Cognitive dissonance between gratitude and dissatisfaction
The cognitive dissonance between gratitude and dissatisfaction. A look at how both these are at odds with each other and how that can impact you
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LinkedIn’s news feed is full of stories of gratitude and not a day passes where I don’t come across one. This led me to think about the cognitive dissonance between having gratitude and being dissatisfied. There is always an eternal balance between being thankful for what you have and what you strive for. When either goes out of balance you risk complacency or frustration in your career as well as your life.
I once thought that my dissatisfaction was an asset that let me grow my career. Being dissatisfied with that job, that work, and that city, it gave me the energy to propel myself into a new situation. However, I eventually realized that I wasn't shifting because of my own desires, but because I had become more aware of what other people in my industry had and I felt that I was behind. I had lost my gratitude.
Why did this happen to me?
As human beings we are mimetic. We want what we don’t have even if we don’t know why. In his essay Peter Thiel’s Religion, David Perell writes that:
Mimetic Theory rests on the assumption that all our cultural behaviors, beginning with the acquisition of language by children are imitative. [Girard] sees the world as a theatre of envy, where, like mimes, we imitate other people’s desires. Our Mimetic nature is simultaneously our biggest strength and biggest weakness. When it goes right, imitation is a shortcut to learning. But when it spirals out of control, Mimetic imitation leads to envy, violence, and bitter, ever-escalating violence.
The entire article is worth reading but there is a certain subtleness to it. Consider the following two statements. At a glance, they both seem to be the same but they’re not.
We want what we don’t have
We want what other people have
In the first statement, we have an internal need that we need to satisfy. You don’t want food just because someone else has it. You want it to satisfy your hunger and once your hunger is satisfied you won’t need food until you need to satisfy your hunger again. In the second statement, you want what someone else has. You want to “Keep up with Joneses”
As time passed I went from “I want what I don’t have” to “I want what other people have”. When I started working my goals were simple: have enough to feed myself and put a roof over my head. Have enough money to enjoy a vacation once in a while. But as time passed and I looked around me, I wanted that expensive house, that expensive car, that job title. This was purely mimetic. I didn’t have a gap or a want or a need that I needed to satisfy for myself
It's good to be ambitious and want to achieve more but not at the cost of losing gratitude. After all, there will always be someone richer than you, with a better job title than you, with more money to buy Twitter than you (Hello! Musk!). This tends to become a never-ending rat race until you consciously stop being mimetic for the sake of being mimetic. This is hard to do unconsciously because we’re hardwired to be mimetic.
In “Different Kinds of BS”, Morgan Housel has a quote from Naval Ravikant that really hits home:
“One day, I realized with all these people I was jealous of, I couldn’t just choose little aspects of their life. I couldn’t say I want his body, I want her money, I want his personality. You have to be that person. Do you want to actually be that person with all of their reactions, their desires, their family, their happiness level, their outlook on life, their self-image? If you’re not willing to do a wholesale, 24/7, 100 percent swap with who that person is, then there is no point in being jealous”
There is no point in being jealous. Not unless you really want to be [Insert your mimetic lord’s name here] with all the good and bad.
It's a hard trap to not fall into as a human but there are several things that I have been doing to inculcate gratitude in my day-to-day life. For example, I recently returned from a five-week trip to India. I spent hours of my day walking around the city (10-12 miles a day) and I found a pace of life and innocence I hadn’t seen or felt in so many years. I got to spend a lot of time with my childhood friends and it made me realize how many strong relationships I have and not one of them cares how much money I earn or how big my title is. I also had the joy of feeding so many stray dogs everywhere I walked. All they wanted was a meal and some affection. I visited all the places I visited as a child and re-lived a billion memories, some good and some bad. It cost me nothing.
In general things such as exercising, writing, hiking, running, traveling, being in nature, cooking, spending time with friends, and meditation will put you in a state of mind that will help you gain perspective.
If you forget how good your life is, all you have to do is look around and you’ll find a billion people who’d be more than willing to trade their lives for yours any day. You’ll also find a billion people who will celebrate you just the way you are.
Traveling to a poorer country, one that I grew up in and love, gave me an amazing perspective. It made me realize how much I have, rather than how much I don’t have that others do. Traveling to India made me richer and more thankful.
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Thank you so much to Adi Verma, Henk Bruinsma, Leo Ariel, Michael Dean, and Arthur Plainview for feedback on early drafts and for making this more understandable and relatable. You beautiful people! I also highly recommend subscribing to their work and/or following them on Twitter