Gratitude: The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. [Rooted in humility, focuses on what we have; joyful]
Entitlement: The fact of having a right to something. [Rooted in pride, focuses on what we lack; jealous]
These two words are opposite to one another. If you feel entitled to something (attention, money, cars, a job, toys) then by it’s very nature it you feel you deserve it and are not grateful for its presence in your life. Whether dealing with younger kid entitlement, teen or young adult entitlement or adult entitlement it is pervasive in our society that this is more common that gratitude. Entitlement is supported by media (advertisements and television shows), social media (constant attention giving, White Knighting and narcissism), government programs (welfare, food stamps, unemployment), parents (giving their kids what they didn’t have regardless of their appreciation) and partners (giving partners that take care of a lot of household responsibilities can build a sense of entitlement in the other partner). Entitlement has negative energy associated with it, and is one of the key cancers our society is fighting against right now on all fronts. It is the opposite of building work ethic and creativity and being thankful for what you have.
Gratitude, by contrast, has very positive energy associated with it. Having gratitude for what you have forces you to reflect on your good fortune, and focus internally and shut out the external things that try and make your value a competitive thing that someone else has or says you should have. The poorest people in the United States are still in the top strata of wealth compared to the entire world. They have access to education, health care, food, often housing assistance and money, all provided by the state, and I’d wager most have the gadgets and toys that most world-wide don’t have. Most of us in the middle-class are living pretty comfortable lives, and it’s really our own brains that show we are lacking in something. Having gratitude for the things we have, and taking focus away from the things we don’t have, will make us all happier in the short and long term.
We try and instill this idea in our house. My wife and I are extremely grateful for the opportunities we’ve been given in life, for the health we have, the work ethics we have and for the kids and life we live. We state these things orally many days, and is a lesson we impart in the kids as well. How fortunate they are to live in the U.S., to have healthy food on their table, to live in our neighborhood and have the things we have. We don’t want them to take it for granted that they are in the minority world wide. They are reminded of their grandparents poverty growing up, how hard work and humble attitudes will take them much further than mere talent and wealth will.
I’ve been reading a fair amount of spiritual teaching books on manifesting happiness and things, and in each and every one they mention gratitude in some way. Authors of these writings or motivational audio recordings all believe, as do I, that gratitude creates positive energy along with conscious and subconcious thought patterns that all help to improve things even further. Whether you believe in the idea that your positive energy can manifest positive things, simply being grateful for what you have can change your whole perspective on life.
It is still ok to want improvement or “things.” You may very well be unhappy in your job, for example, but being thankful to having a job and being able to provide and live and be healthy can change your perspective. And on this gratitude your positive energy can snowball into being happier and more aware and perhaps being a little more motivated to gain skills, which could eventually lead to a new job that is even better. Or marriage. You feel unsatisfied in your marriage, but still giving gratitude for having a partner, for having some good times with that partner and perhaps having kids with that partner is still something you can hang your hat on. Maybe those positive thoughts will snowball into changes within you that eventually lead to improvements somehow. Regardless, dwelling on what you hate about your partner versus what you are grateful for is the opposite of building a happy life. No one is entitled to a perfect spouse, so be thankful for the positive qualities while continuing to work on the weak areas.
So let go of the fact that you don’t live in the dream house, or you only have two weeks of vacation a year or you have some health issues, or the kids are a handful and take a little time each day to say “I am very lucky and grateful to have the things I have” and then say what you’re thankful for. I promise you’ll feel better, like a weight is lifted temporarily as your heart soars a little. And for your kids, continue to work on this concept and overtly state some of the things we do while imparting in them some humble work ethic. Allowing them to be spoiled and have everything they want at a young age is not the path to personal happiness and is a disservice to them as they grow older and become adults. Coming from a place of gratitude within leaves a much better chance for lifelong happiness in us and our offspring.