You’ve got gratitude down. Here’s the next level.
You may have noticed that practicing gratitude has become a thing — the idea being that if we’re consciously appreciative, we’ll be happier. And we are, a lot of research shows.
Gratitude is great — it puts us in a good mood that benefits both us and others. But there is something else that beautifully complements gratitude that can possibly produce an even greater joy and deeper connection to others:
Honoring, from my view, is about demonstrating a sense of reverence and thoughtfulness toward someone or something, borne of caring, through one’s deeds and words. You could say honoring is part presence, part awe and part celebration.
My friend, the neuroscientist and co-author of Integration, Ann Betz once mentioned that she appreciated honoring and being honored through simple, thoughtful gestures. For me that could mean leaving an arrangement of someone’s favorite flowers, or a welcoming note, in my guestroom for them when they visit. Or giving my colleagues my full presence in a meeting, sans cell phone. I honor myself by going to bed at 10 pm so I’ll be at my best the next day. One thing I do to honor the planet is limit the length of my showers.
Honoring is not only the effect of doing good but the cause too.
When I am truly emotionally connected to the goal of honoring my body and health, I am far more likely to eat a salad or invite a friend to go for a hike. I haven’t seen any science to back this up yet, but it sure works for me.
In her famous TEDx talk, Brené Brown warned us that we must stop pretending that we don’t have considerable impact on each other. Practicing honoring is one antidote. I believe that when we honor ourselves, the benefit spills over exponentially into how we impact others. Think about it: When we truly show respect and love for ourselves, we probably don’t create as many unnecessary problems for others; at the same time, we increase our capacity to honor others. For example, when a teen honors herself enough to not drink and drive, she also honors her parents, siblings, friends and her whole community that could be impacted by a car accident she could cause. By staying sober, she may also be more likely to notice another teen who’s been drinking and honor them (and those they would encounter on the road) by discouraging them from driving drunk.
Honoring can add purpose and meaning to our everyday routines. What if you held “honoring energy” about something dull you have to do like dusting your house? Your intention could be to nurture the beautiful things you own that contain so many special memories. Or to provide a fresh, healthy home for your children. That sure beats dwelling on the drudgery or just zoning out!
Honoring others is a lot of fun and doesn’t have to cost any money or much time: Kind eye contact, a smile, a nod or some words of acknowledgment.
I especially love to deliberately bring honoring into a space devoid of it.
For several years now, if I have to visit the grocery store just before Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve when it’s a frenetic zoo, I make a point of honoring others. Most people are on the verge of a nervous breakdown doing last-minute holiday food shopping, but I keep a friendly, warm, calm feeling inside as I shop…I smile easily at strangers…I yield my cart even if I have the right of way…I let someone go ahead of me in line…I ask the cashier how they’re holding up…compliment someone. It isn’t sophisticated. Yet it’s amazing how injecting honoring into such a hectic, high-pressure environment can wake people up out of their stress stupor and relieve some tension. I think it’s had a positive impact on others and I always leave feeling great!
If we’re actively looking for ways to honor others, we are going to be more present, curious, compassionate, connected and creative — that is to say, more alive.
When others honor us, we feel seen, acknowledged and appreciated, and are more likely to elevate ourselves to reciprocate the refreshing energy of that interaction. Honoring begets honoring.
Honoring can even save your life.
My globetrotting friend Mark was traveling in Guatemala, teaching English and living with the locals. He was walking home one day and was approached menacingly on an isolated street by three men carrying metal bars. Mark always learns a few key words of the hyperlocal vernacular wherever he goes, so he honored them by greeting them with “Na’an”, which means “hello” in that village’s particular Mayan dialect (not Spanish), and instantly dissolved a potentially tragic confrontation.
“Honor” is a concept I have given extraordinary energy to over the past 20 years while studying “honor killing,” the traditional practice of typically a male murdering a female relative for her disobedience or promiscuity in many societies of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, North Africa and some immigrants from those places worldwide. The idea of honor has been distorted in these cultures that view it as the highest family value but measure it by the degree to which a male is able to control his female relatives as his property. If she steps out of line, murder may be considered the only way to cleanse the sullied honor. Girls who have been raped may be lucky if they get to marry the rapist instead of being killed.
I was so profoundly moved by the hypocrisy of “honor killing” that I researched the origins of it for over a decade to develop a theory that I published in my novel, The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice, and gave a TED talk about. In 2014, I was featured in and helped produce a documentary on a US “honor killing” case, “The Price of Honor”, that was screened in the US Capitol by three Congresswomen with the Justice Department.
With such heightened awareness (some would say obsession) about honor, I tend to notice its presence or absence in many situations.
I was in Nepal last year, just a few weeks before the devastating earthquake, and discovered that the Nepalese commonly greet each other with hands in prayer position and, with a little head bow, say “Namasté” — the divine in me salutes the divine in you. If that isn’t honoring, I don’t know what is.
Being honored is a precious experience to behold.
Like when I was a vegan for five years (before it was trendy) and my step-grandma always went above and beyond to make me vegan Thanksgiving food along with everyone else’s traditional fare. That made me feel loved. Or the time my toddler son got something in his eye at a party in a park; Rob, a gifted surgeon friend, and I worked together to wash it out. He let me lead the process and even complimented my technique and calm demeanor. I felt so honored by this treatment, which grew my confidence as a mom — and made me want to pay it forward.
When you honor someone, they will never forget how you made them feel.
What if we raised the bar on how we treat ourselves and others? What if we were to walk around with both gratitude in our hearts and honoring in our intentions? I think it could change the world.
Let’s make it a thing.
Amy Logan is President of the US National Committee for UN Women, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, an expert speaker for the US State Department, author of the acclaimed novel The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice, consulting producer of the award-winning documentary “The Price of Honor”, and a certified leadership coach. @amyauthor