What makes a person ungrateful? A recent study from the journal of Cognition and Emotion found that people who value independence may be less likely to feel gratitude. The study surveyed 500 participants and the researchers found that individuals who self-reported high levels of autonomy reported experiencing less gratitude after receiving a hypothetical gift from a friend. A follow-up study found that highly independent people were more focused on presenting themselves well and less on supporting others. The impact of this trait on relationships is rather significant. Couples who focus on autonomy may have become accustomed to doing things themselves and are unaware of help from the other person. Or maybe one person feels entitled and assumes that the other person will do for them without ever acknowledging the efforts. Are people too busy or self-absorbed and expect others to meet their needs without any acknowledgment?
The conclusions from the above study are very interesting since independent people rarely ask for help and expect to tackle tasks alone. They also may value self-sufficiency and focus primarily on their own issues and accomplishments rather than paying attention to others’ kindness. In couple’s counseling, I often find that one or both parties get consumed in their own world and lose their ability to see beyond themselves. They may inadvertently take each other for granted and not acknowledge the value of the person or of the relationship. People sometimes lose sight of the goodness in their partner and instead focus on their shortcomings. We are all guilty of focusing on what we don’t have, instead of appreciating what or who we have in our lives, sometimes until it is too late. The autonomous person approaches life as an independent entity instead of a team player and may lack an awareness of others. How can we be more grateful?
We can start by shifting our focus to the people and things that are good in our lives and intentionally acknowledge them. A simple thank you note, email, phone call or text can go a long way. When we interact with people, expressing a simple smile and practicing common courtesies can give people a sense of connection and respect. We can learn to accept help from others and reciprocate when possible, but let them know how grateful we are for their efforts. Unfortunately, our culture today rewards independence and autonomy to extreme levels whereby most neighbors wouldn’t dream of asking for a favor or help. Let’s consider reigniting the importance of helping each other out and appreciating the value of others. We especially need to acknowledge the good in our family and friends, not just in our heads, but by actually verbalizing their positive attributes. Let people know that they matter and are appreciated.