There’s a human tendency to feel like you’re pulling more than your fair share of the weight.
That’s because we only experience the hardships of our own reality. We don’t see the work our colleague or partner does when we’re not around. We don’t experience their stress or tension. And we’re not in their body when they want to keel over from exhaustion, yet force themselves to push through.
I’m the kind of person that people tell stuff to, personal stuff. Strangers, acquaintances, family members, tell me things that they don’t normally share with others. Maybe it’s because they quite correctly sense that I find their emotions fascinating, or perhaps it’s because I’m good at asking questions.
One thing I’ve learned through these many confidences is that we’re all the unsung heroes of our own reality. This is not a bad thing. An inner belief that what you are doing is good and noble pushes you to be your best.
Where people run into problems, is when we start comparing our noble hero story to others. The boss thinks she has it harder than her workers because she carries the weight of the company goals. The workers think they have it tougher because they have less autonomy and support. Other examples abound.
This belief that your role is harder is self-gratifying in the moment, but eventually leads to resentment and disdain.
Here’s what I’ve observed:
One arena where this plays out with life-altering, painful consequences is in the working versus taking care of kid’s comparison.
Here’s what I’ve noticed when I’m with people who are primary bread winners, the people who smile when they talk about their families, say things like, “I go to work but he/she is doing the more important work at home.”
The unhappy people resent their spouse. They believe that their hard work is funding a cushy life for someone who isn’t making an equal contribution.
On the flip side, every happy stay at home parent I’ve ever met routinely expressing gratitude for their partner’s economic contribution. They say things like, “I’m so lucky my spouse is out there braving the world.” Unhappy parents believe that work is a happy land of expensive lunches and regular praise, while they are home sentenced to PB&J and whining.
Change venues, and you’ll see a similar dynamic play out, labor versus management, teachers versus administration, IT versus sales. Lack of appreciation doesn’t stem from bad relationships; lack of gratitude causes bad relationships.
Ann Wroe the obituaries editor of The Economist wrote, “Ingratitude is the frost that nips the flower even as it opens, that shrivels the generous apple on the branch, that freezes the fountain in mid-flow and numbs the hand, even in the very act of giving. It is a sin of silence, absence and omission, as winter’s sin is a lack of light; a sin against charity, which otherwise warms the heart and, in the truest sense, makes the world turn.”
When your internal talk track keeps trying to tell you that your role is harder, you don’t win anything. You only succeed in making the other side feel unappreciated and unloved.
If you want to be miserable, keep trying to win the “I have it harder than you do” award. If you want to be happy, express gratitude for the person on the other side.