In New Zealand we specialize in the pioneer version of the stiff upper lip. It's not done to gush or to boast. You take pride in being tough enough to do without praise and encouragement.
As a variation there's praise as a carrot. Dangling in front of you, delicious, tempting and always just out of reach. You keep hoping that trying just that little bit harder, or going that little bit faster will do it for you and you'll finally catch up with that carrot.
Meantime what are you learning? That you're a wimp for wanting a bit of acknowledgement? That striving is its own reward and praise is a mirage? That hoping for approval can make a donkey of you?
With all that baggage, it's hardly surprising if you feel suspicious of praise. You might even bristle in response to a compliment: "What do you want?" "What do you know about it anyway?" "I'll bet you say that to everyone."
What does that do to your relationships? If you don't say the good things to each other then most of your interactions are going to be about what's wrong. How loving is that?
Imagine what it would be like to treat praise as an endlessly renewable resource, to just give it freely. No more hoarding or competing for it. Something can be valuable in it's own right, it doesn't have to be better than something else is.
You can praise and encourage absolutely anything you like. That's the whole point of praise. When you stop making it a competition, it's simply an expression of enjoyment and appreciation.
You can tell your partner what you love about them. You can tell your friends exactly what it is that makes them so much fun to be around. You can tell your child that the person they are right now is more than good enough.
You might be wondering what on earth you'd say. Well that's the challenge. Seeing the praise worthy features of your grunting adolescent can be a stretch. You need to practice. Once you've figured it out, you'll enjoy being around them a whole lot more.
Think of it as witnessing someone being themself. If you are accepting and encouraging about the person you see, they will find it easier to get hold of their delightful, capable self.
You might worry that no one will believe you. If your kid is used to you asking why their B+ essay isn't an A they'll find it hard to take "well done" seriously and they'll know if you're faking it.
Rules about what deserves praise can be a bit arbitrary. You may find you need to re-evaluate some of them. If it's a choice between the people you love and the rules, what's more important?
The more you practice praise, the fitter your spirit of generosity becomes. That makes it easier for you to recognise the value in people around you. Genuine praise is a terrific way to let people know you appreciate them.
If you would like help to learn how to give genuine praise, contact Relationships Aotearoa on 0800 735 283 or telephone your local office which is listed in the telephone directory.