Gratitude: Do you reciprocate or feel entitled?


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How to be More Grateful in Your Life?

Thanksgiving season is a time to reflect on being grateful to our friends and family, and to appreciate what we have so we can lead happier lives. “Who is rich? The one who is happy in his lot.” Pirkei Avot 1:4

Being grateful goes beyond just thoughts, words, and feelings. It is about actions. According to UC Berkeley research, we feel grateful when we receive help that is valuable to us, costly to the giver, given with love, or exceeds our expectations.

Feeling grateful is an action of giving and receiving. It is about reciprocating, so someone else can feel grateful because of your actions! It is about giving and caring for the needs of others.

Research by Emmon and McCullough clearly demonstrates that people who are grateful are happier and make more progress towards their personal and professional goals. So, how do we show gratitude?

I found out from my personal experiences that reciprocity and giving are scarce resources. In the past, I was not sure why I was surrounded by a high concentration of takers and ingrates. Takers and ingrates were a much broader phenomenon: it included my social and professional circles, with an exception of my immediate family.

For many years, I attributed it to the culture of West Coast—San Diego—versus East Coast. At times, I thought it was because I’m a foreigner, even though I had been here for thirty-some years. I was infused with Middle Eastern culture, where community values are at the heart of society, compared to the US, which is centered on the individual values: the “me, myself, and I” culture. Over time, I’ve learned to recognize takers and have built internal tools to manage my relationships, so I do not feel exploited and over-extended.

While researching concepts of gratitude, reciprocity, and appreciation for my book Make Your Thanksgiving Meaningful, I came across a book called Give and Take, by Adam Grant. He states “givers are a relatively rare breed … they tend to give more than they get and focus on what other people need from them. They are happy to share their time, energy, resources, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.” I felt connected to this sentiment.

However, giving with limited receiving came with a price. At times, I felt resentful and drained. And other times, I would keep my distance from some of my “friends.” But that did not feel good either. I knew I had to change to be at peace with what I do. Cornell economist Robert Frank reinforces that takers are so pervasive that “when we expect the worst in others, it brings out the worst in us.” I felt guarded and less willing to do things for others for awhile. I needed to recharge and renew before I could give again, especially to those who regularly just took without reciprocating.

At the beginning of this year, I felt unappreciated and drained by my own social circles. Fortunately, at home and with my family we have a caring and loving relationship. I got tired planning and organizing events for my friends. I limited entertaining in my house to family and for special friends. I also ignored or delayed response to those who only called me when needed access to my connections, resources, and expertise. Finally, I kept minimal interactions with friends who I had shallow friendships. To renew and recharge my energy, I decided to expand my social and business circles. I got inspired by my daughter and learned how to play tennis. I also launched WEEN, uniquely structured programs to help women entrepreneurs. I was again on an emotional, intellectual, and inspirational “high.”

I’ve learned tennis and formed new social and professional relationships, which was and is an exciting journey. Yet as the newness wears off, I realize people are the same. I feel it is a cultural gap! The ratio of givers to takers is probably one to twelve. This number is not statically drawn, but based on my observation of various social and professional circles.

Through the years, I’ve developed my own philosophy on how to keep giving happily, so I can keep high energy. I continue to embrace new people into my life, extend myself in good faith, offer to help and support to those who need me, and advocate on behalf of others.

I do not believe in the philosophy “give without any expectations,” especially in intimate relationships and friendships. Reciprocity is an implied social norm. When there is lack of reciprocity, there is a breach of trust. It is just a matter of time before the relationship drifts apart.

Most relationships fall apart because one or both partners feel entitled. They lack appreciation and empathy for each other. So if you sometimes wonder why your friends or relationships are cold, lacking warmth and caring, start with questioning yourself. Do you extend yourself to others in good faith? Do you ask of your partner, “What can I do for you today?” Do you take the time to say a meaningful “thank you” for something specific, mentioning how it benefited you?

At times, people ask me: “What do you take to be so positive? Are you on drugs?” I have, through the years, learned three main things. First and foremost, despite the risk of giving and investing in potentially bad relationships, we are still better off embracing friendships than not engaging, even in spite of the “losses.” The losses are temporary. But when you gain a genuinely caring friend, it makes up for all the losses.

Secondly, I have learned to be happy with what I have and not look to compete with others. Thirdly, I always do the best of any situation and do not sulk on what should be or could be. I learn from every experience, take ownership for my shortfalls to solve the issue, and move forward.

It’s time to permeate your life with gratitude to strengthen your relationships and live a happier life. Start with your family, which should be your safety net. The evaluate your social and professional circles.

Take time to reflect:

  1. Who are the people who provide you their time, resources, know-how, connections?
  2. Who are the people that care about your feelings and well-being, respond to your needs, and are available to you anytime, anywhere?
  3. Who are the people in your life that enrich you with small, kind gestures that make you happy and put a smile on your face?
  4. How can you show gratitude? Is it meaningful or valuable to them?

Take the time and send or do something special for those who constantly contribute to your life. I know we live in a society where time is scarce and givers are a rare breed. But it is in your power to make changes to recognize those who give you their time and resources. Making these changes is easier than you think, but the results can be powerful to your life and relationships.

Make Your Thanksgiving Meaningful is a culturally diverse, thought-provoking guide with tools and techniques. It helps readers understand which behaviors break or build trust, and develop attitudes to live a happier life. The book is all in warm colors and illustrations that can be used in three ways:

  1. Self-reflection
  2. Engage guests during Thanksgiving celebration
  3. Dedicate it with gratitude to someone special

Make your Thanksgiving meaningful, and build relationships that are balanced and reciprocal, as well as needs-based for the receiver not to you.

I’m grateful for my family, friends and WEEN advisors who have been the givers in my life in 2017! You keep my energy even higher, just knowing that you are in my life and available to help. Your help is a gift to me. Thank You!

bottom line

Don’t forget to reciprocate and show gratitude! Your friends contributions to your life is a gift and therefore, always show appreciation and return the favor with grace to strengthen your relationship and lead a happier life.

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