Hot-air Baloon

Ch-4: Create a Positive World by Adopting a Positive World View

Part 4: Abundance versus Entitlement Thinking

Tom G. Stevens PhD
Psychologist/Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach
Send Feedback/Questions to:
You Can Choose To Be Happy:
Site dedicated to enhancing human happiness, self-development, and success
SITE MAP: All free Self-help resources includes online book, You Can Choose To Be Happy, and SHAQ

Photo of Dr Tom and Sherry Stevens
search index brief sitemap advanced site search
search engine by freefind
entitlement,"> Chapter  4, Part 4, from You Can Choose To Be Happy,  Tom G. Stevens PhD
Go to Happy Homepage
Go to book contents        Go to chapter contents


What if I feel that life has not been fair to me? 

 Setting high minimum expectations creates deficit thinking 
 Entitlement thinking versus appreciation for life's gifts
 Deficit motivation is victim motivation
 Deficit thinking has many negative consequences
  To create abundance thinking



Have I received enough?

Do you sometimes feel cheated by life or by another person? Do you ever think about how much more fortunate other people are than you? Do you wonder why they have more money, better opportunities, better parents, a more beautiful body, or more talents? Does life seem unfair?

Do you ever feel that no one really cares about you? Do you ever resent others who have what you feel you deserve? What if they didn't earn it and you did? How do you feel when you get these thoughts? Hurt? Sad? Angry? These aren't happy feelings.

These emotions are caused by the belief that you have received less than your expectation level (or that you will receive less than what you expect). You may believe that you have received less than you deserve or less than is fair. You may believe that you actually do have less than you deserve and have rightfully earned. Perhaps most people would agree with you.

Deficit motivation. Deficit motivation is believing that we have received less than we expect, minimally need to be happy, or deserve. It is believing that we are always working just to get to that state of meeting our minimum expectation, "being even," or getting what we are owed. Deficit motivation is feeling like we are in a deep hole and are just trying to climb out.

Deficit motivation is being in debt and just trying to pay off all we owe. We feel resentment and feel like a victim. We could react by being aggressive toward others "to get what we deserve." On the other hand, we might withdraw, give up, and feel sorry for ourselves. The result of giving up is apathy and depression.

Return to beginning

Abundance motivation. Abundance motivation is believing that we have more than we minimally need or expect. If we think we have more than we minimally need or expect, then we feel grateful (and happy). We appreciate what we have--to get more is a bonus. We will feel minimal resentment and can focus on getting more because we want it--not because we are owed it or deserve it.

If we really do have a lot compared to other people, it may seem easy to feel abundance motivation. However, people's perception of their deficit or abundance often has little relationship to their actual abundance. Remember how the POW saved his meager rations of rice and shared his "abundance" with his guests (guards). Remember how grateful Genevieve was for her year in the body cast. Their abundance came from a spiritual abundance--not a material one.

I am also reminded of a dentist friend who flew to Mexico on weekends. He gave free dental work to the poor in rural villages. He was amazed at how happy the children were compared to children in the U. S.--despite their extreme poverty. The children of the villages seemed happier with their makeshift toys of sticks and stones than many of the children he knew--who had every toy invented. When he brought in a load of used toys to these children for Christmas, they went wild. They appreciated these used toys much more than the children he knew appreciated new toys.

Why do the children who receive so much less appreciate so much more? The American children thought that they "deserved" expensive gifts of their exact choosing. The key to the puzzle is not how much they actually receive, but how much they expect to receive.

Setting high minimum expectations creates deficit motivation. A professional I know began graduate school at a time when people in her occupation were in great demand and were starting at high salaries. Companies were making attractive offers right and left. She developed the expectation that if she were to complete graduate school, a great, high-paying job would await her upon graduation. She was divorced and had children. She worked long hours, took care of her children, and attended school for many years before she completed her goal. It was as if she thought she had a contract with God or Society that if she were to sacrifice so much, then she should earn a great job with high pay.

But when she completed school, the job market had radically changed. People were being laid off in her field and jobs were hard to get. Nevertheless, she was very competent and got a good job--a job many others would have been happy to get. Yet, for years she felt a deep resentment about her pay and her job.

Abudnace versus Entitlement Thinking 


For years she still felt "cheated" by God, society, fate, or someone. Her resentment affected her in many ways. At work she felt that she was not getting what she deserved. Her house, her car, and her lifestyle were less than they "should" be. She felt like a victim of "the Economy" or something. Eventually, she learned that she was just making herself unhappy.

She decided to rethink her original expectations and "contract." She realized that no one had ever really promised her that she would get the job she had imagined. My friend realized that she had created that expectation and accepted her responsibility for overestimating the future job prospects.

