“Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.” -Estonian Proverb
Recently I’ve felt frustrated because someone I asked to help me has done less than I hoped he would. At first I felt this was unfair, because I’ve been supportive of him. Then I realized I was overlooking what he did do for me while dwelling on what he didn’t.
This made me think of some research I referenced in my book (which I originally found in a book called Sway.)
In a German research study, strangers were “partnered up,” though anonymously and kept in separate rooms with $10 to split between them.
One participant in each pair got to decide how the money would be split, and the other had to decide whether or not to accept the offer. If he or she refused, neither would get to keep any money.
You might assume that any offer would be good since some money was better than none; but most of the time, when the partner with the power decided to give himself a higher share the other person rejected the offer because it wasn’t fair. The results remained the same when the researchers repeated the experiment with $100 instead of $10.
Researcher Joseph Henrich conducted this same study at UCLA using $160, what a student might earn in three days of work. Most students decided to split the money because it was fair, but they also admitted they wouldn’t have accepted any less than 50 percent if the tables were turned.
Henrich finished his research by bringing this experiment to Machiguenga, an isolated section of the Amazon. Unlike in the other experiments, these people were willing to accept any offer because it was money they wouldn’t otherwise have—and they actually understood if the person who divvied it up chose to keep a larger share.
Instead of assuming they were entitled to half, they felt grateful to have gotten any at all.
We carry around a lot of beliefs about how things should work in the world, and sometimes they work against us. In assuming life is unfair for giving us 30 percent of what we think we deserve, we forget how fortunate we are to be given anything at all.
We might not always get exactly what we want. We can either dwell on that, or choose instead to appreciate and do the best with what we get.
Part of this post is excerpted from my book Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions.
Photo by Mcciva1