Gratitude is a burden

“Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.”

Tacitus, 56 AD – 120 AD, Roman historian

Does this sound a bit too much like today, suggesting we may have progressed little this past 2,000 years? Is gratitude still a burden? Is revenge still a pleasure? Is complimenting difficult? Is complaining easy?

Think of the signs in stores pointing to the customer service department, the successor to the original complaint department. Have you ever seen a sign for a compliment department? I haven’t, and even if they existed I doubt people would stand in line waiting to offer a compliment.

Maybe we do better in restaurants. How often do we complain if the service is poor? More important, how often do we compliment when the service is good? Do we want the answers to these questions?

What about the business world? Maybe we do better there. Businesses do put a lot of effort and resources into teaching and getting staff to complement one another, even providing drop boxes with forms designed to compliment fellow workers. Nevertheless, we need no reminders to point out when something is wrong. Speaking for myself, I know I can see what’s wrong much more quickly than I can see what’s right. Does complimenting require more effort than complaining?

Needing a real-life example, a few weeks ago I became my own good “bad” example. My wife and I had some difficulty with a business I believed had treated us unfairly. Anticipating the worst-case outcome, I prepared a letter of complaint to the owner. But, before I could even proof the letter, my wife received a call outlining how they wanted to deal with our concerns.

I was excited when she told me what happened but disappointed with my response. In my excitement I said, “Now I don’t need to send a letter to the owner.” But I should have added, “Instead, I am going to send a letter describing how well his staff solved the problem.” And adding insult to injury, I didn’t even realize my oversight until I sat down to work on this column. I was quick to revenge, slow to gratitude.

Is retaliation easier than repaying a kindness? Is revenge easier than gratitude? Is complaining easier than complimenting? I suspect our answers to most of these questions leave us uncomfortable. But maybe that’s just the way we are and we have no choice.

Not necessarily. Years ago, when I was the team physician for Highland High School athletes, I watched a coach deal with his quarterback on the sidelines. The quarterback made a dumb mistake during a critical game.

The coach motioned the quarterback off the field and I waited for what I assumed would be a lot of hollering. But there was none. Instead, the coach put his arm around his quarterback and walked him away from the sidelines saying, “You’re doing a great job out there. Let’s talk about that last play and what we might do differently next time.”

Where did he learn that? Grade school. Remember grade school? I know that coach must have learned more in grade school than most of us. It was a wonderful time; teachers dwelled and thrived on telling us what we did right. They were masters of positive feedback, intuitively knowing how to get us excited to do more and to do better.

Remember the stars the teachers drew or stuck on our papers? I know I got lots of stars I didn’t deserve. More important, I can’t remember why I got the stars; all I remember is how great the stars made me feel.

Now that we are “grownups,” how often do we get stars? More telling, how often do we give stars? Are the answers disappointing?

Gratitude is a burden

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3 Responses to “Gratitude is a burden”

  • Dorothy Ricks says:

    You amaze me with your insight! I look forward to your column in the paper each week. I just wanted to note that a part of some required reading I’m doing, I’ve read the NO COMPLAINING RULE by Jon Gordon. It is a book based on the principles of being positive and not negative. What intrigued me most was the idea that we can improve our daily lives by looking for the positives in the negatives in our daily lives, work, and relationships.

    Thought you might enjoy.

    Again, thanks for the insight.


  • Vanessa says:

    I just read your fantastic post here. It seems like we share the attitude that “Gratitude is good for you.” Grateful Nation is an online community that gives grateful people like you the opportunity & resources to connect, give back, and be thankful.

    Thank you, Vanessa


  • Anonymous says:

    You had another great article in the Journal about gratitude. I direct a domestic violence shelter program in Salmon and one of the things we do each week is to write 5 things we’re grateful for. We’re not allowed to repeat any we’ve mentioned before. What I wish to instill in the women I work with is that “gratitude is an important ingredient to living a successful and fulfilled life. It not only makes you feel good, it’s also one of the greatest attractors to abundance, love, peace, success, health, connection and more. The more focus on what we have, the wonderful aspects of our lives and what we appreciate, the more we end up having to be grateful for. When we acknowledge our blessings, we utilize the power of gratitude in a way that benefits us, and those around us, in a profound way” (Oprah). I like to get past the obvious (good health, family, friends, etc.) to the not so obvious (fingers, thumbs and hands that work, ankles and toes that keep you upright, shoulders that shrug and a head that turns…I am an incomplete quad as a result of a mtn. bike accident 12 years ago in Pocatello…I know loss up close and personal). When you have lost everything except your ability to speak, swallow and lift your arms….everything is a gift!!!!

    I had to smile at the rest of your article….I was in the first graduating class to complete all three years of high school at HHS. My sons graduated from Highland. One was a football player and he graduated in 1991.

    The other thing that warmed my heart and made me smile was your mention of the “stars”. In our women’s group last night, for the first time since I was in grade school getting gold stars on my forehead for perfect spelling, my co-facilitator brought “gold stars” as part of her program participation. We laughed and talked about the blue and red stars. She is too young to remember those. Not me. Then I opened the paper this morning with my morning coffee and I am reminded that nothing in life is a coincidence. We are all connected to this life in many ways. Everyone deserves a gold star in life for being part of this human experience.

    Thanks for another thought provoking article. Can hardly wait for the next one. Keep up the good work.




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