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Recognition vs. Rewards vs. Gratitude: What The Science Says, Part II.

Last week, we asked what the difference is, if any, between gratitude, appreciation, and recognition, from a scientific standpoint. We were fortunate enough to have a few experts weigh in on the topic and thought you’d find their perspectives as helpful as we did.

Reb Rebele is the research manager for people analytics at The Wharton School. While he said there isn’t a vast amount of research on the differences, but he theorized that:

  • Recognition is the act of expressing appreciation or gratitude, making it more behavioral.
  • Appreciation is about acknowledging the perceived value of something or someone. Appreciation is more of a cognitive act.
  • Gratitude is more affective . It’s about feeling thankful, either as a direct beneficiary or on behalf of someone else.

Julianna Pillemer, a Ph.D. in management at Wharton, shared one article that also looked at gratitude vs. appreciation and the impact on life satisfaction outcomes to highlight the differences.  As she summarized:

Adler and Fagley (2005) defined appreciation as “acknowledging the value and meaning of something—an event, a person, a behavior, an object—and feeling a positive emotional connection to it”  Therefore, appreciation involves both cognition and affect.

Then, they actually conceptualize gratitude as a subcomponent of appreciation: The gratitude aspect of appreciation refers to noticing a benefit received (gifts, perceived efforts, sacrifices/actions on one’s behalf) and feeling grateful to someone for it. It is a positive emotion directed to a benefactor for some perceived, intentional benefit.

Recognition is typically thought of as the behavioral expression of these internal states, whether informally (telling someone they did a great job) or formally (giving them an award or making a public announcement).

Interestingly enough, the article shows that appreciation has a significant affect on life satisfaction, distinctive from gratitude.  So as we go into this Thanksgiving week here in the US, certainly start by acknowledging the benefits you’ve received and express your gratitude for it

And finally, know that appreciation is good for your life satisfaction. I know that I’m appreciating institutions that are standing up loudly and clearly to defend the values of an inclusive society – whether it’s the faculties of Babson College,  the administration at the University of Pennsylvania or the cast of Hamilton.

From all of us here at WeSpire, we hope that you an enjoyable and relaxing Thanksgiving with family, friends and others that you appreciate having in your life.