Not long ago I had a coaching conversation with a client that went something like this: The client said that she was feeling guilty about not being more grateful for what she had in her life. She was content with where she was but still found it hard to summon feelings of thankfulness. She had an itch for something more and although she was feeling like everything was good, she thought there might be something better.
However, because things were good, she denied the itch she felt to strive for more. Rather, she worked hard at convincing herself that to be grateful in the present she had to deny any yearning for more. This left her with little authentic gratitude and no motivation to reach outside of where she was to change things. Her current circumstances were comfortable and “good enough” – she was healthy, had a roof over her head, a job, friends, and family, so shouldn’t she just stay put and feel gratitude? As she contemplated that, I asked her where she would draw the line is between gratitude and complacency.
This seemingly innocuous question left her speechless. She had not ever thought of these two concepts as being intertwined. The dictionary defines complacency as “a feeling of uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.” In that moment with my client, it struck me that while it is wonderful to feel gratitude for where you are and what you have, that sense of gratitude can get distorted in our heads and make us think we should not want anything more. That sense of required gratitude can cause us to put blinders on and not look critically at our own sense of satisfaction. When we do that, we become complacent.
So does the desire for something more equate with being ungrateful? I don’t think so. In fact, the desire for something more and the drive to keep moving forward is ingrained in each of us. It is natural. Why wouldn’t we want to look critically at where we are now rather than putting blinders on and simply accepting the current situation as the end all and be all? It is absolutely possible to feel full and complete gratitude for where you are and who you are in this moment while still yearning to grow, develop and change. We can be grateful while looking at ourselves and our situations critically. We can feel gratitude and not fall into complacency.
The key is in finding the balance between feeling grateful for the present and the itch for something more. If you are always looking for more and only considering what’s next and what’s missing, it’s impossible to feel gratitude with what is. On the flip side, if you can allow yourself to only feel gratitude for your current circumstances without ever asking whether there is something more, that overblown sense of gratitude – i.e. complacency — can keep you stuck. Gratitude coupled with questioning serves as a foundation for the natural instinct for personal development to kick in.
So allow for gratitude but don’t force it. Don’t deny the desire you feel for something more. It will only lead to complacency and inertia. As my client discovered, if you embrace gratitude and allow your natural unrest to come forth when the time is right, you won’t fall into complacency. Rather you be able to leverage the gratitude you feel for your current circumstances to propel you toward the goals that you have for the future.
What are you most grateful for in your current circumstances and what do you yearn for next? Where are you complacent? Where are you allowing a sense of gratitude to keep you stuck?