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Life Struggles

When a Lack of Gratitude Looks Like + Ungrateful People

My Truth: I’ve sucked at being grateful.

What a *Lack* of Gratitude Looks Like

Back in the day, I went to a privileged high school. The school colors were gold and green (yes, like money), and it was located across from the Country Club… You get the idea.

As you can imagine, there were many kids at my school who got brand new cars for their 16th birthdays, birthday parties were held at the country club, and most of my peers wore name brand and designer clothing.

Me, on the other hand, let’s say my reality was vastly different than my peers. Technically, I didn’t even live in the same city (or zip code) as my high school. I’d jokingly say I lived on the other side of the train tracks. While I joked about it, the truth is my family was certainly in a different tax bracket than most of my peers.

Even though I went to school with wealthy kids, I felt like an extraterrestrial. Unlike my peers, I did not get a brand new car for my 16th birthday. My first car was almost the same age as me – it was a 1984 Pontiac Fiero.

If you are wondering, my friends called it the ‘Back to the Future’ car because it looked a lot like a DeLorean – without the super cool doors!

My family did not have a membership at the country club. Instead, I was a latch key kid and I practically lived with friends.

I could go on and on about the differences, but I think you get what I am saying – Everything about my life was different from my privileged classmates. Needless to say, I struggled to have an attitude of gratitude.

The Wrong Kind of Different

What was most difficult was my keen awareness of how my life was not the same as my friends and classmates.

My reality was focused on the fact I was different in all the wrong ways. As a result, I regularly thought about all the things I lacked.

At that time in my life, there are very few times I can recall being grateful. It was a perfect storm to make me feel as though I was somehow less than the people around me.

Full disclosure: You need to know I am not complaining about my childhood right now. I’m trying to paint a picture to describe better what a lack of gratitude looks like… So, stick with me here.

What I Failed to Realize in with My “Lack” Mindset

I failed to acknowledge – and appreciate – my own privilege. You can say ingratitude was a common theme at this point in my life.

While it may not have been monetarily as well off as my peers, I was undoubtedly graced with some fantastic opportunities.

Some of the amazing things I took for granted:

Cheer. I was on the cheer squad all four years of high school, despite the high price tag which was a stretch for my parents to finance. This experience afforded me several amazing experiences, including competing at Disneyland.

Transportation. I had a car to drive from place to place – even if it was almost as old as me.

Connection. I had a cellphone. Now, this might seem like a standard now. But, this was pre-2000 when not everyone had a phone. It was certainly a privilege.

Prom Court. For goodness sake, I was on prom court.

Travel. My parents sent me on a trip to Hawaii with a friend for my high school graduation gift!!

Wow, when you read this list, it is clear that I was an ungrateful person and privileged. But I did not recognize it (or appreciate it) at the time because it was not “as much” as my friends and peers. Oh, man.

What a spoiled, ungrateful ass I was.

Ransom Riggs

More Privileges Taken for Granted…

Let’s also not forget to acknowledge that I am a straight, white female in an average body size. On so many levels, I am incredibly privileged. But for too long, I only focused on one aspect that made me feel less than: financial privilege, wealth, and a lack of money compared to others in my social circle.

As I reflect, I am heartbroken for my past self. It was hard to feel as though I was less than my peers. If only I had been aware of my privileges at the time, I would have had a much different outlook on life. If you have had similar experiences, my heart goes out to you!

A lack of perspective and gratitude caused me to feel that my life was somehow not as good as those around me. But, a different point of view would have changed so much. Instead of feeling less than, I would have felt incredibly lucky to be me!

Perhaps now, I can reflect on these experiences and see them differently because time has passed (uh, reading between the lines, I am older). But, I genuinely feel as though my newfound knowledge of gratitude has helped me look back and see those years in a new light. Gratitude has also helped me to appreciate my life today.

Ungrateful People Quotes

“The mind is inclined to zoom in on your problem, or few problems, to an extend that you cannot see your many blessings.” — Mokokoma Mokhonoana

“Leaders don’t call unhappy followers “ungrateful people”. They see them as “lesson teachers”. They find out why they are unhappy; perhaps it could be as a result of their attitudes. That informs them to change!” 
― Israelmore Ayivor, Leaders’ Ladder

Ok, there are only two quotes here. But, make sure to read the others ones in this article. There are some major nuggets of wisdom.

How Does a Lack of Gratitude Happen?

Unhappiness is a contagious disease caused by chronic deficiency of gratitude.

Mokokoma mokhonoana

If you have had a similar experience – or have been keenly aware that you lacked things compared to others around you – you might be wondering how it got to this point.

  • Our society, as a whole, is a tremendous driving force. Our culture is primarily focused on wanting more. The idea of keeping up with the Jones’ is a classic example of this fact. We find a family that appears to have it all, and we use them as the measuring stick to determine if what we have is adequate or not. So, if the Jones family has a brand new, high-end vehicle, my vehicle needs to be equivalent (or something greater) than the Jones’ vehicle to be adequate. If my vehicle is older or not as high-end, then my vehicle is inferior or less than. This can then lead to identifying yourself as being inferior or less than because of your vehicle (Of course, this is flawed thinking, but it is how the human brain works sometimes).
  • Another element here is a lack of perspective. By having a desire to keep up with the Jones’, we find ourselves forgetting to acknowledge and appreciate the amazing things we *do* have in our life. Think of this as a one-sided view. We have tunnel vision focused on what the Jones’ have and lose sight of the fact what we do have is pretty awesome. If you were to look to the other side, you’d find someone who doesn’t have as much as you do—perhaps making it, so you are better able to acknowledge your own blessings.
  • Then there is negative thinking or focusing on the shortcomings of life. This can certainly be taught or learned from others. For example, listening to people talk about how they don’t have money and blaming it on others (usually vilifying the 1%, blaming “the man,” or another generalized target). Negative thinking is contagious and does not help with a grateful mindset.
    • As a dietitian, I often use food examples to paint a picture of focusing on our shortcomings. The person who is prone to negative thinking will see the meal in front of them and point out all the things “wrong” with it. Take, for example, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich served with chips and strawberries. A negative thought process results in fixating on the “bad” things (chips and jelly). Whereas as a shift in perspective (and a little positive thinking) could allow the person to see the same meal in a different light – the bread was whole grain, the peanut butter provided protein, strawberries added fiber, and the chips satisfied that emotional craving. So, do you focus on the “wrong” thing or what you are doing well?
  • Not flexing our gratitude muscles is the icing on the cake here. When you do not practice gratitude, it is hard to do. The more you practice, the easier it gets. If you haven’t been getting in your gratitude reps in, you need to get yourself started with gratitude bootcamp (hint, this is a good time to plug the 28-day gratitude jar prompt you can download for free).

All of these things lead to a lack of gratitude. As you learn to shed the desire to have more by appreciating what you have, shift your perspective, focus on positive thinking, and flex that gratitude muscle, you will see how truly amazing the world can be.

Read this article if you are looking for a way to take steps toward incorporating gratitude into your daily life. While you are there, you can download the 28 day Gratitude prompts so you can put your gratitude into action.

All that said, I’ll leave you with this quote as some food for thought….

The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.

Douglas Wood

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