it is usually a sign that I have not got enough sleep or lost my sense of gratitude, often both. The former often leads to the latter.
It happens when I forget to take meaningful breaks, stay up very late often and am prevented from expressing my agency and autonomy. If it is caused by these, then the remedy is simple: sleep earlier, get a full night’s rest, take my time with work and people and live in the moment.
I also get that way when I start comparing myself with others to see where I fall short. That is a surefire way to lose my sense of gratitude.
Fetting about what I don’t have or have not accomplished, or allowing myself to be upset with the negative opinions others have of me is a slippery spiral down to self-pity, envy and anxiety. In fact, whenever I feel a sense of narcissistic intent steal upon me I can feel my base self-interest assert itself.
It is easy for an attitude of gratitude to drift away unnoticed when busy with work and engagements when the day is one thing after another and we’re just trying to get through the day with our work done. It is even easier for that space gratitude fills to be invaded by narcissism, entitlement and its attendant qualities: complaints, discontentment, anger, envy, malintent and greed, for example. The absence of gratitude is an invitation to narcissism and entitlement.
Entitlements create unrealistic expectations and inevitably sets us up for disappointment. To feel entitled to something is to delude ourselves that our desires are more important than others’ interests. We are not entitled to anything because we are not entitled to life. No one has the right to life. The law bestows us only with rights to protect and preserve our life after we are born, but not a right to life. That is not up to us.
Entitlement comes from thinking too much and too highly about ourselves and our interests in relation to others. To be grateful is to lack entitlement. To be grateful is to appreciate that nothing is owed to us, that whatever given to us by someone or a situation is a blessing and to be alive each moment enough. To be grateful is to shift our focus away from ourselves and our expectations to what we can do for others.
So when I get down into a miserable and depressed state, I remind myself just how fortunate I am to be here in the first place. To exist. To be. To breathe. To be able to exist in this reality. If I didn’t have the opportunity of existence, I would be blessed with ignorance.
Even though we came into this world through the efforts of others, ultimately, we are alone. Everything we experience comes from a lump of organic material encased in a calcium skull. At our core, we are alone in our heads. Whatever goes on in there, no one knows unless we tell them.
So I remind myself how good it is that in spite of our physical limitations and inherent loneliness, we have company. I am grateful for the company that we have and can have, for my family, friends and acquaintances. That despite living in our own heads, we can live in those of others and invite others into ours. I am grateful that if we are willing to risk it we will find those with whom we can communicate, engage, work, laugh, make love and be with one another.
A lot about life is random and out of our hands. This modern age makes us forget that. It seduces us into believing we hold real power with our technology.
For example, we cannot choose when to be born, where to be born, how to be born, whom to be born to and what we would be composed of (mom and dad’s genes). These are basic things about our existence that we have no control over. That means I could have had it bad – born in a war-torn country with my family massacred many years ago, or as a slave brought to the Americas several hundred years ago. The possibilities are endless as to how I could have ended up. My destiny could have been short, traumatic and brutal.
But, I was born to benign middle-class parents in Malaysia in the 70s. Compared with the scenarios I imagined earlier, that’s fantastic. We were not rich but we were not poor. I was safe, appreciated and loved. It was not an extraordinary life, but an ordinary one. But the older I get, the more I am content about it and wouldn’t want it any other way.
When I think about the people I have in my life, it is incredibly difficult not to feel humbled and grateful. None of them has to make time for me. None of them has to be with me. None of them has to be nice to me. All of them have more important things to do but they took the time and trouble for me. We all have limited time spans. That they chose to spend some of their time, their life, their energy on me, with me, I am aware of how precious that moment is for us.
Ordinarily, when I contemplate my existence, where I ended up and the relationships in my life, I find myself with an abundance to be grateful for. My cup overflows. There is a lot more, of course. I have not even begun to be grateful for what I already have, what I don’t need, and all the delights and joys available to us in this existence if only we didn’t feel the need to protect ourselves from hurt, pain and disappointment.
Often, once I get to the point of being grateful for the people in my life and the opportunities I have, most of the misery, lowness and depression I struggle with melts away for a while. Gratitude is the sunlight that burns away the mould of self-pity, depression and entitlement.
The gratitude I speak of is one felt in the heart and mind and not blasted across our social media accounts. The latter is not gratitude, it is the performance of gratitude. Real gratitude often is accompanied by humility, not the performance of humility. But then we now live in an age where if we cannot document it in some way, it did not exist.
We have to keep it regular to keep that sense of entitlement, that sense of envy and narcissism, at bay. So gratitude, like sunlight, should be felt daily.