She accepted the reality of the situation and finally realized that she could be happy on a lot less than her current job. She reset her minimum expectations to a level that was significantly below her current job. After a serious job search, she decided that she would rather stay where she was. After all those years, it was the first time she ever felt grateful for her job and her life.

Return to beginning

Entitlement thinking versus appreciation for life's gifts. When we read the papers, watch the news, or listen to politicians, we often hear that we are "entitled" to certain things. We believe all children in our country are entitled to good health care, a good education, and good parenting. We may believe that we are entitled to live in a city with good streets, fire and police protection, good parks, and low pollution. We may also believe that we are entitled to live in a house with good plumbing, electricity, a telephone, TV, and other conveniences.

Where did these entitlements or rights come from? Who promised us these things in life? Did God give them to us? Did the government give them to us? "Entitlement" or "rights" are just ideas that exist in our heads. Many politicians, TV and newspaper reporters, parents, and others believe we have these rights. It is natural for parents to want their children to "have the best." But often the idea transmitted to the children is that they have a right to have the best.

Often associated with beliefs about rights and entitlements is the assumption that people cannot be healthy or happy without these minimum entitlements. Yet two hundred years ago even the wealthiest people somehow managed to survive without cars, TVs, dinner at Luigi's, CD players, telephones, or even electricity and indoor plumbing. Today, even people living "below the poverty line" have many of these conveniences. We believe that we must have these basic "necessities" to be happy.

Yet, today, many people in the world do not have these "necessities." The problem with entitlement thinking is its implications. One negative implication of entitlement thinking is that we are not strong enough to be happy without these necessities.

Another implication is that if we do not receive these entitlements, we are being cheated. These thoughts cause feelings of resentment and self-pity. Entitlement thinking is just another form of deficit thinking.

I strongly support the goal that we all have advantages such as basic health care, education, and lots of material possessions. However, I support these goals because I care about people's health and happiness--not because people are entitled to these advantages. I do not believe these modern advantages are essential to people's happiness.

The alternative to entitlement thinking is appreciative-assertive thinking. Appreciative-assertive thinking is believing in zero entitlement and zero rights. I am entitled to nothing: I was born into this world naked with no possessions and given my time in this world by powers beyond myself. I was not entitled to that time nor did I do anything to earn it. Ultimately I cannot "deserve" anything, because I would have nothing without having been given my life and my powers.

Therefore, I am eliminating the ideas of "earning," "deserving," "fairness," and "entitlement" from my basic way of thinking and from my vocabulary as much as is possible. We do not need these entitlement ideas; they just lead to resentment. We can replace them with ideas like "assertion" and "agreement."

I want to be happy myself and want others to be happy not because we deserve it, but because I want it and I love myself unconditionally. It is because I have chosen to make happiness of self and others my ultimate concern (or top goal). I choose it and I assert it; I don't need to justify it or rationalize it as something I am entitled to.

Appreciative-assertive thinking is a form of abundance thinking. We start with zero minimal expectations. We may set goals to receive friendship, a good job, money, a nice home, or whatever else that might contribute to our happiness. We can work hard to achieve those goals. Yet there is no guarantee that we will obtain what we seek. Everything we receive is a bonus over our initial naked condition.

President John F. Kennedy recognized the pervasiveness and destructiveness of entitlement thinking when he stated, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." If I accept Kennedy's statement, I shift from being a needy person who must be taken care of by society to a person who is strong enough to take care of myself and has enough left over to give to society. Both society and I benefit from this shift in belief systems.

Return to beginning

Deficit motivation is victim motivation; abundance motivation is power motivation. Ponder the figure of the twins--one with deficit thinking and the other with abundance thinking--and consider the following.

If I view myself as having an abundance to meet my needs, I feel happy, grateful, and peaceful. Getting more is fun. In this case the rich get richer.

If I view myself as having a deficit of less than I need, I will feel like a victim--deprived, angry, or depressed. In this case the poor get poorer.

One of my clients came in because all of her previous relationships had ended "in disaster." Typically, they would begin with an initial period of happiness and fun. As they spent more time together and got closer, she began to feel more dependent on him for "making her happy." He began to feel pressure to be with her instead of desire to be with her. As he felt more trapped and more desire for freedom, she sensed his feelings and feared that he wanted out of the relationship. That in turn only caused her to get more "needy" and demanding for his time and attention--driving him farther and farther away.

She was terrified of being abandoned. As a result, she became possessive and tried to manipulate her partner into being with her every free moment. She also became jealous of other women. Her current relationship was "on the rocks" and looked as if it might end like the rest had. She was feeling very upset about its possible end and confused about why this kept happening to her.

We explored the problem more. She thought that everyone who had loved her had abandoned her. Her father, to whom she had been very attached, had left her at an early age. She had never felt close to her mother, who had resented taking care of her. Since she had been abandoned by everyone, she secretly believed that it was at least partly because something was severely wrong with her. She had tried everything to become more appealing and attractive. In many ways she had succeeded. Yet men continued to leave her. Their leaving only heightened her worry, "Something is deeply wrong with my personality."

