I recently met a businessman in Texas who was burned up
with indignation. I was warned that he would tell me
about it within fifteen minutes after I met him. He
did. The incident he was angry about had occurred
eleven months previously, but he was still burned up about
it. He couldn't talk of anything else. He had
given his thirty-four employees ten thousand dollars in
Christmas bonuses--approximately three hundred dollars
each--and no one had thanked him. "I am
sorry," he complained bitterly, "that I ever
gave them a penny."
"An angry man," said Confucius, "is always
full of poison." This man was so full of poison
that I honestly pitied him. He was about sixty years
old. Now, life-insurance companies figure that, on
average, we will live slightly more than two thirds of the
difference between our present age and eighty. So
this man--if he was lucky--probably had about fourteen or
fifteen years to live. Yet he had already wasted
almost one of his few remaining years by his bitterness
and resentment over an event that was past and gone.
I pitied him.
Instead of wallowing in resentment and self-pity, he might
have asked himself why he didn't get any
appreciation. Maybe he had underpaid and overworked
his employees. Maybe they considered a Christmas
bonus not a gift, but something they had earned.
Maybe he was so critical and unapproachable that no one
dared or cared to thank him. Maybe they felt he gave
the bonus because most of the profits were going for
the other hand, maybe the employees were selfish, mean,
and ill-mannered. Maybe this. Maybe
that. I don't know any more about it than you
do. But I do know that Dr. Samuel Johnson
said: "Gratitude is a fruit of great
cultivation. You do not find it among gross
Here is the point I am trying to make: this man
made the human and distressing mistake of expecting
gratitude. He just didn't know human nature.
If you saved a man's life, would you expect him to be
grateful? You might--but Samuel Leibowitz, who was a
famous criminal lawyer before he became a judge, saved seventy-eight
men from going to the electric chair! How many of
those men, do you suppose, stopped to thank Samuel
Leibowitz, or ever took the trouble to send him a
Christmas card? Guess. . . . That's right--none. . .
If you gave one of your relatives a million dollars, would
you expect him to be grateful? Andrew Carnegie did
just that. But if Andrew Carnegie had come back from
the grave a little while later, he would have been shocked
to find this relative cursing him! Why?
Because Old Andy had left 365 million dollars to public
charities--and had "cut him off with one measly
million," as he put it.
That's how it goes. Human nature has always been
human nature--and it probably won't change in your
lifetime. So why not accept it? Why not be as
realistic about it as was old Marcus Aurelius, one of the
wisest men who ever ruled the Roman Empire. He wrote
in his diary one day: "I am going to meet
people today who talk too much--people who are selfish,
egotistical, ungrateful. But I won't be surprised or
disturbed, for I couldn't imagine a world without such
That makes sense, doesn't it? If you and I go around
grumbling about ingratitude, who is to blame? Is it
human nature--or is it our ignorance of human
nature? Let's not expect gratitude. Then, if
we get some occasionally, it will come as a delightful
surprise. If we don't get it, we won't be disturbed.
Here is the first point I am trying to make in this
chapter: It is natural for people to forget to be
grateful; so, if we go around expecting gratitude, we are
headed straight for a lot of heartbreaks.
know a woman in New York who is always complaining
because she is lonely. Not one of her
relatives wants to go near her--and no wonder.
If you visit her, she will tell you for hours what
she did for her nieces when they were
children: she nursed them through the measles
and the mumps and the whooping cough; she boarded
them for years; she helped to send one of them
through business school, and she made a home for the
other until she got married.
Do the nieces come to see her? Oh, yes, now
and then, out of a spirit of duty. But they
dread these visits. They know they will have
to sit and listen for hours to half-veiled
reproaches. They will be treated to an endless
litany of bitter complaints and self-pitying
sighs. And when this woman can no longer
bludgeon, browbeat, or bully her nieces into coming
to see her, she has one of her
"spells." She develops a heart
Is the heart attack real? Oh, yes. The
doctors say she has "a nervous heart,"
suffers from palpitations. But the doctors
also say they can do nothing for her--her trouble is
What this woman really wants is love and
attention. But she calls it
"gratitude." And she will never get
gratitude or love, because she demands it. She
thinks it's her due.
There are thousands of people like her, people who
are ill from "ingratitude," loneliness,
and neglect. They long to be loved; but the
only way in this world that they can ever hope to be
loved is to stop asking for it and to start pouring
out love without hope of return.
Does that sound like pure, impractical, visionary
idealism? It isn't. It is just horse
sense. It is a good way for you and me to find
the happiness we long for. I know. I
have seen it happen right in my own family. My
own mother and father gave for the joy of helping
others. We were poor--always overwhelmed by
debts. Yet, poor as we were, my father and
mother always managed to send money every year to an
orphans' home. Mother and Father never visited
that home. Probably no one ever thanked them
for their gifts--except by letter--but they were
richly repaid, for they had the joy of helping
little children--without wishing for or expecting
any gratitude in return.
