The opposite of gratitude is entitlement.
When you hold a grudge towards the world every time things don’t work out the way that you imagined they should, believing that you are entitled to have what you deserve, you close yourself to the possibilities, nuances and gifts that are in front of you in this moment.
When you hold anger and bitterness for what you feel was denied you, for imagined rewards that never actually came your way, you allow your past disappointments to block any possibility of a better future.
As the organ played in “The Big Chill,” you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. Holding out for what you think you want often means missing getting what you need.
Petulance is an immature demand for what we believe we are entitled to. When we demand compassion, people often choose to demand responsibility from us, but when we show responsibility, they often offer compassion. Showing our sense of entitlement rather than our sense of gratitude often just increases the amount of resistance we find in others.
Maybe that’s the point, though. Maybe staying in entitlement is really a way to sabotage ourselves, giving us a reason to whine and carp and complain, a tool to get us off the hook for taking responsibility for ourselves by blaming the people who just don’t get it right. If they got it right, our lives would be simple and delightful, not a struggle that demands our work and our growth.
If we stay stuck in our past disappointments, always ready to explain how the world has failed us, we also stay firmly stuck in our pretty imaginings about how much we are owed by other people. We get to avoid facing our responsibility in the world with anger, dismissal, rage and blame.
The gratitude to give and graciously accept what we get in return is a mature approach to the world, understanding that to get different results, we need to make different choices. The entitlement to demand that we be allowed to make the same choices we have always made and get different results is not a technique that has shown much success in the world we live in.
Change requires change, and change requires us to be grateful for small mercies, grateful for what we receive, not just resisting gifts and throwing them back if they don’t meet our petulant expectations. The gifts of a lifetime are almost always impossible to imagine before we receive them and are often contained inside the obligations and challenges we worked so hard to resist.
When we reject what we are offered because we believe we are entitled to what we think we want, our lack of gratitude for the richness of the world we actually live in keeps us small and angry, stuck in our fantasies rather than blooming in the sunlight. Our fear of change and demand stops us from doing the basic work that can make our life better and more rewarding. We choose the imagined comfort of avoidance over the real blessings of engagement, building bigger and bigger walls against what we might receive.
Wholehearted engagement of life, beyond our fears and internalized shame, demands that we be willing to change to engage what comes our way, open to the lessons and the rewards in a compassionate and mature way. Holding on to our own expectations of what normal should be, on to the conventions we want to impose on the world, is to resist the true majesty of the world around us.
The opposite of gratitude is entitlement. Gratitude only for things you knew you wanted is not gratitude. If you believe that you are entitled to what you expect, entitled to comfort and ease the way you believe it should be, entitled to judge and dismiss challenges to your own worldview, entitled to say where everyone else is wrong and you are right, you deny the power of gratitude to give you divine surprises which open your heart and mind to an awesome world.
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.
History, stories and human wisdom remind us that change is the only constant. Life isn’t easy, but it can be rewarding. That only happens, though, when we get over our own entitled sense of what we deserve and how things should be, only when we open up with gratitude for the surprising and amazing possibilities the world holds out everyday.
Thank you, God, for offering me a chance to grow everyday.