It’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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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