Five+ days later I finally get a moment to (hopefully) finish this. A lot has happened, I drank entirely too much scotch at my company party (though I maintained my composure to the very end!) I’m also now cat-sitting for some friends of mine who live a ways from me (some 30 min… not too bad), so the logistics are interesting. But what’s been in my head recently is the idea of gratitude, and how a lot of people (including myself these days…) take important things for granted. Especially in terms of your relationships (generally speaking, not just romantic) sometimes it’s hard to draw the line where you’re being grateful, or allowing somebody to take advantage of you, but I think if you can step back and try to see things objectively, it all boils down to the situation, and what you feel you owe somebody. The fact of the matter is that personal debt (not financial) is just that: personal. What has any particular relationship done for you, and what do you owe that relationship as a result of it?
See what I did there? I took it away from the people, and made it about the whole relationship. I think this is important because the individuals in a relationship are two (or more…) major parts, but they are not the whole at any given moment. There are circumstances and history that come into play that contribute to a greater sum. Very often extremely beneficial connections are damaged because somebody is angry or hurt in the moment and forgets to look at the big picture. Though many of the strongest relationships involve very strong emotions, it’s those same emotions that threaten to undermine your gratitude for all that specific people or relationships have done for you. Remembering your gratitude can save a lot of positive relationships.
I suppose key to this is remembering the times you’ve been indebted to any specific relationship. When you get your paycheck, it’s because you indebted the company to you through your actions for them. On a baseline level this is the core of a healthy personal relationship (whether it be friendship or something more.) Naturally you are usually happy to help your friends, family or (some of…) your lovers. For this you tell yourself you need no repayment, perhaps you’re simply grateful to have such a great friend, but it’s actually not that simple. If this attitude is reciprocal, then you’re automatically getting your repayment in the from of their gratitude and generally equivalent actions towards you. But if over time you give in this manner and you receive no gratitude, resentment naturally begins to build.
Some people accept this, they bury their resentment because they fear damaging the relationship. They continue to do as much, or more, for less. This is when somebody is being taken for granted. One of the most damaging aspects of any relationship are when somebody involved stops feeling grateful for the same things they’ve been consistently receiving and (sometimes unknowingly) reduces what they return. Perhaps it means a change is needed, and that can be brought about by communication, but even when that’s the case it’s very difficult for a relationship to break down when both parties are truly grateful for each other. The unfortunate thing is, when you’re being taken for granted, that resentment doesn’t go anywhere, it builds and if it’s not addressed it will instead attack the person causing it. Unfortunately, by allowing the relationship to continue in this manner the fault also shifts to you. Now, you resent the person who is not grateful for you AND you resent yourself for continuing to show your gratitude when perhaps it is not deserved. This is what sets nearly any relationship: friendship, professional and even love on a path to destruction.
The underlying issue is two-fold: First, the hedonic treadmill (elaborated in a previous post) applies to your relationships too, so over time the high they may have once given you returns to a base level of happiness if the routine stays the same. So when once all you had to do was walk into your new office to feel fulfilled at work, now you need something more, and your appreciation for that office diminishes. Second, along with routine and comfort often comes a breakdown of deep communication. Surface communication is abundant, but many lose the talks about how people are feeling or what their personal priorities are. Dreams, goals, feelings and life give away to routine, what to pick up at the store, what report to finish and what social media you need to update. Your appreciation for surface communication diminishes quickly, and just talking about nothing loses it’s appeal. The solutions to these things are simple and obvious, but not easy.
The most obvious and direct way to appreciate anything again, is to lose it. Human nature is very reliable in always wanting what you can’t have, especially if you already considered it yours and feel you deserve it. However, this is also highly destructive and doesn’t fix anything in the long term.
Instead, to keep a relationship (again, on any level) alive, you have to invest in it. Keep it fresh, positive, alive. When most living things in this world go “stale”, they are dying or decaying. The status of a relationship can be associated with that. Individual lives can easily begin to feel stale and routine if they are not tended to, and it’s only natural that this will spill into the relationship if it’s not helping to fix the problem. Comfort is a wonderful thing, but people lose their appreciation for all comfort all the time very quickly. They get bored and take a good situation for granted. But to keep it fresh, you have to have ideas, and those ideas come from real, deep communication. I want to stress that though this absolutely applies to to romantic relationships, it is equally important in friendships and associates at work. The best bosses are the ones that know who you are, where you want to be and allow you to be straightforward with them. This helps keep them from taking you for granted.
It’s easy to think “I just need to appreciate everything more, all the time!” That’s absolutely right! But it’s much, much harder than it sounds. So while you’re reminding yourself to appreciate every little thing, actively to do things that help that appreciation happen naturally as well. Change it up, try not to be bored (the world is too big!), and above all communicate so that you’re grateful to those around you that communicate back. If you can do this and you’re still being taken for granted, then you might be in a toxic situation and you honestly might need to distance yourself. But first, try, be the best you can be, do your part, be grateful for everything you can and see if maybe your appreciation will rub off on those around you. Even if it doesn’t work for the relationship you want, it might just make some other great ones.