Reality Check: Gratitude, Expectation, and Entitlement

“A whole dollar and seventy-six cents! What an insult! I should tell them to take their money and let them know right where to put it, too!”

Whether you work for an hourly wage or a salary, receive a pension or get some other type of income, you may be among the many of us who haven’t had much of a raise in a long time. And because many of the raises that do occur are tied to the cost of living, if you are so fortunate to have received an increase, the actual dollar amount may well be pretty small, indeed.

It breaks my heart a little bit when I hear someone railing about the insult of being given a tiny increase. But that sadness isn’t related to any perceived injustice or unfairness. It’s not connected to the money at all.

No, my reaction comes from my perception that when a person chooses to resent, take offence, or feel insulted, they are also displaying that they are noticeably unhappy.

The unhappiness may have little, if anything, to do with the event that seems to have brought on their reaction. In this case, it’s unlikely that any (realistic) increase in pay would create lasting happiness for the recipient.

If it’s not the money that’s causing the unhappiness, then what would it be?

If you have the belief that your happiness is caused by things outside of you, then your happiness is also at the mercy of things outside of you. You are not in charge of your happiness. Taking that approach to your life can be unhappy-making, indeed.

Consider this: is the recipient really worse off now than they were yesterday? If not, why the insulted reaction?

Perhaps it was an expectation that something better would happen. Maybe there is a sense of entitlement to something more. Possibly, there’s a perception that others are gaining on us; we are not winning. This stew of perceptions doesn’t help with happiness, eh?

What happens when we have a sense of entitlement to something that we have no control over? We set ourselves up to let outside forces control our happiness.

If instead, we choose to go with the idea that we can take charge of our lives and our own happiness, then it follows that we can also make changes. We have some control over our life; we can increase our level of happiness regardless of what is going on around us.

What’s the way out of this unhappiness? How might one move beyond feelings of insult, injustice, resentment?

One way is through gratitude.

Ask, “What do I have in my life that works well? What am I grateful for?”

If a specific event is getting to you in a negative and unhelpful way, ask, “Is there a way of looking at this event through a lens of gratitude?”

Take the example of a pensioner who chooses to be insulted by a tiny pension increase. Often, the perception of pension is that it is “fixed” income, which emphasizes limitations.

But if you choose to look through a lens of gratitude, you could instead perceive the pension as “guaranteed” income. The money comes in whether you do anything or not. This perception is just as valid; it simply changes what you emphasize.

I’m not suggesting that anyone get all excited and grateful about an extra dollar that may or may not show up on a check. But I am suggesting that it’s harder to be happy and satisfied when one’s automatic reaction includes choosing to be insulted, angry or resentful.

I think that at least some of our happiness is within our control. What do you think?

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