I am sure you know someone who has way more than you do: whether it is money, health, physical beauty, or friends --but who has an “it’s never enough” attitude, complaining about life as if they have almost nothing. Your empathy, your thoughtful ear, your desire to help—all may be insufficient to stem the tide of complaint of those who suffer from chronic bad attitude: The Eeyores (remember Winnie the Pooh?), who lives are lived under a perpetual dark cloud.
You may also know someone who has less than you do: whether it is money, love, health, beauty or friends --but has a sense of gratitude, focusing on the cup half full rather than half empty. Such individuals seem to have a profound appreciation of the gifts of their daily lives. But some of these grateful folks seem to be perpetually grateful - “grati-aholics" who walk around telling you how wonderful and eternally grateful they are--all the time. Instead of connecting with these Pollyanna’s who only see the light, you find yourself wanting to get away, feeling putoff and strangely guilty.
Gratitude or Attitude: When is enough, enough?
Most likely you are not caught in the extremes of the Gratitude-Attitude Continuum, not a full time Eeyore or Pollyanna. But all of us have a little bit of each of these characters in our own life story. So how can you maximize your appreciation of what is truly good about your life, without sounding like you live in a Disneyworld of denial, or feeling the need to justify what is not wrong by presenting a "legal brief" rationalization about your own life story?
Let’s start by taking account of the fact that life circumstances are not fairly distributed; some of us have it much easier than others, some of us have had the fortune of good luck, while others have suffered greatly, have never had it easy, or have had bad luck. Most of us love to think that we are fully in control of our destiny, but in fact there are many socio-economic and familial circumstances that co-determine our life course. The increased division between those with wealth and everyone else further aggravates this reality. There are also those who have biological or emotional challenges--who are born with chronic illnesses or vulnerabilities that affect their immediate reality. Or those who have a good fortune of being born into a family of relative psychological and physical health versus psychological dysfunctionor physical challenges.
So our beliefs about what is or isn’t possible in life are affected by complex social, emotional, biological, and familial realities. But there are people who rise above, or transcend great difficulties and bad times. Current thinking in neuro-psychology suggests that many of us seem to be 'wired' toward either having a mindset of gratitude or attitude about the twists and turns of our life journeys. Your wiring, including your core beliefs and values, make up the psychological software that will either foster appreciation and resilience, or frustration and despair. The good news is that the software can be updated, changed, or replaced. Indeed: Some of our most successful clients, people who have attained amazing levels of personal and financial success, survived truly terrible childhood experiences, physical challenges and learning disabilities, or lived through very challenging and/or abusive life circumstances.
What we have learned is that each of can choose how we navigate the turns in the road; the mindset we bring that guides how we handle our feelings and thoughts, and how we govern our life choices. Your personal history, your cognitive wiring, psychological attitudes and behaviors all co-determine the degree to which you will have gratitude or attitude. As we describe in our book, Affluence Intelligence, you may have a low thermostat setting on the Gratitude-Attitude continuum. But you can change that setting, to have more of what you want—to increase your resilience, your appreciation of what is good, and to contain complaining that only results in personal and interpersonal alienation.
Research suggests and our experience tells us that you are not powerless to change. You have the choice to truly appreciate what you have without turning into either Pollyanna or Eeyore.
So this Thanksgiving, change one thing about your attitude and/or behavior—that allows you to be either more (or less) appreciative, or have more (or less) of an attitude!