Imagine an athlete stepping up to the gold-medal podium, an actor holding their Oscar, or a business leader receiving a lifetime achievement award and stating:
“I’d like to thank nobody actually. Because honestly, I did this myself. So…thanks for recognizing my hard work and intelligence. Good night”
It seems preposterous, but we frequently do something similar.
Sure we’re not that blunt (or maybe we are, just not that public). Maybe we don’t notice because we get there slowly. However, we do often get to the place of utter ingratitude.
We think we have earned what we got, are owed what we received, that help from others was minimal, nonexistent, or trivial. We recognize our own contributions to our good fortune and minimize anyone else (including God) who played a role.
(In the coming three weeks we’ll unpack the items below in depth. For today let’s look not at the problems that come from ingratitude, but ingratitude itself.) There are three glaring reasons ingratitude leads to discontentment:
- If we are unwilling to accept our good fortune as given to us, when (not if) we hit a rough patch we feel the world is crashing down. We think we built up the good times, and now are responsible for the bad. Unwilling to accept that things might just be hard, we struggle to force our life back into a place of what we felt was happiness.
- When we think we are the authors of our own success, we start to view others as the authors of theirs. We see someone who is not doing well, and we figure they deserve it or did it to themselves. This breeds contempt for others (which is incredibly discontenting) not to mention leads us to act unjustly.
- If we refuse to accept God’s provision as a gift, we have no one to thank. We can become ungrateful about everything, which is incredibly arrogant. The problem is not just that the bad times will hurt more, but even in good times we feel no need to be thankful. Ingratitude robs us of contentment because it’s so closely tied to entitlement, pride, and an over-inflated sense of self-worth.
We know it’s hurtful to others, it harmful to us, and it’s ugly to look at, so how do we turn into ungrateful people? I think one huge contributor is simply the absence of gratefulness. We are primed to find reasons for events and causes for everything. So when we tell ourselves no one (not even God) is responsible for the good that we experience, we turn inwards by default.
We become the center of everything.
We become the source of what we have enjoyed.
We alone are the cause of our success.
It can sneak up on us, so we have to check our attitude. When we receive something good – who do we think is responsible for it?
What is the last really good thing you received? Anything from public recognition of your work, to a clean bill of health, to the accident that almost happened, to someone making amends with you, to a beautiful day in the mountains?
Pull that to mind.
Answer this honestly: Did you earn that? Did you accomplish that yourself? Did you deserve it because of who you are and what you did?
Our gut reflex to those questions will say a lot about where we have ingratitude still dwelling in our core.
Father of goodness,
you don’t stop giving because I stop thanking.
You don’t stop loving when I stop noticing.
You don’t stop providing when I stop recognizing.
You don’t stop caring, when I stop thinking of anyone but myself.
Give me eyes to see what you – and the people you have put around me-
have done and are doing.
Thank you for your goodness, love, mercy, and kindness.
Forgive my frequent and stubborn ingratitude.