Why is it so Hard to Feel Grateful?

Last week, I spoke on the phone with another patient with Crohn’s disease. Diagnosed about a year ago and in her late 50s, she had just scheduled surgery. When she mentioned she was having it at an outpatient center, I immediately told myself that she was lucky not to have to be admitted to a hospital overnight. I remembered my five surgeries and the corresponding hospital stays, sometimes for weeks. As she railed about the unfairness of life and having to have surgery at all–the majority of Crohn’s patients have at least one operation–I couldn’t help but sympathize yet wonder why it was so hard for her to feel grateful to receive care the way she would.


For the last few years, my husband and I have each made a point to carry cash to give to a homeless fellow known around town simply as Chuck. We encounter him in a variety of local spots, from the consignment shop run by a charity to several fast-food restaurants. Any one of these places is just a short walk from a supermarket with a salad bar and a deli, so whenever one of us sees Chuck, we offer him enough to get a meal and sometimes eat with him. The last time I saw him, however, I only had $3 on me. When I gave it to him, even though it would hardly buy a whole meal, he was so grateful. He thanked me over and over and said he intended to get a hot dog right away.

Why is it so hard for us to feel grateful? The older I get, the simpler I think the answer must be. Somehow or other, my generation–the Baby Boomers–inhaled and then absorbed the notion of entitlement. While we at times characterize our children’s and grandchildren’s generations as self-absorbed, techno-obsessed, always in a hurry and totally devoid of the concept of delayed gratification, we definitely have our own sense of entitlement.

We apparently feel that what we’re most entitled to in this life is continuous happiness. I don’t mean the joy of a new baby, a birthday celebration, burning the mortgage or reconnecting with a childhood friend. What I do mean is the notion of being happy 24/7.

If we get a cold, we grab an OTC medication from a convenience store. Short on cash today? Starbucks takes credit cards. Car doesn’t look (or smell) new any longer? Finance a new one for . . . let’s see . . . maybe six years and take it home today?

Feeling a little down that the company didn’t give any raises this year? Get on Facebook and complain to all your “friends” about it and wait for them to at least sympathize.

Chicken or the Egg

My husband and I have a chicken-or-the-egg discussion about retailers being open on Sundays. When we were children, all stores were closed on Sundays. If you needed a prescription, your only option was getting it at the hospital pharmacy between 9 a.m. and noon. He maintains that stores are now open on what’s the Sabbath for many people because customers demand that they be open for business–a convenience thing. I, however, believe that if retailers hadn’t expanded their hours to include Sundays, people would do something other than shop.

Get a group of 10 boomers around a table with some coffee and maybe a brew or two, and you’ll hear at least 12 opinions of how we came to have this sense of entitlement. It’s easy to blame a secular society, parents, the economy and maybe even the high school Latin teacher.

The generation before us was far from perfect. They went crazy buying houses after World War II. They probably started the concept of upward mobility and took the definition of consumption to a new level. But I doubt that most of them expected to be happy 24/7 instead of content most of the time. And it didn’t seem nearly so hard for most of them to feel grateful for life’s blessings.


Personal experience

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