Harriet Walker: 'Someone really successful wouldn't be bothered about whether someone was annoyed with them'


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The Independent Online

You've probably just spent at least two weeks feeling and being very grateful. Or maybe you haven't. That's the thing about remembering to show your gratitude: it serves to put everyone else's lack thereof in rather harsh relief.

I can never decide whether my own rather burdensome sense of gratitude and humility is a good or bad thing, whether it's polite or actually intrinsically selfish: is it passive-aggressive that I say thank you so much? Am I only saying thank you quite so often because that is the level of gratitude and servile diffidence that I believe I myself am due?

It's a psychological hell of my own making.

All I know is, I was raised in a family where you say thank you, sometimes more than once. You also pay people a lot of compliments and every third word that comes out of your mouth (when you're not saying thank you) is "sorry". Every 10 minutes, you ask if the person is "OK". Then you pat their arm.

There's no better time of year to gauge people's gratitude levels. It sounds bad to say that, as if I'm a needy matron aunt whose sole opportunity for interaction is the handing over of money to relations who neither like nor care about her. Anyway, I don't mean it quite like that. I don't think gratitude should be a social currency – I just think it's interesting that people's spirit levels for thanks should be set at such wildly differing heights.

It's something I believe is directly proportional to the amount they already have, their expectations of what they will receive and the amount they're willing to give. The lower the first two, the higher the latter, I usually find, and the higher the gratitude that goes with it. Sometimes, having a massive sense of entitlement shunts all the gratitude out of your bod. And gratitude, like a virus and Countdown, cannot survive without a host.

You see it in the smallest members of the family, the 2ft-tall ones who sit next to a pile of booty twice their size and work their way through with no remorse at their conspicuous consumption. They are the tiny tyrants for whom Christmas was invented, the ones with no concept of the spirit of giving. They believe only in taking, and we love them for it.

It's because, along with their lack of gratitude, comes the purest and more honest expression of satisfaction and joy. When you're constantly saying thank you for everything – be that a Christmas present, someone holding a door or when someone is rude to you but you're scared of them – you can never really mean it. Being free of social expectations, of the weight of required gratitude, means that, like a medieval king, you can scatter your favour as you please. And people will love you for it.

For us apologetic types, a more Uriah Heep-ian existence beckons. No one who was too thankful ever rose above their allotted shelf of fabulosity. Sadly, the arrogance of the ingrate – which, once you're beyond teething and teenage years, is definitely a bad thing – seems also to be part of the alchemic recipe for people who do well.

For instance, I've worked out that I only ever feel at my most settled and unworried when I am mostly certain that nobody is cross with me – that's why I ask almost constantly whether people are OK, not because I am nice enough to really wonder. I've also worked out that someone really successful wouldn't be bothered about whether someone was annoyed with them; they'd just power on through without saying thank you – not even once, let alone the five times I say it.

This deficit is why Christmas can be such a troublesome time. When you really consider it, the differential in gratitude between even members of the same family means that gifts that cost the same amount in pounds end up with a value far higher or lower when it comes to thanks expected.

This is why all of us probably had a massive fight on Christmas Day. And this is why my New Year's resolution is to find my gratitude equilibrium. Because it doesn't make sense spending time doing something that I would be inordinately grateful for, only for it to be received with a shrug and never mentioned again and for me to then feel annoyed or sad about it. To be plain, this scenario is clearly my fault for expecting too much.

Rather, I will reconsider just how grateful everyone I know is and take a median. That way, you become well balanced. Happy new year.