THE BLOG
01/12/2015 11:45 am ET Updated Mar 14, 2015

Why Millennials Are Ungratefully Grateful

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Millennials. It seems that no matter where you turn these days that someone is talking about us--some good, some bad. One of the generalizations lumped along with the group is that Millennials are ungrateful. Up until only a few days ago, I rolled my eyes at the concept--like I do with most Millennial generalizations--and went on about my daily life. We'll get to my epiphany's trigger point later, but let's focus on Millennials and gratitude first.

How many of us sign our emails with "Thanks" with barely any thought at all? Given the number of emails I receive daily, I'd say a good bit. Now let's jump to the other extreme--How many of us partook of a social media craze during November where you take each day and overzealously describe from the bottom of your heart just how much you love and are grateful for things in your life?

We're jumping almost manically between thankful polarizations. It took an overabundance of caffeine and presence of my name on my university's graduation list to cue this thought process. I was sitting at my desk staring at my name with the italicized "cum laude" next to it when I realized the gravity of the situation. I'm a first-generation college student. And after five long, hard years, I'm finishing.

I couldn't help but think about all that has gone into my time in college. That was a trip down memory lane that took me all the way to the summer following eighth grade.

I had just been told that mother had stage four breast cancer. Chemotherapy was planned. Radiation was planned. Surgery was planned. Everything was planned. And everything worked out. It does honestly take the harsh reality of mortality to make you realize the depth of appreciation you have for a person. But things were OK.

And then the cancer came back.

Having to sit down at the age of 16 and read through my mother's will with her and my brother was probably the single hardest thing I've done in my lifetime. But it made me grow up a lot and I can count that, if nothing else, as a silver lining. The one thing anyone who knows my mother will tell you about her is that she is as stubborn as the day is long and as Southern as that euphemism as well. She beat cancer again (and is still doing well today).

We made it through my high school graduation as a family and then I started college. Five years later, here I am about to graduate. And all I wanted to do when I saw my name on the list was call her and tell her thank you. Then, of course, I realized that she would ask "for what?" and I'd have to explain a lot of feelings, resulting in us both crying.

And that's when it hit me. I didn't want to say something so simple as "thank you" for all of what I was feeling. The two little words, as expected as they are in society, seemed to me very paltry. That's when I realized that I really hadn't said thank you for a lot of things, mainly because I didn't feel like it encompassed enough of my feelings. They felt rehearsed--expected. And there's no way that I'm the only Millennial who thinks that "thank you" feels expected.

So it's not the fact that Millennials are ungrateful. We'll obligatorily say thank you when it's something small, like responding to an email. But when you put a big wallop of emotions in our lap and you do something wholeheartedly genuine and caring, "thank you" isn't the default reaction. You might get one, but nine times out of 10, it won't be the only thing you receive from a Millennial.

We need our reactions to measure up to our emotions.