"All of my life I have wanted to find a man who would love me and never leave me." That was a key part of her problem. Where was she to find such a man? The problem started as a little girl. She developed the belief that to be happy she must have someone to love her and take care of her forever. Possibly because her father left her, this "must" became a top priority goal in her life--possibly even her "ultimate concern."

The reality was that she had no close, affectionate, long-lasting relationship with anyone. So there was a huge gap between her "must have" expectation and her reality. This gap created a powerful deficit motivation. She felt "cheated" and a "victim" of others--especially men, because "No matter how hard I try to please them and make the relationship work, they always leave me. Men are 'flakes.'"

That was her point of view. Part of the problem was that she expected too much of men. No man would love her and stay with her "unconditionally." Almost any man would leave if he became too unhappy in the relationship.

It wasn't that all men were "flakes." Her fear of their leaving actually drove them away. She was so terrified of their leaving that she became possessive and manipulative. Her partners wouldn't tolerate this behavior for long.

In order to keep from being so possessive, needy, and manipulative, she had to greatly reduce her fear of being abandoned and being alone. She would have to feel calm when she imagined men leaving her.

Once I explained my hypothesis to her, she acknowledged that she had been afraid that something like this was going on, but she hadn't understood it so clearly. We worked on eliminating deficit thinking and developing abundance thinking. First, she needed to lower her expectations. She needed to question her old assumptions that to be happy, she must have a man love and take care of her.

She needed to accept her worst fear that she could be alone indefinitely. No matter how good a relationship she had, her partner could always leave or die. There was no absolute security that she would not be alone. No one owed her their time. That type of thinking only leads to deficit thinking, hurt, and deep resentment. Instead, she needed to have "zero expectations" that a man would love her and take care of her.

How could she learn to accept and to be calm about being alone? She could learn that she can take care of herself and make herself happy--especially during periods when she is alone. Expecting someone else to "make her happy" was unrealistic. Learning how to enjoy life living alone takes some skill and time. However, just believing in the possibility calmed her.

She also gave up her deficit thinking assumption that she and her partner should be together all of the time. She chose the "zero expectation" that, "I do not automatically assume any togetherness. Any time together is a bonus for which I am grateful."

Consequently, she no longer needed to possess her partner; and she no longer needed to manipulate him into being with her. Her new approach delighted her partner and their relationship improved dramatically. More important, she was overcoming this long-term abandonment issue, and she was overcoming her fear of being alone. Her self-esteem was rising, and she was feeling much happier.

Return to beginning

Summary: Deficit thinking has many negative consequences. When we choose to continue believing that we have less than we "deserve" or "must" have, then we choose deficit motivation. The consequences of deficit thinking are feeling hurt or resentful. We may view ourselves as "victims."

Deficit thinking can even create paranoid type thinking: thinking that other people are actively trying to prevent us from getting what we deserve--when they are not. Negative assumptions about others often lead to either withdrawal from relationships or open anger and conflict.

Deficit thinking may focus more on "who is to blame" than on important issues. In addition, we may give ourselves negative messages that we are too weak to cope with the situation. We are too weak to make ourselves happy if we don't get what we are "entitled" to. These messages lower self-esteem.

Abundance thinking creates positive motivation. Abundance thinking starts with having no assumptions about what we will receive in life. We develop zero expectations about what we will receive. We make zero assumptions about what anyone will give us. "Anyone" means God, nature, society, parents, peers, or any loved one. Everything we get is a gift. We receive the gift because the giver presented it to us, not because we "deserved" it.

What are the implications of abundance motivation in everyday situations? If I develop a disease and become disabled so that I cannot work, no one (including society) "owes" me anything.

Lack of obligation does not mean that we cannot choose to care for each other's welfare and happiness. If we care for our own and others' welfare, we will choose as a society to adopt social policies beneficial to all. For example, society can adopt a kind of social insurance, so that it will help people who are physically unable to earn an income. In that way we can all feel more secure about our fears that if we become disabled we will have an income. We develop a social policy because we choose to, not because society inherently "owes" it to anyone. Society develops a contract with its members. Social security works that way.

Let's apply abundance thinking to the example of a contract. If I contract with someone to provide a service, I expect to be paid after I do my job. However, I am not naive. Many events could prevent payment. Thus, overly expecting that the other person will keep his or her end of the bargain is not only foolish, but it can also cause a great deal of wasted emotion. It is better to hope for the best, but keep an open mind.

Suppose the other person is a crook and never intended to pay. Focusing on my deprivation, moralizing, blaming, working myself into a frenzy about being cheated, and developing a deep resentment only create anger inside me. I do not need anger to take action. The excess anger doesn't hurt the other person or balance the scales, it only takes away from my own happiness.

