The Value of Thankless Tasks

I may be one of the last people I know to read The Happiness Project...but now I am. Yesterday I ran across a bit of advice that hit home and reminded me of a mind-shift that happened for me when interviewed a woman this past summer. The idea that doing nice things for others should be a selfish act.  Not selfish in the “look at me” or greedy way, but selfish in that it has to be done for you. The minute you start expecting praise or thanks, you’re open to being disappointed, ignored or ultimately resentful. It made me think that this is just another twist on the advice yesterday to not care what other people think. You can’t rely on others to make you feel good, you have to own your happiness.

Gretchen Rubin relates how she used to crave praise for the things she did for her husband or family. When she began congratulating herself instead of expecting others to do so, it led to a happier path.

“I used to have a self-congratulatory habit, when I did something nice for our household, of telling myself, “I’m doing this for the Big Man,” or “I’m doing this for the team.” Like I was so generous and thoughtful and giving. Then I’d be angry if no one oohed and aahed over what I’d done. Now, I tell myself, “I’m doing this for myself. This is what I want.”I want to clean out the kitchen cabinets. I want to make homemade Mother’s Day presents. This sounds selfish, but in fact, it’s less selfish, because it means I don’t expect praise or appreciation from anyone else. No one else even has to notice what I’ve done. – The Happiness Project Blog, Feeling Unappreciated ?

I think it’s a freeing thought to know you are in control of your happiness. You can turn that blinder around and deflect other people’s negativity and choose to be positive. The  woman in Chicago shared this anecdote that brought this home for me.

“I used to get upset if I did something nice for someone else — let someone in line or return a lost wallet for example —  if they weren’t appreciative. But now I’ve learned it’s about how it makes me feel. It makes my world a more pleasant place. It’s actually selfish. I learned not to expect thanks or make the pleasant feeling I get dependent on a “thank you”  because I can’t control that”. – 40-something, working mom, wife, Chicago, IL

Of course this means you also have to ask yourself  if it is something you would be doing if it was just for you and are you getting a sense of satisfaction in just that.

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