The Gratitude Cycle

If you pause and look at your life objectively, I think you’ll recognize a real tension that pulls you in opposite directions. On one side there’s gratitude, generosity, and humility. On the other side, you see entitlement, fear, and pride.

Every human being is driven by three distinct tensions:

Gratitude — Entitlement
Generosity — Fear
Humility — Pride

In every circumstance, every relationship, and every interaction, we feel these polar forces at work.

A quick look at American culture and many would argue that we have become entitled, afraid and prideful. Some want to blame participation trophies while others want to point the finger at technology and instantaneous gratification.

But is there anything to back up these claims other than pure opinion?

While doing research for a new project, I came across a few statistics that shocked me. In the chart below, you’ll see the usage of three words: gratitude, generosity, and humility. Over the past century, their usage has seen a steady decline in the vernacular.

Grat, Gen, Hum.001

It is true that what we think and what we speak manifest in our life. So for a culture that has stopped speaking gratitude, generosity and humility, we have begun to experience it less and less.

My curiosity was peaked so I pulled the same chart for the word entitlement and this what I found.

via Google

via Google

That’s amazing, isn’t it?

As a culture, we are speaking and focusing on entitlement more than gratitude. And curiously, we are experiencing it more and more in our social interactions.

But this is nothing new. If you look through the great narratives of humankind, they echo the battle in our hearts and minds—the struggle between these two, timeless paradigms. Consider the great stories in popular culture: Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. All of these share a common theme: the battle between these two forces. Light versus dark. Good versus evil. Gratitude versus entitlement.

I want to make a point that the root cause for most of our social and cultural challenges can be traced back to the tension between these two sets of characteristics. At the core of every real struggle you’ll find a simple choice: which side of the column to choose.

Today, I want to bring this paradigm to light. I’ll start by defining these characteristics and how we can cultivate them in our lives.


Gratitude finds its root in the Latin word “gratis” which is where we get the word grace. It means finding good will in all things. Everything we have, we’ve been given. That begins with the very breath in our lungs. In every situation, we have the choice to be grateful. Yes, contrary to popular belief, gratitude is not a feeling or an emotion, it is a choice.

As we begin to understand what we’ve been given, gratitude grows. As it expands, we learn to cultivate an abundance mindset. An abundance mindset sees endless possibilities and blessings. On the other hand, a scarcity mindset sees challenges and struggles. In short, gratitude chooses to see what we have while entitlement chooses to focus on what we don’t have.

When we choose to live with gratitude, we choose to live from abundance.


Generosity is the outpouring of gratitude—the byproduct of abundance. It is our willingness to freely give because we believe that we have been freely given. When gratitude expands, it creates compassion for those around us. From there, generosity is birthed. And generosity doesn’t have to do with how much we have, it has to do with how we view what we have. The generous person sees all things as a gift, so they’re unchained to the fear of letting go of what they have.

But to be clear, generous isn’t something we do, it’s something we are. We don’t need to fall into the trap of obligatory generosity because that isn’t generosity at all. A generous heart must lead generous action. True generosity will flow from who we are, not what we do.


Contrary to common belief, humility is not weakness or inferiority. I like to think of humility as confidence under control. As C. S. Lewis said, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” When we begin to understand and appreciate others as a part of the bigger story, we’ve begun to understand humility.

Humility is powerful because its’s the only thing that can be taught. Think about that for a minute. A truly humble heart is a heart that can grow because it’s willing to learn. In his book, The Extravagant Fool, Kevin Adams says, “Humility is the giant that only seems small to small people.”

Don’t sleep on humility. It has a way of finding you—learn how to find it first.

The Gratitude Cycle

As I continue to study these words, I have uncovered an interesting dynamic: they exist in a cycle with one another. As gratitude grows inside of us, it leads to our desire to be generous. From that generosity, we long to help others—an act of humility. And as humility is experienced by both the giver and the receiver, a deep sense of gratitude follows. And the cycle continues.

Gratitude —> Generosity —> Humility —> Gratitude —> Generosity —> Humility

Do you see?

By cultivating these qualities, we begin to cultivate the life we choose. As individuals, as companies, as organizations, our success can be directly linked to our capacity to embrace these characteristics. Whole, healthy people and whole, healthy organizations have learned how to be grateful, generous, and humble.

I call this cycle the Gratitude Cycle©

The Gratitude Cycle (R)

The Gratitude Cycle (c)

However, on the other side of this equation exist the vices to each of these virtues. They exist in a cycle as well:

Entitlement —> Fear —> Pride —> Entitlement —> Fear —> Pride

In short, your life is being driven by one of these cycles. They are mutually exclusive. Keep a watchful eye on this battle and arm yourself appropriately. Your life will be limited and scarce if you are living in the entitlement cycle. To cultivate wholeness and abundance, you have to entrench yourself in the Gratitude Cycle©.


Author’s Note:

Learn more about the Gratitude Cycle© through one-to-one coaching and corporate training. I will speak to your organization and teach them how to cultivate the qualities of gratitude, generosity, and fear. To learn more, visit my speaking page and inquire about availability.

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