One of the best ways to enjoy a happier, more fulfilling life is by losing our sense of entitlement. We all want something from someone else; we are all trying to fight for one thing or another. It does not matter the context in which this scenario plays out—family, relationships, marriages, larger society—we have become socialised to always believe that as far as our happiness is on the line, someone, somewhere, somehow, owes us something. Research evidence suggests that entitlement could cause unhappiness, frustration, distress, and constant disappointment. Much of the unhappiness people experience could be linked to an entitled sense of self, of importance, and unreceived privileges. This is the reason we fight, go to war, denigrate others, hate and disagree.
Agreed, there is absolutely nothing wrong with expectations: anticipating for loved ones, government and institutions to present us with what we deserve, to allow ourselves to receive basic needs from whomever it is their duty to give them to us. The problem however is that with great expectations come great disappointments. A negative culture of expectation means that we become socialised into believing that our contentment must be sought and found from outside ourselves. We relinquish our God-given power of autonomy, of self, our dignities, and hand these over to someone else. We end up losing our voice, our authenticity in the process.
A sense of entitlement has been defined as the feeling or belief that one deserves to be given something, example, special privileges. It is an unrealistic, often unmerited or inappropriate expectation of favourable conditions or treatment by others. This has been linked to a psychological disorder in which a person suffers from Entitlement Personality Disorder marked by exaggerated self-worth and superiority. Several researches have also linked this behaviour to narcissism. One of them being a research conducted in 2016 by researchers Joshua Grubbs and Julie Exline and argues that entitlement is a cognitive-personality vulnerability characterised by pervasive feelings of deservingness, specialness, and exaggerated expectations. The entitled person reacts in harmful ways when the real world does not meet up to his or her expectations. They become angry and grumpy. Then they must reassure themselves again that they are special and deserve special treatment, and the cycle begins all over again.
A sense of entitlement stifles creativity. Imagine if the legendary people that we look up today hadn’t taken their destinies in their own hands, and defied hegemonies and oppressive structures to become the greats we celebrate, the phenomenal legacies for which they are known, would not have swept over the world like they did. Times of uncertainties are always great times of opportunity. A sense of entitlement makes us susceptible, easily manipulatable and weak enough to miss these opportunities. At election times in Africa, politicians have a field day buying over electorates with gifts and bribes; and because the average voter feels that politicians owe them something, they fall victim and lose their power thereby.
Millennials think and believe that they are entitled to government white-collar jobs and opportunities right after college, while their parents on the other hand, feel entitled to have their children take care of them and the entire family once they obtain a university degree. In America, the culture of entitlement is on the rise and continues to perpetuate a problematic sense of individualism found within typical American societies, especially among young people. The vicious circle brought about by a sense of entitlement stifles empathy, others’ opinions, and our sense of humanity. Often, this is also linked to cultural and religious dogmas and practices.
In today’s social media world, a sense of entitlement manifests itself in the narcissistic behaviours ubiquitously found online. In an age of self-love, self-acceptance, and self-affirmation, more people are caught in the misleading web of feeling that friends and followers must bow at their feet, like and love their photos and posts, and admire them endlessly. Again, online, people are very opinionated, self-important and politically-correct that no one genuinely listens to another person. This further creates a complex web of issues ranging from low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and identity crisis.
I recently came across the story of a very senior academic, who while working at University of Kwazulu-Natal years ago, queued up to register his daughter as a first-year student. He was approached by an administrator (who recognised him as member of second-rung senior management) with an offer to fast-track his daughter’s registration. The professor politely refused and rather chose to queue up like other parents who were there. That professor would later become a Vice Chancellor in one of the universities in South Africa.
It was while reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun that I came across this quote by Molière: Unbroken happiness is a bore; it should have ups and downs. In life, we cannot possibly have all we want and need, at all the times that we need them. Pain and lack are measures of happiness in all human life. We must realise that perfection is an illusion, and that life is constantly in flux and full of uncertainties. No one owes us anything, we are responsible for what we have and get; and whatever love we receive from anyone asides ourselves, we must be grateful for.
We are our own biggest benefactors, and we can live to serve and care for others. Learning to be more grateful and not play the victim card by reason of our feeling entitled, is crucial. A victim remains helpless, incapable, defeated and powerless. We must lose all problematic sense of inferiority, entitled viewpoints and privilege, and give ourselves the chance to be truly happy, liberated, selfless, and accommodating.
Chikezie E. Uzuegbunam is a PhD Scholar & Teaching Assistant at the Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town.