November 24 : Giving Thanks vs Feeling Entitled

The purpose of Thanksgiving is to be thankful for all the people and things we have in our lives. Yet our self-centred mind can sabotage this purpose when we think that people should thank us because we are so generous, so kind, so benevolent, so helpful, and so ethical. We never lie, and we never deceive anybody, so everyone should be thankful to have us in their lives. Our egos may go through Thanksgiving Day, and perhaps the rest of the year, with a sense of entitlement. “Everybody should give me everything and do everything I want because I am so great, and when I do the slightest little thing, they should fawn all over me with thank you’s and appreciation and praise.” This kind of mind creates a lot of suffering because it is a bottomless pit that could always yearn more praise and appreciation. Wanting more and better and more and better just breeds a lot of unhappiness because we can never get enough. This attitude also breeds a mind that cannot really see the appreciation that is already given to us.

Once I was working with someone and experienced this kind of thanksgiving mind. I told him that I felt he was not thanking me enough, and he explained that the way he thanks people is by doing small helpful things, not by saying “thank you” or offering verbal praise. Because I had wanted the verbal stuff, I had not noticed the small helpful things he had done. Sometimes people are being kind to us but we do not notice it because we are so fixated on our agenda.

The purpose of Thanksgiving is really to contemplate the interdependence of all sentient beings and how kind others have been to us, no matter what job they do in society or how we benefit from it. We can use the day to develop gratitude for all the sentient beings that have been as kind to us as our mothers and wish to repay that kindness. We know from our own experiences that we feel lousy when we are waiting for other people to be grateful for us, but our heart feels very joyful when we feel gratitude. A verse in the Guru Puja talks about how the Buddhas cherish others while we cherish ourselves, and how much happier Buddhas are than us. Let us keep our Thanksgiving meditation on gratitude going the rest of the year and see how our mind transforms into a happier one.

“365 Gems of Wisdom” e-book is out now!