The word “acknowledgement” has two dictionary definitions. The first is “acceptance of the truth.” As you observe the world today, you may have noticed both “acceptance” and “truth” have gone missing.

The second definition of is “the action of displaying gratitude or appreciation.” In a week where heart-shaped greeting cards are exchanged across the generations, and “I love you” is offered more frequently, this seems like an appropriate subject. Let’s focus on that second definition for a few paragraphs and see where it leads us.

Every time we encounter another person, we have the opportunity to encourage and sustain that individual. My favorite example of acknowledgement is when I unexpectedly come upon someone I have not seen for a while and she literally drops everything, initiates a warm, lingering hug and says, “Tell me exactly what’s going on with you right now, you beautiful person!” And I do.

Have you received an unexpected and authentically stated compliment? I’m thinking about the kind of compliment that lands in your heart and improves your sense of self indefinitely? I’m a writer today because my seventh-grade English teacher surprised me with a “well-written” at the top of a corrected class assignment. I’m a better mother because my own mom once told me, “I love the way you listen to your children with your whole self.”

If we each initiated affirmations and acknowledgements a little more often, imagine what a world this could be. What if we ignored critical, mean-spirited diatribes or countered them with a compliment. What if we decided to spend an entire day performing random acts of kindness? What if we just smiled more often?

As I grow older I have come to realize that simple acknowledgements can change everything. Affirmation is especially effective if you don’t expect it.

If I’m in a conversation and someone says, “good point!” I’m more likely to stay fully engaged in my discussion with them — maybe even make another good point or two and listen a little more to their words. Acknowledgement and praise are important in any form. Research suggests that even disingenuous praise is effective. But I have a personal request: Let’s all decide to consistently, and with observable grace, default to the truth.

You will find a lot of truth in the recently published “Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World,” which tracks a multiday conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The tender friendship between these men and their thoughtful commentary on a joy-filled life is powerful reading. The book is promoted as “Two spiritual giants. Five days. One timeless question.”

And the question is: “How do we find joy in the face of inevitable suffering?” Their discussion embraces the possibilities; it talks about the importance of “re-framing a situation more positively and “making the constant choice to be kind and generous.”

Think about the last time you experienced an unselfish, kind and generous action. When is the last time you, unexpectedly and from-your-heart, reached out with gratitude and affirming good will. Maybe today is the day. And tomorrow is another.

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at