ark”. Last year my family donated a cow, 2 goats, 2 pigs, and a flock of chicks. It is especially fun to go through the catalog with kids and have them pick out the animals they want to give. You can find out more at http://www.heifer.org

    I was also at your concert on Saturday night and had a wonderful time. I *loved* your version of Dancing Queen. I don’t know what it is but I am a total sucker for folky/acoustic versions of pop songs. Someone recently sent me a youtube video of an artist (Rose Polanski?) singing her version of White Snake’s “Here I Go Again.” You have to see it. It is just fabulous.

  • m

    This time of year, most of the world seems bent on giving plates piled high with blobs of baked dough frosted with green icing. Or clumps of nut and fruit glued together with maple syrup, bourbon and axle grease.

    ! I love clumps of nuts and fruit glued together with sugar…

    I like the idea of home made food stuff – though I’ve also stressed myself out in previous years baking for the entire nation… I’m better at scaling back doing only one or two recipies not 10 ! I usually make my cards but send them out after christmas kinder to postmen and its nice to get something after christmas so I am for New Year cards instead.

    I also have a tradition of inviting people to my house to write cards for Amnesty Prisoners of Conscience. People really like being invited to do something meaningful at this time of year.

    Thumbs up to sending cards to librarians, – I also do my bank and local swimming pool.

  • Christine Kane

    hiya chickiepam – i used to make all of my own greeting cards. then that got to be a little too stressful! my brother and his wife stopped sending christmas cards, and began to do a valentine’s card instead. they realized it was easier to send something out in february – plus people are getting less stuff at v-day – and they’re more likely to read the family report!

    what a great gift, mark! i like that a lot. thanks for the link.

    thanks sheista!

    kay – it was good to see you there in the front row on saturday! thanks for the information on the laptop program. really wonderful stuff!

    lisa – amazon gift certificates are great. i love amazon. i love to support local businesses, yes. but i also love to support great companies too! amazon is one of them. (they also help indie music careers!)

    sue – great ideas! thanks! (and thanks for your kind words about my music…)

    thanks michelle for the extra ideas. gift cards are always great.

  • Michelle

    I am appreciative of you and coming across your blog; both have made me a more reflective better person. Not having a lot of extra cash to spend at the holidays – we give gift cards to small local restaurants to our car repair man, mailman, doctor (I am diabetic and see him a lot!), other than those folks and few others I try to mostly give of myself. The family I babysit for gets a 6 hours of free sitting, my mom gets some time off and I take care of my grandmother. One of the things I like most is a warm comfy handwritten card for many of my friends.

    All in all I am trying to take the commercialism out of Christmas a bit – I never will be able to entirely. You post was wonderful.

  • Sue

    Christine, this is a great reminder as I head out to shop tomorrow! I bought your new CD for 3 of my closest girlfriends this year and I can’t wait to share it with them. This means so much because your songs are full of both depth and humor. I also like to take pictures throughout the year and then frame them for people, especially if they are the ‘photographer’ in their family and never have pictures of themselves with their kids etc. I ask my kids to make me something from anything they can find in their rooms along with tape,markers, and glue. This is hilarious and creative. Thanks for inspiring me on this rainy cold day!!!

  • Lisa Natoli

    My all time favorite gift (to give & receive) is a gift certificate from Amazon. That way i always get what I want, and I know that whoever I give to can get whatever they want. Sounds impersonal, but I think it’s the best gift ever.

  • Kay

    Thank you Christine!!!! You remain at the top of my list for gratitude and appreciation……and, as shown here so often….at the TOP for many others. Your blog is so inspiring…. (and sometimes challenging)…and always valuable.

    Many years ago, I, too, shifted to making gifts for this season…then a further shift to helping causes or individuals that are not normally shown our appreciation…many that you named above…the often un-noticed. Giving anonymously can also be a good choice. I just keep my eyes open for suggestions or needs that I see…such as ideas from your blog…or recently a clip on TV about an MIT Professor who has started “One Laptop Per Child” program… http://laptop.org/ for information and http://laptopgiving.org if readers here might want to give. There is a special program right now for give one and get one, you get one [to give at your own discretion (or keep)] and another one gets sent to a child in a developing country. $188 per computer…well made and they can be cranked to produce the battery power etc…Just an idea to share….in support of a project that we might help make a bigger reality.

