Why Gratitude Matters and Two Practices to Help Cultivate It

Every parent has their kryptonite.  The thing that brings them down that reduces them to a screaming stressed out mess.  For me, it is whining.  Ugh, it is like nails on the chalkboard.  You know the whine.

“Why did he get that and I didn’t, I want one.”

“I don’t want chocolate; I want vanilla.” 

“How come they get to watch TV, and I don’t, it’s not fair.” 

I can’t handle it, from my kids, from their friends, from other kids at the playground.  Yelling, screaming, running around like maniacs; all of that is fine. It is the whining that does me in. 

My terse response to whining is, “you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”  It is a more negative way of saying to be happy with what you have. 

I would like to think that we adults have outgrown these childish ways, but the older I get, the more I realize that I am still just a child at heart.  We all whine, adults call it complaining, but really it is just whining with a more adult-sounding name.  Maybe it isn’t over ice cream, or cake size, although I am still known to whine if my husband gets a piece of cake with more icing than me.  We complain about all sorts of other stuff.  Business Insider pulled together some of the dumbest complaints submitted by some of their readers.  

“I once had a shareholder complain that they only got their quarterly statement every three months.”

“I worked at an Italian Restaurant and received a complaint that we didn't have a burger and fries option on the menu."

"I work in a burger joint. One particular evening I had a table of college kids. A girl orders one of our specialty burgers, the 'portobello, and swiss.' A while later I get the food dropped off and when I'm checking back on them the girl, visibly upset, is demanding a different sandwich. I ask if there's something wrong and she tells me her burger has mushrooms on it.”

“The garden center received a complaint that all of their plants were wet.”[1]  

As someone who has worked both as a waitress and in retail, I get it.  One Christmas break I worked at The Limited, I remember we had a woman come in with a pair of wet jeans, like straight out of the washing machine.  She wanted to return them because they didn’t fit.  Who does that! We all have heard these crazy complaints, and some of them stick out as being totally absurd and ridiculous.  What doesn’t stick out is how prevalent complaining is in our daily life.  Complaining highlights what is missing or what we think we don’t have.  It shines a light on all of those things that we perceive are wrong or unfair to us.  

Will Bowen in The Complaint Free World notes that the average person complains 15-30 times a day.  The median is 23 times a day.  So multiply that times 2, you and your spouse.  You have 46 complaints.  What about a family of 6, like mine,  that is 138 complaints per day, what about 12, a small office staff, 276.  And you get the point.  That is a lot of complaining.  It will absolutely change the way you see the world and how you act in the world. 

A practice of gratitude is the antidote for complaining.  Robert Emmons, a gratitude researcher, says that people who cultivate gratitude in their lives:

•    “Increased feelings of energy, alertness, enthusiasm, and vigor

•    Success in achieving personal goals

•    Better coping with stress

•    Bolstered feelings of self-worth and self-confidence

•    Solidified and secure social relationships

•    Greater sense of purpose and resilience.”[2]

Gratitude is often associated with leading a more full and happy life.  But gratitude is a characteristic that we have to practice and work at.  As a leader in your household, company, or classroom, you must be the one to model an attitude of gratitude for those you lead. 

Two Practices to Fight Complaining and Build Gratitude

Dallas Willard, a practical theologian, says that the spiritual disciplines or practices can be broken down into two categories, disciplines of engagement.  These are practices or behaviors that you actively make a part of your life.  You do something.  And there are disciplines of abstinence; these are practices or behaviors that you do not participate in.  So to practice gratitude, you add gratitude to your life, a discipline of engagement.  There are lots of different ways to practice gratitude.  Some people keep gratitude journals, writing down a few things they are grateful for each day.  Worship in any faith community can be a practice of gratitude.  Saying thank you more often is another practice.  The other pieces are to a practice of abstinence.   You work not to complain.  There is no easy way to do this.  When you catch your self in a complaint, stop yourself or work to re-frame it into something you can be grateful for.  Like any habit, these practices take time, but eventually, they become part of who you are.

Being a leader means setting an example for the rest of the team.  If you lead through complaining, then you can expect your team to be weighed down in complaints if you lead with gratitude, then you can expect your team to offer gratitude to one another.  

How could a culture of gratitude change your family, team, or work environment?


[1] From https://www.businessinsider.com/the-dumbest-customers-complaints-2013-6

[2] From Robert Emmons Gratitude Works!

Erin ReibelComment