The politics of ingratitude

I am not, by nature, a very happy person, although I suspect that few who know me personally would guess that fact.  The persona I want to present to the world is that of a cheerful, friendly person.  My method acting to achieve this appearance is to count my blessings routinely.  On less than good days, I might count my blessings several times.

I am blessed to live in America, still the greatest country in the world; I am blessed with lovely children who think as well of me as I do of them; I am blessed to live in a magical neighborhood, in a delightful community, in one of the most beautiful parts of the world; I am blessed that my mother, who routinely drives me nuts, is still alive, and that she still loves me and I still love her; I am blessed that my sister is one of my closest friends;  I am blessed with many friends and good acquaintances; I am blessed that, despite never having fully recovered from pregnancy brain, I have a good mind that I am able to use every day; I am blessed with good physical health; and I am blessed with the world’s most perfect dog.  Despite the things that I can and do gripe about the routine itches and scratches in my life, I am a singularly fortunate person and I know it.

I started counting my blessings more than a decade ago, because I needed to.  It turns out, though, that I was on to something.  A recent study came out confirming what I intuitively knew:  people who have a sense of gratitude are significantly happier than other people.

Thinking about gratitude, which is the underpinning of my day-to-day functioning, got me thinking about gratitude’s opposite — a sense of entitlement.  Well, what really got me thinking about that was the children’s bickering about emptying the dishwasher.  Emptying the dishwasher is not an onerous task.  I can get it done in two or three minutes and, as I always tell my kids, “The secret to a clean kitchen is an empty dishwasher.”  Easy though it may be, I don’t always want to empty the dishwasher.  Sometimes, because I’ve got my hands full or am just feeling lazy, I ask the kids (or just one kid) to empty it.

Few things spark more ferocious battles than this simple request.  Each child is certain that he or she has been called upon to empty it more often that his or her lazy, sneaky, good-for-nothing sibling.  Each will take a 20 minute “principled” stand against being forced into this 2-minute long form of “slave labor” — which, as far as each child is concerned, the other child never has to do.  Facts are irrelevant.  “It’s not fair.  He/She never has to empty the dishwasher.  I already did it last Saturday.”

I startled both of them the other day while they were winding up for their usual “Why do I have to do it?” fight.  They erred, I said, in focusing on each other, an attitude that turned a swift, simple task into a symbol of inequality.  Instead, I said, they should say to themselves, “My mother does so much for me.  Every day she feeds me, drives me, works on homework with me, supports me, and loves me.  I am so grateful that I can relieve her of this small burden.  I wish I could do more for her.”

Being teens, they turned to me simultaneously and said something along the lines of “Ego much, Mom?”  To which my response was, this is not about what I think about what I do.  This is about you adding gratitude to your vocabulary so that you feel grateful to contribute to the household, rather than perpetually angry about the inequities you always perceive.

I have personal reasons for knowing this attitude adjustment works.  Looking back on my childhood, I was honored to help out parents who had gone through one Depression, two wars (WWII and the Israeli War of Independence), one frightening immigration to a new country, and a lifetime of hard work.  Was I always Little Miss Cheerful?  No.  But most of the time I could make myself feel good about chores by (a) remembering what my parents did for me; and (b) aiming to show up my sister by doing a better job.  (My sister, bless her heart, still loves me.)

Our burdens in life are lighter when we are grateful for things.  A sense of self-entitlement is a bottomless pit of unfilled desire, leaving one unhappy.  It is also, sadly, the dynamic five decades of Progressive governance have foisted on an increasingly unsatisfied American public.

When I grew up, Americans understood that they had some fundamental rights, all of which fell under the umbrella of freedom from government coercion.  The predicate rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  The specific enumerated rights keep government away from our religion, our speech, our guns, and our press.  They also make sure that government cannot impose itself on us, whether in legal courts or  by quartering soldiers within our house.  Law lecturer Obama was actually right when he said the constitution is a charter of negative liberties.  It gives us nothing concrete, except for the gift of leaving us alone.

Obama, of course, saw this as a problem.  Wise people, however, understand that this negative government — which is supposed to stay out of people’s way — is the rich soil in which a lifetime of mental and physical happiness can take root and grow.  (And to learn more about creating your own happiness, please consider reading Dennis Prager’s Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual.)

Under progressive rule, however, the inalienable right not to be a slave to ones government has been perverted into an entitlement right:  Everyone in America, citizen and non-citizen alike, must have a house, a cell phone, a comprehensive insurance policy, top-notch medical care, a job that pays a legally established wage, etc — and each of these is guaranteed, not by ambition and hard work, but by the government.

This promise to provide handouts means that the government has set the stage for dissatisfaction.  Rather than thinking, “How lucky I am to live in a free country, one in which I can make my and my children’s future,” Americans are beginning to think (constantly) “It’s not fair that I didn’t get this or that, or that, once I got it, it wasn’t as good as I expected or as someone else has.”

Obamacare is a disaster for the economy, but it’s only speeding the entitlement breakdown, not creating it. The real problem with Obamacare is that it is the loudest voice ever to tell people that they have no need to be grateful for this country and its freedoms.  Instead, they should cultivate the festering sense of inequity and deprivation that is an inevitable byproduct of entitlement.  Government is no longer the people’s servant, it is their arbitrary and capricious master.

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  • Texan99

    A fine piece, thank you.
     
    Gratitude for my happy life has never been one of the virtues I found difficult to practice.  (Plenty of other virtues are difficult, though!).  gratitude to the government is more difficult.  Lately I’m so sour on the whole thing that I often find myself wretched and fuming.  I try to remember September 15, 2011.  On that day I wrote a whopping check to the IRS for my quarterly estimated taxes and noticed that, for the very first time, I felt deeply enthusiastic and grateful about doing it.  It’s an experience that has not often been repeated, except when I see servicemen in uniform.  Nevertheless, I try to remember that the federal government is going through a rotten patch, and that it does in fact fulfill a useful and admirable function — sometimes.

  • lee

    Uh, I beg to differ–have the perfect dog! 
     
    ;-)

  • Caped Crusader

    Dedicated to Miss Bookworm:
     

  • expat

    About 2 years ago we had a young Nepalese woman who was studying in a US college spend a month with us. A few of her gifts to me: “What I miss most about home is being able to cook with my mother.”  “It’s so nice to have lots of warm water when you do dishes.” She also told me about having to carry tanks of gas home with her mother so they could cook their food. We truly don’t recognize how lucky we are.