161. be Selfish, adopt Gratitude

Rama Nimmagadda
5 min readApr 26, 2024
Photo taken by Mandar Khire in Pune, India

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” — Brené Brown

In my early to mid twenties (late 1990s and early 2000s), I spent close to six years living in the US, specifically in the state of Minnesota. That place was known for its cold winters and cordial people. The genial culture of the local people was referred to as “Minnesota nice”. People there were simply nice. They used to use phrases such as “please” and “thank you” liberally. Initially I found that odd. It is not that we did not use these phrases in India. We were (and are) quite nice in India too but I was not given into saying things like “thank you” as often. I used to say thank you only in response to a clear and explicit self-less help extended by someone. If it was value that I received in exchange for some help I extended (quid pro quo) or in exchange for money, I did not see any need to say thank you — for, it was a fair and equitable exchange of value. I remember asking an elderly Minnesotan colleague of mine as to why he (and in general people out there) were so profuse with pleasantries — like “thank you” in response to work I was expected to do anyway. He said that even if my work was expected of me, his own progress may be dependent on someone completing that work — so, in effect, by doing my work I was helping him progress in his work and he was thankful for that. It made sense and I started using “thank you” a little more liberally too. I continued this habit even after I moved back to India. A number of “auto” (a three-wheeler cab) drivers wondered why I thanked them after paying the fare. I tried explaining the reason but with little success. In any case, this simple change in my social behaviour resulted in a definite increase in the latent peace that I experienced in my life.

“Wear gratitude like a cloak, and it will feed every corner of your life.” — Rumi

More recently, about 3–4 years ago, I was quite enamored by the use of “thanks for sharing” by a good friend and an ex-colleague of mine. I never paid much attention to it before, but I guess surviving the COVID-19 pandemic put me in a mood for gratitude and I expanded by gratitude repertoire from simple things like “thank you” to “thanks for sharing”. Also, importantly, I meant it every time that I expressed any kind of gratitude.

It seemed like gratitude lays the ground to building deep relationships by allowing you to move from transactional interactions to empathetic ones. One big change I noticed in myself is that I have become a lot more empathetic after adopting the attitude of gratitude. If someone shares an article with me, I now consciously realize the efforts from the other person — effort in reading the article, effort in realizing that others may benefit from it, effort in thinking of me as a possible someone who could benefit and then finally, the act of sharing it. Another big benefit from the attitude of gratitude has been peace of mind. I feel a lot more at peace with myself and with people around me. It contributed to my visceral realization that I’m not in any race with anyone. It is not competition but cooperation that has really contributed to my progress. Gratitude can be an effective antidote to the vicious culture of relentless competition conditioned by our social set-up. Not to say that competition is bad — far from it. Competition is essential for progress. But we need not be in competition with all and sundry all the time.

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” — Epictetus

Anyone reading this article is most likely a beneficiary of some level of privilege. In the least, the fact that you are able to read means you are educated enough to read, you are ambitious enough to read “growth” oriented material and if you read my other articles, you may be contemplating financial and career growth…. how many people in the world will be lucky enough to be educated and be growth minded…. Can’t be more than a tiny fraction. The world is rife enough with deadly diseases, road accidents, war, natural calamities, hunger, etc. The fact that you are alive despite all these real risks that inflict real damage on real people, reflects a clear dose of providence. Clearly, we have a lot to be grateful for.

A sense of gratitude can even induce self-care. Instead of being angry or dispirited at the outcomes that have not come your way, you may instead look at the outcomes that did go your way, particularly the ones that your efforts did not warrant. This may calm you down and wean you off of some of the bitterness. Ironically, you may want to adopt an attitude of gratitude for rather selfish reasons like your peace of mind.

Bottomline

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” ― G.K. Chesterton

The real power of gratitude, I believe, is in the reduction of our preoccupation with our ego. It forces us to examine how much luck has contributed to our accomplishments. Given the dynamism of the world around us, it should not be surprising that luck does play a predominant role in any achievement. Expressing gratitude made me aware of the number of things that are outside of my control and how these factors have aligned almost magically many times, in helping me make any progress. It made me realize that my entire corporate career was a direct product of serendipitous meetings and lucky breaks. No doubt, I worked hard for my career. I sacrificed a lot of personal time and family time for the sake of work. But it is not just me, so many others did that too. Granted a few of them may have gotten much better breaks than me but many of them got fewer breaks. I could easily have been far less lucky.

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