I can still choose to take action to receive payment or restitution, because I still want to receive the money and I do not want to encourage the other person to cheat more people. But there is no need to get in a stew about it--that only hurts me. Being cheated only hurts me if it undermines my happiness.

My abundance comes not from the amount of money I have in the bank, but from the amount of happiness I have in my life. If being "cheated" does not seriously undermine my being a happy person, then it has not done me too much harm.

Even if the cheating harms me in some real ways, I will be happier if I accept the new situation and move on. I can pick up the pieces and set new goals given the new reality. Abundance thinking keeps me in control of my emotions and gives me positive motivation for maximizing my positive actions to accomplish realistic goals.

Abundance thinking is better illustrated by this true story. A friend, George, was close to his eldest son. He and his son had dreamed for years that his son would complete medical school and then go into private practice with George. His son struggled to get accepted into medical school; then he struggled through it. Just after graduation, father and son finally began their practice together. A few months later a drunk driver ran a light and killed his son.

At first, George was devastated. But I received a copy of a poem George sent to friends and family a few weeks later. The poem expressed no anger, instead it expressed George's gratitude for the time his son had walked the earth and for the joy that his son had brought into George's life and the lives of others. That is abundance thinking!

Return to beginning

To create abundance thinking. If you want to choose abundance thinking over deficit thinking, try the following:

1. Create "zero expectations" of what you will receive. Abundance thinking means creating "zero expectations." Do not automatically assume that you will receive anything. Instead you will be mentally prepared for the worst possible case. Think positively about your chances of receiving what you want, but that is quite different from assuming that you will get what you want. Do not assume that you "must have," "should have," or ultimately "deserve" anything. You do not assume that God, nature, society, or any other source has established absolute rules for what you "should receive."

2. Use appreciate-assertive thinking. Replace all of the phrases like "should have" or "must have" with the phrase "I want." Assert that you want something based upon your choice of your ultimate concern for happiness for yourself and others.

That assertion is sufficient reason for wanting it. You do not need to justify it from any other moral code or set of "shoulds." Nor is there any moral code or set of "shoulds" that indicates you "deserve" to have it. Everything you receive in life is ultimately a gift. You would have nothing without the gift of life, the gift of your environment, and the gift of your abilities. Once you view the situation this way, everything good in life becomes a bonus: a gift you did not get because you deserved it, but a gift that you are grateful for.

3. Take responsibility for your own happiness. Foster abundance thinking by assuming that you are responsible for your own happiness and that no one else is. Developing your interests, knowledge, and skills in areas that help you take better care of yourself and make yourself happy. Know that even when you are poor in some area(s) of life, you can still find routes to happiness like Genevieve (in the body cast), the POW, and Victor Frankl have done.

 4. Focus on positive "wants" and goals. Give up trying to justify what you want with "shoulds" and give up expecting other people to meet your needs for you. Then you are free to focus on what you want and take responsibility for getting it yourself. In abundance thinking you start with the assumption that you can be happy with what you have. However, you are free to want more and to keep setting challenging goals to receive more. If you meet the goals, it is a bonus to the happiness you already have. If you do not, that is ok because you can be happy with what you have.

PRACTICE: Compare your own deficit thinking with abundance thinking. (1) Think of an area where you feel abundance thinking. (2) Compare that abundance area thinking to any area where you experience deficit thinking. (If you are having trouble thinking of one, think of an area where you feel that you "are in a hole" or have less than you "deserve." It could be that you feel that you received less than you "should" from your parents, education, peers, work opportunities, or almost anything.) (3) Use the self-exploration technique (from chapter 2) to explore your feelings, images, thoughts, underlying beliefs, and history of this deficit thinking. Then try to replace your deficit thinking with abundance thinking.

Hope for the best, be prepared for the worst,
expect something between,
and be grateful for all that you receive.


Return to beginning

Go to next section of Chapter 4


The BOOK (free download): Go to Contents of Dr. Stevens'  book,  You Can Choose To Be Happy: "Rise Above" Anxiety, Anger, and Depression.

FREE SELF-HELP materials available on this web site (click here to see list)  

  How to ORDER You Can Choose To Be Happy  

Success and Happiness Attributes Questionnaire (SHAQ)  to assess self on many factors  including HQ-Happiness Quotient 

Email feedback to Dr. Stevens I welcome your comments about my web site or any of its contents.           

Self-Help and other resources on this website (and site map)

Web site created and maintained by: Tom G. Stevens PhD Psychologist-Faculty Emeritus,
California State University, Long Beach Counseling and Psychological Services.
URL of this web site:

Return to Dr. Stevens' Home Page

Copyright 2021 Tom G. Stevens PhD