Gratitude: A Powerful Antidote To Entitlement

By Carole Pertofsky, M.Ed. Director, Wellness and Health Promotion Services at Stanford University

I was meeting up with friends in the latest hot restaurant in Palo Alto. As I walked towards my group, a very cool looking guy wearing a classy expensive black T-shirt leaned back in his chair and almost crashed into me as I squeezed between tables. He glared at me. And there, nestled just below his sculpted pecks, was the message, in bold Elephant Font: “You don’t get my respect. You have to earn it.”

There may be many interpretations. What might you think? Would you be attracted to his swagger? Turned off by the implied entitlement? Be curious about how this attitude plays out in his life? Wonder how this message impacts those around him?

I don’t know what goes through this guy’s mind when he awakens at 3 in the morning. But I know too many people of all ages who brand themselves with some display of entitlement, even arrogance. The attitude is fueled by media that offers top billing to those who display their entitlement and arrogance as strengths of character, even virtues. What is the impact on you, me, our kids looking for successful role models?

The truth is that on the surface, these people appear to be dominant, accomplished, on top of things. But trust me, it’s an illusion. Because deep down, they often experience isolation, emptiness and frustration. “Superiority” masks vulnerability. Recent studies indicate that this loss of empathy and connection to self and others is a growing concern among all ages.

Is there a way out of this trend towards displaying arrogance or entitlement as valor? Consider the power of gratitude as an antidote to this deep well of discontent. Gratitude isn’t just a soft filmy blur of appreciation. It takes gumption and courage to live with gratitude in a culture that rewards snarky digs and hostile irony. It takes grit to choose to live with thankfulness for what we have, rather than focusing on endless lists of what is missing. Gratefulness is a gold standard of deep happiness, positive emotion and good health.

Dr. Robert Emmons, UC Davis, leading researcher and author of “Thanks”, reminds us, “Gratitude can be as easy as a beautiful sunset, an exquisite bite of chocolate, a child, or the brilliance of autumn leaves. No matter what shape or form gratitude takes, it fills us with a warmth and a reminder that life is good; this moment is special. Gratitude provides lessons to make us stronger. It is more than appreciation- it is a gift.”

Research suggests why the experience of gratitude is transformative and offers tremendous health benefits. Thankfulness awakens our brain’s pleasure centers, and our bodies produce bio-chemicals that activate a strong and powerful sense of our potential, well-being and connection. Our bodies respond with vitality and a stronger immune system. We may be inspired to serve others, to contribute to the greater good.

Power up your gratitude muscle with a few simple actions. Do these with your family. Do these with your friends. Do them alone. Mix it up. If you practice just three times a week, you’ll begin noticing a stronger sense of ease, fun, and lightness. Best of all, these practices will spark new connections among your friends and family in fun heart-warming ways.

- Gratitext: Everyone takes out their cell phone or notepad. Each person imagines a particular person to whom you are grateful, maybe someone who helped you get where you are today. Send them a “gratitext” or a note, expressing your thoughts and feelings of gratitude to them for adding some benefit- or sparkle- to your life. Notice the good feelings that arise when you send this note- and how you feel when they respond.

- Reach Out: Notice the many people who earn minimum wage performing a service that adds value to your day. Reach out, and thank them. Experience the gentle exchange of appreciation.

- 3 Good Things:. Begin a “gratitude” journal and several times a week, write down 3 good things that happened. Even if you aren’t feeling particularly grateful, no problem. Just take a deep breath, and give thanks for the simple things. Hot and cold running water. A daily meal. The people who contribute to your comfort, whether or not you personally know them. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to entitlement, indifference, the “blahs”, and discontentment.

- Just Like Me. Find a good place to “people watch”. Relax and just be aware of others, take a deep breath and bring to mind the following thought: “Just like me this person has faced struggles, suffering and disappointments, and just like me, this person wants to be content and happy.” Observe what gets stirred up in you or how this guided attention changes your emotional state. Do you feel more empathy or perhaps appreciation for our shared humanity? Share your experience with each other.

- Soak in this awesome 5 minute video with your family and friends: Just watch and notice your thoughts and feelings -

- Gratitude. Simple. Powerful. Transformative. It is an act of courage to express your thankfulness. Do stuff that opens your heart. Tell your friends and family how they contribute to your life. When you savor and appreciate the goodness in your life, the little things and the million dollar moments, no one will ever need to earn your respect. Gratitude itself is an act of deepest respect, freely given, for life itself.


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