Oh, how I crave gold stars. One of my worst qualities is my insatiable need for credit; I always want the recognition, the praise, the gold star stuck on my homework. I struggle to master my need for gold stars, because it makes me a resentful score-keeper.
Several of my resolutions are aimed at this desire, like Don’t expect praise or appreciation and “Do it for myself.” One of my Twelve Commandments is “No calculation” – it comes from a quotation from St. Therese of Lisieux, who observed, “When one loves, one does not calculate.”
Nevertheless, for all my efforts, I have to admit that I still crave gold stars. Whether or not I should want them, I do. Here are the strategies I use to try to curb my craving:
1. Do it for yourself. For a long time, I self-righteously told myself that I made certain efforts “for the team.” While this sounded generous, it led to a bad result, because I sulked when my husband or whoever didn’t appreciate my efforts. Now, I tell myself, “I’m doing this for myself. This is what I want.” I want to send out Valentine’s cards. I want to organize the cabinets. This sounds selfish, but in fact, it’s less selfish, because it means I’m not waiting for a gold star. No one else even has to notice what I’ve done.
2. Find ways to reward yourself. Maybe other people aren’t giving you credit, but you can give yourself credit. One reason I love my Resolutions Chart is that I get a little jolt of satisfaction when I reward myself with check-mark next to a resolution. I give myself my own gold stars! (True confession: my need for gold stars is so raw that when I started keeping my Resolutions Chart, I considered buying actual gold-star stickers and literally sticking them on. I didn’t go that far.)
3. Tell people you’d like to get a gold star. Once I acknowledged to myself how much I crave gold stars, I was able to explain that to my family – and sometimes even joke about it. Since then, they’ve all been better about doling them out, because they know how important it is to me. Also, it’s easy for people innocently to overlook contributions you’ve made, and if you give a gentle reminder, they might happily load you with gold stars.
4. Express your appreciation for what other people do. One good rule for happiness is that if you wish people would act a certain way toward you, act that way yourself toward others. If you wish people would be freer with praise and appreciation, make sure you’re ladling it out yourself. Also, when you push yourself to feel grateful for what others are doing, you remind yourself of how much they do for you — and that eases resentment.
5. Remember that being taken for granted is a form of praise. It’s ironic: the more reliable you are, and the less you complain, the more likely you are to be taken for granted. If you always meet deadlines, if you never lose your temper, if you’re always prepared, people overlook your efforts. Really, that’s a compliment.