Who doesn’t love hearing those words? Praise feels wonderful. It makes us believe we are worthy, validated, or even loved. It starts when we are babies. Adults tell us, "good job," for the simplest of tasks. We even receive praise for things we have little control over, like burping. And this continues as we grow, making us eager to please. When we receive praise for a job well done our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter. This chemical stimulates the area of our brains responsible for feeling contentedness and pleasure. So, it’s no wonder that once we get praise, we only want more.
Education expert, Alfie Kohn, suggests that too much praise (or more precisely, the wrong kind of praise) turns children into “praise junkies.” Says Kohn, “It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and dole out some more approval.” One study showed that children who were highly praised in the classroom were more likely to give up on challenging tasks, and less likely to share their thoughts or volunteer, which begs us to consider the possibility that praise may not always be a good thing
Kabbalists teach that our reasons for pursuing any goal should be driven by intrinsic rewards and a desire to connect to the Light of the Creator. Our yearning to be recognized and praised for our actions and accomplishments is fueled by our egos. Being led by a desire to be recognized prevents us from transforming through our positive actions. Unrecognized acts of goodness are no less valuable. And, as Michael Berg points out, “When we seek approval, we are all too likely to lose our connection to the Light of the Creator, which is, ironically, the source of all our talents.”
From a kabbalistic point of view the process is more important. Hard work, effort, and thought are still worth it in the end. In fact, acts of sharing bring more Light into the world when we resist our desire to broadcast our goodness. “Sharing matters not because it allows us to perform conspicuously good deeds or to be recognized as righteous people,” says Michael Berg. “Sharing matters because by transforming ourselves into sharing beings, we gain the joy and fulfillment that is life’s true purpose.” Positive actions that are performed anonymously reveal the most Light. And acts of goodness and kindness will always be rewarded in the end—whether anyone notices or not.
When we allow ourselves to feel good from the inside out instead of from the outside in, our actions are more powerful. We don’t need anyone to validate our hard work or acts of sharing. We know that blessings and abundance will come our way whether anyone knows about our good deeds or not.
Think of life as a game for which we will never see the scorecard. Our teammates will never know how many points we’ve earned. The score is strictly between ourselves and the Creator. The winning happens in the sharing and we want to win, not because it comes with a trophy or an award, but because it brings more Light into the world.