Are you too grateful?

by | Apr 21, 2014 | Blog, Jessica Chivers, Mind & Personality | 0 comments

Do you ever gush with gratitude towards clients, colleagues, friends or family? Or inwardly feel so thankful for what you have that you tell yourself you’d be mad to rock the boat? I’ve pedalled the psychology of gratitude on several occasions over the last five years (it’s an important factor in subjective measures of happiness and wellbeing) but in this column I’m asking you to consider in which settings you might be overdoing it.

60% of my coachees are women returning to work post career break. As part of the two comeback coaching programmes I run with sponsored coachees (whose organisations fund the coaching) we use a tool[1] to assess and plan how to make best use of her strengths[2]. Of the 60 strengths the tool measures, when ‘gratitude’ appears in a particular part of a career returner’s profile, a questioning ‘ding’ sounds in my head. That’s because gratitude can stop us from striving. It’s a correlate of contentment, of acceptance and stasis.

Gentle probing of a coachee who scores highly on gratitude sometimes releases a cascade of anecdotes of reluctance to push for more than she’s got (variety/depth of responsibilities; pay; working conditions; access to development opportunities to name a few) and a quiet self-directed frustration . Gratitude is a terrific thing in the right measure; the challenge is to blend it with agitation and a desire for something larger or better, on occasion.

Many of you run your own businesses and I wonder whether the idea of being overly grateful for some of the custom you receive, resonates with you? If customer feedback says you deliver a spot-on service and/or sell prize-worthy products there’s probably room for a little less gratitude either outwardly towards them or in your own head. You’re superb; why wouldn’t people do business with you? Similarly, if you see it as predominantly your role (or habit has led you and others to perceive it that way) to maintain a home and care for it’s animate and inanimate contents, might you be a little too thankful for the contributions others make? Hint: if you have ever referred to your partner as ‘babysitting’ the children you jointly conceived, you may be prone to this.

If you’ve given even a half-smile at the situations I’ve highlighted, the following practical suggestions for how to temper your wonderful capacity for gratitude, may be useful. Clearly consideration is required as to how you deploy them:


  • Think of three ways a situation or experience could be better and act on one of them
  • Ratchet up your expectations of a friend, colleague or family member by a notch and spell it out if needs be
  • Ask for something that feels a little bit cheeky
  • Have a go at modeling the least grateful person you know, even if just for 10 minutes
  • Imagine you’ve overheard your line manager say you deserve more but until you ask…
  • Tell a customer/client about how else they could benefit from you/your team’s expertise (beyond what they’re buying from you this time)
  • Start a sentence with “X needs doing…” rather than “Could you…?”
  • Ask a colleague how much more they would push for in a given situation
  • When someone asks how you are, say “I’m good and I’d be ecstatic if you would…(insert request of your choice here).” Just think of the pleasure your unexpected response might bring – “fine” is such a dull answer.

If you really struggle to be anything but content, grateful and un-rocking of boats, do think about how your dissatisfaction and desire for something more or different could benefit others. The woman who makes a case for pay transparency or why agile working should be mainstream at her place of work is shaping a positive culture for everyone. The parent who positions domestic operations as everyone’s responsibility is raising children who take ownership and know what it is to graft.

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