Our Hunger for Praise

The opinions of others sway in the breeze, plus to minus, minus to plus. A leafy green on our sunny days — brown, crinkly, and fallen on the rest.

Many adults are as preoccupied with being evaluated as they were in school. Since we cannot escape all those who would judge us, the crucial question is what to do with their appraisals.

Our species always needed to keep the favor of those around them. When dangerous animals, enemies, or an absence of food came into play, a team enabled survival.

Men and women desired a place of shelter with a group, more achievable if the newcomers proved of practical value to the bunch. Nor did it hurt to be understood and consoled, while offering the same encouragement to companions. Helpful advice was sought and shared.

We still hope our needs are cared about and cared for by folks we know, though governments take up some slack. Survival depended on friends, lovers, and comrades in our prehistory (before written records). Indeed, we feel adrift and lonely without them today.

Nonetheless, too often, we think  “The Three Stooges” captured the state of current circumstances when they said,

All for one! One for all! Every man for himself!

Given our hunger for glory and fear of disgrace or abandonment, happiness requires a strategy for reaching a proper place in society.

Even among the most prominent souls, one discovers performers and athletes desperate to command the stage after they should have left it. The glorious singing voice may be gone, but the desire for continuing adulation often trumps reason.

The larger the craving, the larger our risk of becoming the object of flattery: insincere or excessive kudos, unearned applause, or cheers. Some who rise to the top cannot bear the inevitable fall.

Equally dangerous is dependency on a lover for unflagging attention. Insecurity will cause some to make sexual advances to secure their place as desirable and necessary, even beyond what the partner enjoys.

One might consider an excessive effort to receive smiling notice an addiction of sorts. When the mate tires of overwhelming craving, the worry over anticipated loss produces the rejection that was feared. Consider this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Marcus Aurelius knew well the world of popularity, reputation, and false compliments. This Emperor of Rome wrote:

Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time swallows it all. 

The emptiness of those applauding hands. The people who praise us; how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region (in which) it takes place. The whole earth, (is) a (mere) point in space – and most of it uninhabited.

Goethe, the German genius of words and thoughts, put our transitory nature this way:

Names are like sound and smoke.

Stated differently, we don’t last much beyond the time it takes sound to become silent and the vapor to vanish.

Marcus Aurelius learned to tell the difference between those who offered help and consideration for him and those whose presence was self-interested. At the beginning of his Meditations, he lists 17 of those who aided him in valuing personal virtue and understanding the human universe and his place in it.

Knowing oneself and discovering how to distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit are the first steps to becoming less vulnerable to changeable opinions.

Congratulations and blame will come, but convictions must remain despite the crowd’s cheers or boos. Win the self-confidence you wish by setting and testing an internal standard that is reachable and worth reaching.

As the Russian writer, Pushkin wrote:

To praise and slander (both) be nonchalant and cool.

Demand no laureate’s wreath, think nothing of abuse,

And never argue with a fool.*


*Translated by A.Z. Foreman from Pushkin’s Exegi Monumentum.

The statue is Edward Onslow Ford’s Applause, sourced from Wikimedia Commons. The painting is Time, Death and Judgement by George Frederick Watts, courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada.

20 thoughts on “Our Hunger for Praise

  1. An Audience of One

    Oh how I love this: “Congratulations and blame will come, but convictions must remain despite the crowd’s cheers or boos.” And Pushkin’s quote is great. Such a wonderful post all around, Dr. Stein!

    I also thought it was neat because
    just today I was working on a post related to the beginning of Aurelius’ Meditations. Hopefully it’ll be ready soon, but in any case, we were on the same page. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for the kudos, Kendra. Marcus Aurelius puts many of us on the same page, all to our benefit. I noticed you mentioned him on your blog recently. I am assuming he captured you. Quite a human being.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Tamara Kulish from https://tamarakulish.com/

    “Knowing oneself and discovering how to distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit are the first steps to becoming less vulnerable to changeable opinions.”

    Yesss! This is exactly what is needed to find the way to an inner peace not negatively swayed or influenced by others around! 100%!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t think I ever rated 100%. I shall bask in its glow today, then go back to my regular 62% tomorrow! Seriously, thank you, Tamara!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So much goodness here, Dr. Stein. Thank you. This stood out, especially, because of someone I care about: “Even among the most prominent souls, one discovers performers and athletes desperate to command the stage after they should have left it.” Yep. Achieving significance and reveling in the adoration has a darker side…when the audience fades, roles change and there’s no cheering crowd. I appreciate how you aptly named this “a craving”. Always a pleasure to read and learn from your posts – thank you! 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • You are most welcome, Victoria. “Times up!” is not a message anyone wants to hear, though some performers and athletes — a small number — do have the wisdom to know when to leave.