    On another note, your performance with David LaMotte on Saturday night at the Grey Eagle was just TERRIFIC!!! I don’t think I have ever been in an audience of such palpable gladness and appreciation for a shared experience.
    Cheers, gratitude, and appreciation of immeasurable proportion….

  • sheista

    Appreciation is gratitude in action.

    Excellent, as usual, Christine! I love this idea and am going to do this.

    Thanks, again, for sharing yourself and your words with us. I know they continually make a difference in my life.

  • mark penta

    Nice post Christine! Much gratitude for you & your music…:)

    Here’s an inexpensive / meaningful gift I recently gave as part of a larger wedding gift:

    I found a super-neat glass candle holder at Crate & Barrel. (the “Axis” candle holder – $12.95 http://www.crateandbarrel.com/search.aspx?query=candle%20holder&page=2)

    It’s shaped like a flute – hollow inside – with 5 or 6 spots for candles. The idea is, you fill the space under the candles with whatever; stones, seaglass, sticks, guitar picks, anything…

    On the morning of my friend Joanna’s wedding on Cape Cod, I went to our favorite beach and plucked shells & colored pebbles from the surf, then filled the candle holder with them. I wrote a note explaining that the shells arrived on her wedding day from her favorite beach.

    Yeah, I know, I am reeeallly cheesy like that sometimes.

    They loved it.

  • ChickiePam

    Hi Christine,
    Whenever I get to feeling sad, or discouraged or burdened, I write in my gratitude journal. It’s just a spiral notebook. I find that my feelings shift with the writing. It’s hard to feel discouraged when you are full of gratitude for all that you have!

    Around 6 years ago we went to making our gifts for Christmas. My kids have a blast being creative. (And craft kits can help a LOT!) My daughter is very artistic and also makes her own cards, but I have to admit that I design mine on the computer! Before Bruce’s passing 3 years ago, he found a website called http://www.buynothingchristmas.org/. It is an organization that was started by the Canadian Mennonites to reduce stress this time of year. They have a page on alternatives to buying gifts. We went exclusively to making all of our Christmas gifts around 5 years ago. I stopped sending out Christmas cards 15 years ago, (I’m postally challenged!) but I like the ones that I get from friends that are picture postcards.

    Thanks for some great ideas to add to my bag of tricks.
    Pam

  • Christine Kane

    thanks lilalia!

    hi helen – nice article. thanks for the link. i’m happy i don’t feel “frenetic” anymore – mostly because my family, friends and husband and i don’t do the big gift thing. haven’t for years! it’s nice to have that pressure off. i do like to support local artisans and businesses when i buy things.

    lisa – thanks for your very kind words and high praise!

    thanks andrea! i know what you mean about the obligation thing. it’s interesting how stressed out we can get – and yet we’re all agreeing to it! and we’re all agreeing that we can’t stand it. and every year we keep doing it! (doesn’t aa call this the definition of insanity?)

  • Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul

    Thank you for this, Christine! It’s so easy to fall into obligation in this season, when it really serves us as an opportunity to appreciate and celebrate all those who we are grateful for!

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Lisa Natoli

    Christine – I appreciate you. Finding your blog is like finding an unexpected diamond in the sand, and I mean that totally. I love your writing. I love the way you think. I love how your heart is filled with gratitude, and how you extend it. You are truly a bright light. So thank you!

    My very favorite line in A Course in Miracles is: “only appreciation is an appropriate response to your brother.”

    I love that.

    love, lisa

  • Helen

    A great idea.

    I thought you might be interested by the following post :
    http://www.spiritualprogressives.org/article.php?story=20071125070854545

    Have a nice day 🙂

  • lilalia

    About a year ago, I came upon your blog. I just wanted to thank you for writing such wonderful thoughts. You poor so much of your heart and soul into your words, which brings light into your readers lives.

    Today’s post, made concrete why I like this holiday season. Since I do not belong to any church, do not follow any religious beliefs, and stay on the periphery of any consumer mania, I found it hard to explain why this holiday season means so much to me. In an understated way, I have been practicing what you have outlined in this post. Now, that I know what it is I want to do, share my appreciation, I can do it more robustly!