Essay: Thanklessness

Gratitude

Some say it’s the least felt of human emotions. That may be. It seems to be the feeling least written about from a mental health professional perspective. And yet, I’ve read that grateful people are happy people. Are they happy because they’re grateful, or vice versa? I should know because I consider myself one of them.

I am uneasy when people thank me for my military service. While there were days I would not want to repeat; some of those memories are among my best. It was my career – my profession. If people were silently grateful, I’d manage. I used to humbly balk at such comments, but I soon learned to say thank you and move on.

I was walking down a street in Crystal City, VA (just outside of Washington, D.C) with a US Marine Corps colonel. We were headed for a meeting. He was in his uniform, but I wore civilian clothes. As we were waiting to cross the street, an attractive young lady walked up and shook his hand as she thanked him for his service.

After she left, he said, “Since being married, I no longer know how to handle situations like that.”

I replied, “Next time, introduce your Air Force friend and I will take it from there.”

The value of gratitude to our overall mental health is well known. I know of no self-help book that suggests being thankless. Everything from gratitude lists to National Holidays inspire us to be reflective of those things and people we feel have improved our lives.

A Memory

My favorite gratitude story involves the son of my wife’s sister. She had six boys, of which Scott was the youngest. Whenever we visited his family, I would find time to play with Scott. Be it baseball, football, basketball, or some other similar endeavor, Scott and I interacted and played – just the two of us. It never occurred to me, as the youngest boy, Scott’s five older brothers had better things to do. And his father, a borderline workaholic, had been worn down by the first five boys.

Eventually, Scott grew up, got married, and graduated from Texas University. He and Sarah had two lovely daughters. I enjoyed my time with him and never gave it another thought after we had both moved on with life.

Scott matured into a handsome, well-liked, and friendly man. Everyone liked him, despite his reputation as a clever prankster.

On a visit with Scott and his family, he asked to speak with me alone. After we retreated to a private area, he said, “I want to thank you for all those times you played ball with me when I was a kid. No one else did that and I have never forgotten. It meant a lot to me. Thank you.”

By being me and playing with some kid, I created memories for him. Now, my memory is of his expression of gratitude. Within a year, Scott had died of a congenital heart problem. When I learned of that, my first thought was of our chat.

‘Thankless’ Employment

I’ve had some experiences with work-type situations some people call “thankless jobs.” While I understand what they mean, I can never get my brain around what a ‘thankless’ job is.

As an additional part of my real job, I once volunteered to be a Facility Manager for a large building where several hundred people worked. I was paid nothing extra.

A few months into the building job (which my wife titled Permanent Latrine Orderly [PLO], from the movie No Time for Sergeants), I realized that all my voice mail messages were either new problems, or comments about on-going issues related to the building, not my real job. I liked the challenges and the idea that my efforts made a better place for people to work for nine hours or more each day.

I also enjoyed the times people expressed their gratitude to me for doing such a ‘thankless’ job. Even with that irony, I also liked when people sent emails to my boss telling him how much they appreciated what I did. He let me know. One day he introduced me to some visiting VIP as his Facility Manager rather than my real job title. Was that a slip-up, or was it because he most appreciated my building caretaker duties? Thankless? I think not!

Thankfully Happy Few

I admit, as Harvey McKay titled a chapter in How to Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, gratitude is (or may be) ‘the least felt of all human emotions.’ But I also know when we think about it, we are usually grateful.

It’s not a perfect world. We have a fair share of ingrates and thankless souls wandering around. But thankless is the other side of what we ought to be, and most of us seem to know it.

I further admit knowing some who fear happiness. They are normal when complaining or worrying. In those cases, we either simply wait for it, or we speed things up by asking, “How are you doing?”

Their answer is, “Well, let me tell you about it….”

There’s nothing wrong with having an attitude of gratitude and it may even lead to a healthier and happier life. Yet, I’ve known some very happy, but cantankerous old farts who relish the chip on their shoulder. Good for them.

The only thankless jobs are the ones we don’t want. People have been treated for long term depression, only to find relief with a job change. It happens.

And the only thankless people are the poor souls who may be struggling with their own sorrows, problems, or demons.

And isn’t happiness what we ultimately want? I think so.

©Bill Reynolds 11/26/2018

Look both ways for health and happiness. Mind the gaps. They may harbor traps.

3 thoughts on “Essay: Thanklessness

  1. gah, so much to say. no shift key right now, tho, k?
    so, that whole ‘thank you for your service thing’ has this way of sounding insincere and i’ve long noted the only people my husband likes to hear that from are fellow vets. it’s a very complicated thing, like staring at the ceiling while people pray. it shouldn’t be a thing people have feelings about, on the surface it’s nice, polite, benign, but… it’s a thing.
    even when people say it to me, or stuff like ‘thank you for your sacrifice’ i smile and nod, turn ten shades of red and think, ‘i love this man. it was part of loving this man. i chose him/it.’ but it’s not to say it was easy. whose path was? whose choices were? if it wasn’t that, wouldn’t it have been somethin else?
    i also think gratitude keeps me happy. i wasn’t always this way and they way i was truly heightened all my fear and anxiety and gratitude does help. i dunno why. it just does.
    i also have a hard time being thanked for my work. sometimes my boss acts like i have saved the planet, and again, i get all blushy, because it’s literally my job to do the things she thanks me for doing. i like that she appreciates me, but again, it is my job. i feel very fortunate to enjoy my work.
    there are many people in my life who i think would benefit from a job change, a relationship change, or a move of house. while we must recognize depression as the horrid illness it is, we must also recognize some depression is causal.
    anyway, great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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