If You Do This, You Will
Never Worry about Ingratitude

Dale Carnegie


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 taxes, anyway.

On 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 people."

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 people."

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.
I 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 attack.

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 emotional.

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.
Parents 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 child!"

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 love?

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 Rule 3:

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.

Dale 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 People and How to Stop Worrying & Start Living, have taught millions how to achieve the pinnacle of personal and professional success. They’re now together in one must-have volume.


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