Let us start with a definition of appreciation. It is not a definition from a dictionary, but one that I have come up with myself. Appreciation is liking or enjoyment that you perceive as special and can usually willingly do without. In the broadest sense of the word, gratitude is involved. This need not be to a person. It can be gratitude to God or luck, or nature, etc.

If you see something as a need or a right, then you are highly unlikely to appreciate it. I see my present housing, (rather than particular aspects of my present housing) as a need. It is not special to return in the afternoon to a roof over my head. Being housed is all I have ever known. It is very hard to have something almost all the time and appreciate it. I have had a benefit from the taxpayer for some time now, but I still appreciate that this is only possible through other people’s hard work. Although I have not completely done without it, I have worked hard to minimise the extent to which I am a burden to the taxpayer. I have also always ensured that I give something back to society.

Appreciation is not intense desire. Intense desire is based on feeling awful WITHOUT something. I have an intense desire for my computer. When something goes wrong I feel awful at the possibility of having to go without my computer. If you desire something intensely, ironically you are unlikely to be particularly happy when you have it. I am no more happy with my computer than I was before I had one. Intense desires that you perceive as being unlikely to be met often result in depression and anxiety.

If you are forced to do without something that you intensely desire you will probably become angry or frustrated. How you feel about being denied something you appreciate will depend on WHY you have been denied it. For instance I appreciate walking and would like to do the Skyline Walkway again one day. If I planned to do it on a particular day, but couldn’t because of the weather, I would be moderately disappointed. If however, the track was closed due to vandalism I would be angry because I would have been denied my passion by someone else’s thoughtlessness.

Jus because you enjoy something intensely doesn’t necessarily mean you will be intensely unhappy without it. We can all do without that which we perceive as special. Passion is the ultimate in appreciation. It is about the intense ENJOYMENT of something rather than the intense DESIRE for something. For instance I have particularly enjoyed the four wins that I have had of over $ 40 on the horses in the last five years. If I had an intense desire for big wins then I would abandon my system of spending $ 22 most Saturdays and go for a big win at all costs, and spend large amounts of money on the horses.

Ingredients of  intense enjoyment include perceiving something as special; interesting and expressive of one’s values. This is particularly so if the passion does these things at more than one level. For instance my passion for the horse involves an interest in statistics; the opportunity to be generous with my winnings; the coloured documents I keep of my records, and the interest that I have developed in the New Zealand racing industry generally.

We live in a very consumerist society: “money makes the world go round”. To increase their sales businesses want us to perceive their goods and services as necessities. But a key ingredient in appreciation is an ability to willingly do without. Technology allows us to have more and more indulgences that most of us do not appreciate because we see them as needs. Because we perceive that we have so many ‘needs’ these days we have more opportunity to be upset when any of these needs are not met. We  are, if anything, less appreciative than we were a hundred years ago. For instance a few weeks ago I was upset when a bus was over 15 minutes late. A century ago there weren’t even any buses to catch! So our rise and rise in consumerism has caused a decline in appreciation.

I will summarise this essay by saying that we all have intense desires, but the most enriching desires are the ones that are less intense and underpin appreciation. Intense DESIRE and intense ENJOYMENT are almost mutually exclusive.

Completed 14/3/2006

by Michael Dunningham


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