An honest, unproud moment with me. I’ve always struggled with gratitude. The words “thank you” have always seemed somehow superficial. They remind me of childhood prayers that begin with “Thank You for my toys, thank You for my house, thank You for mac and cheese” and end with an abrupt “Amen!”. Not that there’s anything wrong with teaching littles to pray, but I’m not entirely sure I realized what it truly meant to be thankful for any of those things.
Part of the trouble with gratitude is the deep-seated sense of entitlement that I and other millennials grew up understanding. My parents never had masses of wealth, but as a child, I was never want for anything. Whether it be from them or from my doting grandparents. It was understood that we would order popcorn and sodas at the movie theater. If we wanted to try a new hobby, supplies would show up on our beds and schedules for lessons would be made. If we needed new clothes, we were taken to our favorite stores and given freedom to pick and choose based on our own tastes. Let me say that none of these things are wrong! In fact, as an adult I’ve acknowledged the sacrifice in time and money that it all took and I can honestly say that I am truly thankful for each of those opportunities. They gave me a sense of security. However, I also believe that they naturally taught me a sense of entitlement.
Everyone is entitled to certain things, and depending on your lifestyle that can vary from person to person. For example, my husband and I don’t have a landline in the house. Which, let’s be real, does anyone these days? Anyways, for sake of safety and security, we need to have a way of getting in touch with each other beyond smoke signals from the next town over. So, owning a cell phone is more of a necessity than a desire. I’m entitled to have access to family and friends in the case of emergency and therefore, entitled to a cell phone. What I’m not entitled to is complaining when it’s a 3 year old iPhone that takes a bit more time to load than the latest and greatest. If it still fulfills the need, there’s no reason for complaint. The fact that my screen is broken and makes it difficult to know how my filters on my Instagram photos are looking, doesn’t give me right to complaint.
Even though I can acknowledge this concept, it doesn’t always stop me from thinking that I’m entitled to going over budget for a few extra cups of coffee while I’m grocery shopping, having the newest technology and devices and refreshing my wardrobe season after season when I can’t seem to figure out what “personal style” means to me.
Looking beyond myself, I can see how this entitlement game has affected the way the rest of my generation offers gratitude to those around us. It’s rare to see people look up during conversation and not just acknowledge the waitress, but thank her for refilling our water cups. We think that she’s being paid for a service so why should we interrupt our conversation to thank her for what she’s supposed to be doing? It’s a sad phenomenon that I see all too often in my own life.
One of David and I’s first real arguments during marriage was over thank you notes for our wedding guests. We had been a little late in filling them out and after some prodding from family members, were feeling the pressure of sitting down and getting them done. I struggled with the task since 1. people were asking for the cards which seemed to defeat the purpose and 2. I was having a difficult time understanding beyond my own entitlement. David is a natural socialite. He feeds on being around people and has anxiety when relationships are in turmoil in any way. So from his side, he believed thank you notes were vital to keeping honor and respect where it was due. For me, I felt as though it was our guest’s honor to be invited for our special day so therefore they brought gifts to show their gratitude for us including them and our notes were saying “thank you” for all the “thank you” gifts- a cycle that didn’t seem to stop in my head. I was so frustrated by the pressure of sending a card that was honestly being written out of obligation that would then end up on a fridge or counter for about a week before being thrown in the trash.
Before we go any further, don’t judge me too harshly on this one. I’m just sharing my honest experience. We’re all growing here.
While I still find the thank you card as archaic, something I have begun to understand more since that argument is the need for gratitude. Whether or not the person on the other end is standing in their kitchen tapping their foot waiting for their card, my responsibility is how I conduct myself. Whether or not I’m pressured, the need for gratitude exists no matter what and not just for the big, grandiose gestures.
Since the argument, I’ve worked on my sense of daily gratitude. I think working minimalism and budgeting has taught me a lot about this in my home. When you own less and have worked hard to save for what you do have, it’s easy to be thankful for what you have. What’s more difficult is understanding gratitude for the intangible. Seeing your husband’s stop at the grocery store to get you more of your favorite snacks for you lunch the next day as a sacrifice on his part rather than a job you’re entitled to him completing can be difficult. Realizing that the person behind the register might be making minimum wage while performing under strict sales goals may not come naturally, but it’s something to stop and think about before rolling your eyes at them when they ask if you want to sign up for a new credit card. Because a simple, “No thank you” with a smile and a genuine, “Thanks so much!” as they hand you a bag of carefully bagged groceries could be enough encouragement to get them through their shift.
As we prepared for the arrival of our son, I remembered back to several years ago when I had reconstructive jaw surgery. The hospital I was in, while full of walls covered with impressive certificates and awards, was sorely lacking in doctors and nurses who seemed to care about anything other than their large paychecks. I experienced a long, traumatic afternoon in recovery where they wouldn’t let my parents come to see me. I can just remember feeling cold, alone and in a world of pain. As I drifted in and out of consciousness from the sedation, I can remember wishing that someone would extend some kindness to me.
At one point, I woke up in a full panic attack after I had started choking while sleeping. The attack was made worse by the sudden entourage of staff that worked to stabilize me. I don’t remember a lot about the moment other than the sheer sense of panic, but what I do remember is one particular nurse who not only attended to my needs, but held my hand and actually looked me in the eye as she spoke with a soothing voice. Because of the kind actions of this woman, I was able to calm down long enough for the other staff to clear my airway. As everyone began to leave, I can remember grabbing at the nurse’s uniform. She stopped and took the time to listen as I tried to expel the words “Thank you” through my teeth that had been wired shut after the surgery.
It was a small, tiny moment that I’m sure this woman doesn’t even remember, but it’s the moment in my life I can point to as a pure understanding of gratitude. She didn’t need to hold my hand, she didn’t need to look me in the eye and reassure me that I was ok. She could have simply assisted in clearing my airway and given me a dose of anti-anxiety medication. But she didn’t, and those small acts touched my heart in ways that will never leave me.
As I thought about bringing Grayson into the world, I also thought about all the help that I would need in doing so. And while yes, I’m entitled to that help since I’m paying regularly my insurance company that will write checks to the doctors and nurses on staff the day Gray decided to arrive, there was also going to be a great need of gratitude in the moment. These people may be fulfilling a job, but they would also be helping David and I receive the biggest gift of our lives into the world. They would be walking me through some of the scariest and most exciting moments of my life. And for all of this, they needed to be thanked.
Once I went on maternity leave, I found myself with a lot of extra time on my hands. I was ready for Gray to arrive, but he seemed to need more time in doing so. As I thought about all these people that would be helping me, I recognized the need to thank them even before arriving at the hospital. As small as they may be, I took the time to go out and pick up a few little succulents and pots that I would put together as a big thanks. With just a few scraps of paper, yarn and wood, I expressed our gratitude for everything this staff would be doing for us as we welcomed our son into the world.
Find ways to experience gratitude in your life. Take a look and see where there is room to see beyond what you feel entitled to. Thank your waitress each and every time she comes to the table and fills your water glass. Tell your husband how much you really appreciate him taking the extra half hour to get you strawberries even though you have apples at home. And remember that you’re always responsible for your own reaction to the world. So even if a “thank you” would come from the prompting of others, it can still teach you about being grateful in everyday life- a concept that can challenging for those of us growing up with the world at our fingertips.
Until next time!