Waiting for Gratitude

by Haider on June 23, 2010 · 10 comments

in Ethics

sundial_specialists8It’s extremely easy to develop an unhealthy obsession with gratitude (yes, there are healthy obsessions, too!), where we expect to be thanked for every good deed we do, and can’t seem to move on with our lives when others don’t express their appreciation of our works.

We desperately seek an answer to the moral riddle:

If a good deed is done, and no one expresses gratitude for it, is it still a good deed?

And lean towards the view that it’s only a good deed when gratitude is expressed. Otherwise, it’s just a deed.

Therefore, to bring meaning to our lives and to sprinkle moral goodness on our actions, we wait for gratitude.

And wait some more.

And, you guessed it… Wait even more.

At times we drop hints: “I vacuumed the house when you were out.”

Other times we ask questions: “Did you notice the house is vacuumed?”

And desperate times call for desperate measures: “I know I did a bad job at vacuuming the house. I’m terrible at it. But I thought you might be happy to come home to a clean house.”

When we don’t receive the gratitude we expect, we lose motivation for doing more good deeds. It just doesn’t seem worth it. After all, it’s not a good deed without gratitude, right?

We fail to come to terms with 3 important facts that pave the way for joyous living:

  1. People aren’t good at expressing gratitude: Even when people are moved to tears by your kindness and generosity, they may not know how to express their gratitude. At times, the more appreciative someone is, the less likely they are to express their appreciation, simply because they don’t know how to. How do you thank someone who saved your son from a burning building? I don’t know, either.
  2. Different people express gratitude differently: Even if people are comfortable with expressing gratitude, it might not be in the way you expect them to. Just because you received an email thanking you for your efforts and not a bouquet of flowers doesn’t mean that your help isn’t appreciated. It might just mean that others don’t express gratitude the way you would.
  3. Good deeds are good, even if they’re not appreciated: Using gratitude as your sole motivational trigger is unhealthy. Why? For starters, see Fact #1 above. Another reason why depending on gratitude for motivation is unhealthy is that good deeds are an extension of your own values, not how others perceive – or appreciate – your actions. Cynical people often question the intentions of those who find joy in helping others. Does that mean you should question and doubt your own intentions just because others don’t expect to meet people that have goodwill towards fellow human beings? Of course not. And it shouldn’t deter you from the good work you can do in the world.

It’s better not to expect gratitude than to base your life on receiving it. By appreciating your own actions and being aware of the values you are living by, you can fuel your inner drive to make the world a  better place.

Don’t wait for permission or approval to do good.

Be good because YOU deserve to be.

Photo credit: specialists8

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dia June 23, 2010 at 2:18 am

Nice post Haider, many people wait for someone to say to them that they are doing a good job. It is very important that we do good and don’t wait for approval in the process. Thanks for sharing
Dia´s last blog ..5 Ways to stay energetic throughout the day My ComLuv Profile

2 Manal June 23, 2010 at 8:53 am

A great thought provoking post Haider.

I think waiting for gratitude is a sign of the need for validation and recognition.

Your explanations are spot on. Doing good without any expectations does not only feel good, but it is freeing.
Manal´s last blog ..Start Today: 7 Simple Tips to Organize Your Space My ComLuv Profile

3 Haider June 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Dia: I speak from personal experience. I used to wait for approval before taking the next step, and I think I still do it, but I try and catch myself whenever I find myself waiting for a green light from others! Thanks for the comment. :)

Manal: I was gonna dive into the psychology underlying our obsession with gratitude, but thought I’d leave that for the readers to reflect on. Validation is certainly a big part of it. It also stems from the view that the opinions of others are somehow more important than our own. If others think it’s good, then it’s good. What we think doesn’t matter as much (if at all). Dr Nathaniel Branden calls this social metaphysics, where we believe the world is defined by other people’s opinions.

I linked to your post on obsessing, which is one of my favorite articles on the web. I expect to be referring to it time and time again! ;)

4 MBH June 23, 2010 at 3:23 pm

“How do you thank someone who saved your son from a burning building?”
I’d give him the kid!

On a serious note, one should do good deeds for oneself, that is, you just do it because you can not because you expect something in return, whether physical or emotional.
MBH´s last blog ..Android 2.2 on Rooted Nexus With Stock ROM My ComLuv Profile

5 Haider June 23, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Yes, I agree with you, MBH (about the motivation for good deeds, not about the kid :P ).

Thanks for stopping by!

6 DiscoveredJoys June 23, 2010 at 6:41 pm

“If a good deed is done, and no one expresses gratitude for it, is it still a good deed?”

If a bad deed is done, and no one condemns you, is it still a bad deed?

I’ll be investigating the psychology of what makes deeds good or bad, so thank you (expressing gratitude, see!) for raising the subject.

An anecdote: One of the few bits of business training that stuck with me was that good managers should always thank people for their efforts. I adopted this advice at work and home and found it improved my relationships.

Perhaps we should not only be prepared do good things without expectation of gratitude, we should also make a point of thanking people more for their deeds? Spread a little joy around.

7 Haider June 23, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Hi DiscoveredJoys, expressing gratitude and showing others your appreciation is a great thing for them (and for you!). I used to thank my coworkers (before I quit my job) for things they considered to be “their duty” to do, but I still think it’s important to be grateful and to show it.

I personally believe that what makes deeds good or bad extends beyond psychology and how we feel about what we do. To get a better definition of morality, it’s important to consider human nature, and how you define it (is every individual unique or do we have common traits and needs shared by all human beings?).

I love the subject of morality, and will hopefully be dealing with it more.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! (expressing gratitude ;) )

8 Gina
Twitter: starlightlife
June 24, 2010 at 1:47 am

Nice Post Haider!

There is a slogan in the 12 step world to; daily do a good deed and not be found out. In this vein it is believed that a good deed doesn’t really count if someone finds out about it!
That is a great way to break the need to be appreciated…oh the joy of making someones life a bit nicer.


9 Haider June 24, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Aloha, Gina!

That’s a nice practice to uphold, and thank you for sharing it.

I remember when I was first employed I prepared a document to be used by my colleagues, without writing my name on it. One of my colleagues at the time (who became my boss later on) advised me to put my name on the work I do so I can take credit for it. At first I wasn’t interested in the credit, but soon realized that it’s important for individuals to promote themselves, so that the value they bring to any organization is recognized to have come from them.

‘Tis an essential piece to personal branding. :)

10 Gina
Twitter: starlightlife
June 24, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Yes my friend! I see we can be tempted to go to either extreme (I have some difficulty “branding” and marketing) so it seems the middle road may be the path for gratitude.
Mahalo for your keen insights :)

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