entitlement vs. appreciation“I deserve to be happy,” says one client with a tear-stained face.

“I don’t deserve to be treated this way,” says another.

“He doesn’t deserve me,” wails a third.

In a sense, all three are right.  Yet none of them is happy in their relationships, or with their overall lives.  And with Thanksgiving upon us, it’s a good time to reflect on why that might be, and see if anything instructive can be found.

Now, I’m not saying that entitlement is always a bad thing.  Sometimes it can connote good self-esteem, and cause a person to remove him or herself from a negative environment.  Sometimes entitlement motivates us to be or do more than we otherwise would, because we can’t imagine ourselves failing.  We believe that if we try, we’ll succeed, because it’s our due.  Entitlement can make people strangely fearless.  But it can also be antithetical to a spirit of appreciation, and that can be hard on our relationships and, ultimately, ourselves.

Here’s why: If we believe we deserve something, like happiness, then we might not be as willing to work for it.  In a relationship, that can mean giving up too easily.  It can mean failing to communicate our expectations and our disappointment in a kind and vulnerable way.  It can mean that we accuse instead of explain, which makes our partner more likely to turn away or become angry, rather than want to connect with and heal our pain.

Entitlement can also cloud our vision.  If we feel we deserve happiness, we’ll appreciate it less when we feel it.  Or maybe sometimes, we can’t see it at all.  We’re focused on something bigger, on the grand gestures our partner was supposed to do to show his or her love, and we’ll miss the smaller things.  Noticing small things and giving thanks for them is one of the best ways to find contentment in our lives, and in our relationships.  Entitlement robs us of that ability.

For me, this Thanksgiving will be my first with my daughter.  Over this past year, I’ve learned more about how I operate, my underlying beliefs and motivations, than at any other time in my life.  She throws them into stark relief.  And one of the things I’ve recognized is my own entitlement.

Oh, it was easy to ignore this all the preceding years.  I help people for a living, after all.  Clearly, I’m a generous soul.

But entitlement can coexist with doing nice things for others.  Because what I believe, deep down and on the flip side, is that nice things should also be happening for me.  I should be happy.  I’m entitled to it.

I’ve written about this in a recent post, Attack of the Shoulds.  The upshot is, I’ve been feeling much better mentally since I realized that at this time in my life, I shouldn’t expect happiness.  I should be glad when it manifests.  Since having my daughter, I’ve had so much less control over my time and my energy than at any other time. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  It’s about what she deserves.

Not that I’ve become selfless.  I actually think selflessness is overrated (see my upcoming post!), especially among parents.  But this holiday season, I’m shifting away from my spirit of entitlement and toward the spirit of appreciation.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tears photo available from Shutterstock