      I once interviewed a Chicago Symphony principal player in the woodwind section. When I asked him why he retired when he did, he told me that he thought it was better to leave when people still were surprised by his departure than to say to him, “Yeah, I guess that was a good idea.”

      Liked by 3 people

      • Oh – thank you for sharing that! I enjoyed working with college athletes when I was in that environment. The exit process from elite, distinguished athlete to life outside of competitive sports was a journey.

        I learned so much from my dissertation chair about the transitions away from the spotlight and intense pressure as that was his area of interest and research. I can only imagine the same is true for prominent musicians, professional athletes…way finding anew.

        Your post brought back a lot of memories about being near to help folks find purpose outside of the intense arenas. Thank you for that! Take care, Dr. Stein! 😊

        Liked by 2 people

      • Your work must have been more than informative, Victoria. I never worked with athletes who had to make the transition you described, but I did consult with the Chicago Blackhawks many years ago for the purpose of helping them select young men in the draft.

        Another psychologist and I had to translate our evaluations into a language that the front office didn’t have. But the highpoint for me was leaving the United Center, which the Hawks shared with the Chicago Bulls Basketball Team, and saying hello to Bob Love as we exited on the first day we were there.

        Love was an NBA star when I was in grad school and THAT brief exchange was the biggest thrill I had in my couple of weeks of consultation!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Oh my goodness…what a moment…meeting Bob Love! Hubby and I have been Bulls fans for years (well, he more than me…I was more of a fair-weather fan in the mega Michael Jordan years – but what a ride!) When I mentioned to him just now that you met Bob Love?! Big smile! What a moment for you!
        And what fascinating work – consulting with the Blackhawks. Your comment – “translating our evaluations into a language that the front office didn’t have” made me chuckle. I can only imagine. Thanks so much for sharing. Big smiles to you! 😊


  5. It’s nice to have an ego where you don’t care about other’s approval. 🙂 (speaking for myself)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Laura. Part of what comes into play if one has had enough success is getting to a point where you simply don’t feel the need to prove yourself in most situations. You don’t care what the audience thinks and, even when you do, you usually are able to bounce back pretty quickly. Of course, by then you are no longer young. I imagine the brain changes at play make a big contribution too, something you don’t choose but simply experience. That is my non-scientific take on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been thinking lately about the distinction between doing something for the innate satisfaction, and doing it for the “likes” and other external satisfaction. While it’s always nice to know others see and appreciate one’s accomplishments, it’s certainly never healthy to catch oneself craving the “likes.” A timely post for me, Dr. Stein. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d like to think that craving is mostly a young person’s game. As to the game of “likes,” that would take far more energy than I’ve ever wanted to expend on it. In those things we do out of inner necessity, we probably come closer to the innate satisfaction you mentioned than when doing most other things. But, as you say, it is very nice to be recognized for a job well done. Thank you, Nina.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Dr. Stein, there’s so much to unpack in your post. Within society, our survival/success depends upon how well we are evaluated by others: in school, in the workplace, in our select groups, among our friends. As you note from the outset, it’s “what to do with their appraisals” that matters. I agree with your conclusion that “Knowing oneself and discovering how to distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit are the first steps to becoming less vulnerable to changeable opinions.” For me, this has been the work of a lifetime.

    The hunger for praise among those who have already attained success or fame is painful to witness. Such individuals appear not to appreciate or care about the “risk of becoming the object of flattery.” Worse still, is their refusal to accept or “bear the inevitable fall” from their top position. In our technological connected world, we see examples of such behavior playing out in real time.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. You have it right, Rosaliene. For example, an old friend told me when we were both 16 that he wanted to do something “great” in his life. Now retired, that is doubtful. He accomplished much but never enough to satisfy himself.

    Following your comment on the inevitable fall, one observes those who never reached the top. Life is challenging enough. A shame we appear so able to add not only to the unhappiness of others but our own.