After I left home, I would always send Father and
Mother a check for Christmas and urge them to
indulge in a few luxuries for themselves. But
they rarely did. When I came home a few days
before Christmas, Father would tell me of the coal
and groceries they had bought for some "widder
woman" in town who had a lot of children and no
money to buy food and fuel. What joy they got
out of these gifts--the joy of giving without
expecting anything whatever in return!
I believe my father would almost have qualified for
Aristotle's description of the ideal man--the man
most worthy of being happy. "The ideal
man," said Aristotle, "takes joy in doing
favors for others."
Here is the second point I am trying to make in this
chapter: If we want to find happiness,
let's stop thinking about gratitude or ingratitude
and give for the inner joy of giving.
have been tearing their hair about the ingratitude of
children for ten thousand years.
Even Shakespeare's King Lear cried out, "How sharper
than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless
But why should children be thankful--unless we train them
to be? Ingratitude is natural--like weeds.
Gratitude is like a rose. It has to be fed and
watered and cultivated and loved and protected.
If our children are ungrateful, who is to blame?
Maybe we are. If we have never taught them to
express gratitude to others, how can we expect them to be
grateful to us?
I knew a man in Chicago who had cause to complain about
the ingratitude of his stepsons. He slaved in a box
factory, seldom earning more than forty dollars a
week. He married a widow, and she persuaded him to
borrow money and send her two grown sons to college.
Out of his salary of forty dollars a week, he had to pay
for food, rent, fuel, clothes, and also for the payment on
his notes. He did this for four years, working like
a slave, and never complaining.
Did he get any thanks? No; his wife took it all for
granted--and so did her sons. They never imagined
that they owed their stepfather anything--not even thanks!
Who was to blame? The boys? Yes, but the
mother was even more to blame. She thought it was a
shame to burden their young lives with a "sense of
obligation." She didn't want her sons to
"start out under debt." So she never
dreamed of saying: "What a prince your
stepfather is to help you through college!"
Instead, she took the attitude: "Oh, that's the
least he can do."
She thought she was sparing her sons, but, in reality, she
was sending them out into life with that dangerous idea
that the world owed them a living. And it was
a dangerous idea--for one of those sons tried to
"borrow" from an employer, and ended up in jail!
We must remember that our children are very much what we
make them. For example, my mother's sister--Viola
Alexander, of Minneapolis--is a shining example of a woman
who has never had cause to complain about the
"ingratitude" of children. When I was a
boy, Aunt Viola took her own mother into her home to love
and take care of; and she did the same thing for her
husband's mother. I can still close my eyes and see
those two old ladies sitting before the fire in Aunt
Viola's farmhouse. Were they any "trouble"
to Aunt Viola? Oh, often I suppose. But you
would never have guessed it from her attitude. She loved
those old ladies--so she pampered them, and spoiled them,
and made them feel at home. In addition, Aunt Viola
had six children of her own; but it never occurred to her
that she was doing anything especially noble, or deserved
any halos for taking these old ladies into her home.
To her, it was a natural thing, the right thing, the thing
she wanted to do.
Where is Aunt Viola today? Well, she has now been a
widow for twenty-odd years, and she has five grown-up
children--five separate households--all clamoring to share
her, and to have her come and live in their homes!
Her children adore her; they never get enough of
her. Out of "gratitude"?
Nonsense! It is love--sheer love. Those
children breathed in warmth and radiant human-kindness all
during their childhoods. Is it any wonder that, now
that the situation is reversed, they give back
So let us remember that to raise grateful children, we
have to be grateful. Let us remember
"little pitchers have big ears"--and watch what
we say. To illustrate--the next time we are tempted
to belittle someone's kindness in the presence of our
children, let's stop. Let's never say:
"Look at these dishcloths Cousin Sue sent for
Christmas. She knit them herself. They didn't
cost her a cent!" The remark may seem trivial
to us--but the children are listening. So, instead,
we had better say: "Look at the hours Cousin
Sue spent making these for Christmas! Isn't she
nice? Let's write her a thank-you note right
now." And our children may unconsciously absorb
the habit of praise and appreciation.
To avoid resentment and worry over ingratitude, here is
A. Instead of worrying about ingratitude, let's
expect it. Let's remember that Jesus healed ten
lepers in one day--and only one thanked him. Why
should we expect more gratitude than Jesus got?
B. Let's remember that the only way to find
happiness is not to expect gratitude, but to give for the
joy of giving.
C. Let's remember that gratitude is a
"cultivated" trait; so if we want our children
to be grateful, we must train them to be grateful.
Carnegie’s motivational and practical
teachings are as sound today as when they were
first written. Bestsellers for more than 60
years, How to Win Friends & Influence
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