Appreciation and Gratitude – what’s the difference, does it matter?


Now there’s a word. Last week I was serendipitously invited to speak to a small group of EMCC coaches, meeting online to think together on the theme of Appreciation. (Thank you Bev Holden!)

Many of us, particularly in the coaching community, are aware of the growing body of evidence that shows us how consistent observation of our lives through the prism of gratitude (such as gratitude journals and habits, mindfulness and so on) actively grows and rewires parts of the brain in a very healthy way. And I had been sideswiped here on LinkedIn by this marvellous graphic about the brain which you might find useful too.


It’s about the impact of hypervigilance on the brain. What a relevant, immediate topic. Apart from anything else, this being ‘on alert’ so much of the time is really tiring for us, it’s simply not normal.  Hypervigilance, and the related production of adrenaline, is supposed to be an emergency switch, not a permanent state, and it uses up a lot of brain energy. Which goes some way to explaining the dullness and apathy that for many people seems to be part of the current phase in lockdown.

So that perception was feeding into my thinking about how to find a practical way to dial down the limbic vigilance and to be more relaxed.

Appreciation vs Gratitude

Then came the invitation to offer a 90 minute Time to Think experience on Appreciation, with the built-in advantage of hearing what others think too. What emerged was that it seems easier to feel genuine appreciation of something in the moment than it is to summon up and truly feel gratitude. It seems like there’s a struggle to experience the reality of gratitude at will and that simply listing the objects of gratitude runs the risk of becoming something of a ‘by rote’ exercise rather than a ‘from the heart’ thing.

This matters, since we know that we can actively encourage the neuroplasticity of the brain to expand the part of the limbic system which very likely helps us to be more alert and open and resilient. This happens through regular focus (in brief moments, not all day long) on what’s good and immediate and working well. Through brief moments of genuine Appreciation. And that feels easier and more authentic to me.

What do you think about this distinction between Appreciation and Gratitude – and what difference might that make to your coaching practice?

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