Why are you here? Why did you make it this far and all the other sperm cells didn't? Given the almost infinite impossibility of you existing why the heck did you make it? I mean you're not that good of a swimmer are you?
You are wonderfully unique. Just look at your DNA or your little character quirks. You are unique. Yet hate to break it to you but you almost entirely irrelevant at the same time. Nothing in this universe needs you to exist. You aren't keeping anything going that wouldn't survive without you. Yet for some reason or purpose you are here. Yes you. And about 7.5 billion versions of something very similar.
We tend to think of ourselves as the centre of the universe. We place so much emphasis on the little mundane choices that we make throughout our lives. Where will we study? Where will we work? Who will we marry? Will we have children? We treat each of these decisions as if the whole universe is dependent on them. We agonize and ruminate to make sure we've made the "right" decision. Yet in a few decades none of us will even be here.
Entitlement's a funny thing. None of us would want to admit to having a sense of entitlement but I would guarantee almost all of us display it. Perhaps subconsciously or perhaps in a more apparent way every one of us is guilty of entitlement.
We feel that we are owed. That we deserve. We think life or God or the universe or our friends or our partner should give us something. Should do something for us. Because we've deserved it. We've been good or been healthy or worked hard. We deserve - we are entitled.
Examples of entitlement
1. Needing to be thanked
A few years ago a friend I had met in Munich came to Dublin. We were sitting in a quiet bar discussing the small things such as the meaning of life. We came on to the topic of altruism. Altruism is when we promote someone else's welfare. This may often be at the expense of ourselves. Altruism put simply is being kind to others.
We began to consider why we show kindness. Why are we nice to other people sometimes? He shared his opinion with me. He suggested that the only reason human beings ever show kindness is so they can feel better about themselves. Though I don't fully subscribe to his analysis I see some merit in what he is saying.
Completely selfless acts of kindness are incredibly rare. Let's be honest how often do we actually just be kind with no expectation whatsoever. When we clean something we want other people to know we have cleaned it. When we leave a present we want the person to know it has come from us. When we do something good or kind - something in us wants to tell other people about it.
Every good action does not need to be praised or celebrated. That is an unhealthy sense of entitlement. Because it creates in us an attitude that we will only show kindness if we know it is going to be appreciated.
2. A 'why me Lord' Complex
Why me? Why did I get sick? Why did my car break down? Why did I lose my job? Why did my partner let me down?
Pretty sure we've all asked the why me question when something 'bad' has happened to us. I spent 5 years walking around with a massive freaking 'why me' chip on my shoulder. Entitlement says you deserve good things. You deserve to be happy all the time. So when that gets challenged the why me's begin to flow.
Outworking of entitlement
Jealousy is one of the most poisonous emotions any of us experience. When we believe we are entitled to something by default we are saying that someone else is not entitled. Because not everyone can have the job you want or the car you think you need.
So when our entitlements are not fulfilled we tend to look with envy at those who have what we don't. We envy those who appear happier or smarter or sexier or richer. We resent them for having more of something we believe we deserve. Jealousy never starts with someone else. It always starts with our own discontentment.
Entitlement says that Darren Shields deserves to have good things happen to him. So when progress happens or a positive change comes about that's normal. That's what was expected.
But when something shit happens - that gets questioned. Because he didn't deserve that. I didn't deserve that. I wonder if you've ever said that.
When we resist 'bad' things happening we will probably exhaust ourselves trying to change them. We will try and make sense of things that have no explanations and we will find it impossible to just be present in the situation we are facing.
We are small players in this universe so resisting things that are more powerful than us is a fruitless endeavor. Bad things happen. Always have, always will. Resistance is futile.
3. A happiness dependent on circumstances
Entitlement says that you deserve certain things. You deserve a good job, a nice house and lots of friends. Similarly it says you don't deserve certain things. You don't deserve to get sick and you don't deserve to lose your money or be hurt by another.
Therefore when these good things happen you are happy. And when these bad things happen you are sad.
Pretty simple right?
Life's good - you're happy
Life's bad - you're sad.
Yet how can some people be so happy and have so little? How can a naked, hungry child smile?
Simple really. Happiness is not and never will be dependent on circumstances. That's why rich, successful people commit suicide sometimes.
When we believe we are entitled to X,Y and Z our happiness will be defined by our having of those things.
Why challenging entitlement helps
1. More Gratitude - deeper appreciation
Entitlement is never thankful. Entitlement just expects. It expects to wake up every morning. It expects your favourite brand of coffee to always be in stock in Tesco. It expects its needs to be met and its ambitions fulfilled. Day in day out.
I'm not going to do the whole "well you should be thankful because of all those starving children in Africa" thing. Nor will I do the "you should be thankful you can even walk because of that person who is paralyzed. If you need a reason to be thankful then you have already missed the point.
Every single situation contains a reason to be thankful regardless of how painful it is. You are not entitled to anything. You shouldn't even be here - statistically speaking. Everything is a bonus.
2. Better attitude to adversity.
Sometimes life is hard. People we love get sick or worse. Opportunities that we were excited about get cancelled or postponed. A sense of entitlement encourages us to ask over and over again why me? Why is this happening to me. I don't deserve this.
Yet if we are able to correct our sense of entitlement it allows us to move to a place where we can began to ask not 'why me' but 'why not me?" Each of us are overwhelmingly fortunate to be here in the first place. Harold Kushner (Jewish Rabbi) once said "pain is the price we pay for being alive." Pain has as much right to be in your life as pleasure does.
If we allow adversity and accept that it has a right to be in our life then we can begin to overcome it. If we spend all our time believing that the pain shouldn't be there then it will always have power over us.
There will always be someone better off than you.
There will always be someone worse off than you.
None of us have control over the future. Contrary to our own beliefs there are very few things over which we have control. In the future both good and bad things will happen to you. Neither you or I know what the ratio of good to bad will be.
Though we can't necessarily control WHAT happens we do have some control over HOW we respond. By accepting every situation (good or bad) and allowing it to be we begin to develop the skills needed to find joy in every situation.