    Keep working on yourself, as I know you will. Those who are honest about it know we will never be finished.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This sentence jumped out at me, “Knowing oneself and discovering how to distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit are the first steps to becoming less vulnerable to changeable opinions.” It brought to mind the passage from Aristotle about friendships you pointed me to. Friendship for pleasure is easy to change/move on from but it’s the friendship of equals that matters.

    Beautiful post about why we long for praise and what to do about it. Thanks. Dr Stein!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am glad you found the Aristotle discussion, Wynne. Not everyone has the curiosity or courage to consult the classic texts. We spend so much time paying attention to today’s talking heads, pop culture figures, and “influencers” who persuade us what to buy and how to dress when it turns out that few, if any, of them are as wise as people who lived 2000 years ago. Thanks, Wynne.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Another great post, Dr. Stein!

    I first read others’ comments before I responded here. I liked what a lot of people have said. Here’s what I want to add to the conversation.

    I’ve met people who could be genuine with some people some of the time, counterfeit with other people some of the time, or swaying between genuine to counterfeit with the same people at different times. The latter is harder for me to follow than the former.

    In my middle age, and because disability causes “early retirement,” I’ve learned that health is not promised, that we all go through phases in life, that dreams don’t always get achieved, that being a minority means finding a new purpose in self-advocacy (despite “battle fatigue” with racism, ageism, ableism, sexism, xenophobia, and the many other things I struggle with daily), and that even people’s genuine nature may change toward you or you toward them, depending on your mental or physiological statuses (e.g., stress might mean “faking” a reaction or something, in order to save face; physical pain might make it too exhausting to be genuine, so instead you become more short and pointed). I think we repurpose ourselves during each phase in life; although some people might be more consistent with their goals and purposes than others, especially if they are privileged with health, social support, and the mental and physical faculties to remain in their statuses.

    I do what I can to find the resources to survive, and I try to figure out where it is safe to assert myself (as a minority person) and where it is not (because I’m single, alone, and outnumbered). I find my safety with advocates who focus on awareness and inclusivity and diversity and cultural sensitivity and cultural safety. Being multiracial, it is hard for me to adhere to tribalism – something that is not spoken about in many circles. (However, Harry and Meghan’s new Netflix documentary, so far – as I’m on episode 2 – has spoken out about their multiracial family, which gives me tons of hope, despite the backlash from the Royals and many others in mainstream society.) I’m rejected, hated, and shunned by many aspects of society, including from my split family with one race category on one side and the other race category on the other side, and all from different political stances, and many who don’t believe in people like me living off of disability. So it’s hard for me to be liked, trusted, accepted, and assimilated into any culture, since I’m a blend of all, not just individual pieces of each individual race and their respective cultures. It’s hard to explain to those who adhere to just one culture or who compartmentalize their cultures in the USA. As a multiracial Asian, I’m blended and don’t have a mainstream culture. Thus, it may be difficult for others to relate to me, and therefore difficult for others to be genuine with me. But I’ll take a kind “try” from a person who starts out with “counterfeit” notions, but who might wind up with more “genuine” responses as they get to know me.

    I hope that makes sense, unless I’ve completely missed the point – which I might be doing more often, as I struggle with fatigue, overwhelm, ongoing continuous traumatic and collective traumatic stress, and brain fog. Still, I enjoy reading and writing, when I have the energy (and focus).


  11. I don’t think you missed the point, Dragon Fly. Your situation is undoubtedly challenging and adds complexity to day-to-day living. I will say just a couple of things. Trust cannot be maintained if a person vacillates between genuine and not genuine. How will one know which version of the other he is getting today, and who can be relied on?

    The same might be said of honesty, a near twin of being genuine.

    Trust requires a lot of consistency. No one is perfect, but when the other is accepted, even though he is constantly flipping a coin on who he will be, we don’t wisely exert control over who we wish to spend time with and who he should keep away. It is depleting to be in such situations over and over.

    The simple answer is to simplify one’s life and surround yourself with the folks in front of whom you have gradually chosen to be “real.” Then there will be more situations to be faced calmly and with a sense of security, knowing you do not need the crowd’s approval so long as you have created a foundation of essential principles within yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Dr. Stein. Unfortunately, all I know so far is my dysfunctional upbringing with my dysfunctional family. I’m having difficulty discerning between someone having an “off day,” someone struggling with mental and/or physical illness, and someone truly “fake,” for lack of a better descriptor. It seems that those who are not genuine could be struggling with someone temporary, so their consistency in engagement with others might lack. I guess I’m getting at “intention,” as opposed to what appears to others on the outside.


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