The month of November heralds the holiday season in the minds of many. Plans are made and families decorate their homes for the fall and winter celebrations.
Thanksgiving ushers in the season. Most families celebrate with a feast. Relatives and friends may visit. Parades and sporting events are watched. The reason for the holiday--giving thanks for the abundance in life--may not be remembered or acknowledged.
Among many children and adults today I see a lack of appreciation and gratitude. There seems, instead, to be a sense of entitlement; a feeling that life owes them whatever they want or more than they have. This belief causes unhappiness and disappointment.
It is paradoxical that when one is grateful for both large and small pleasures, it becomes easier to see what to appreciate. Previously unrecognized gifts become noticed. Unless we as adults raise our awareness of the bounty of life, we cannot teach our children to be grateful. Learning to express gratitude takes conscious practice. All family members can use the following activities to increase this ability.
The brief “thanks” habitually offered when someone gives you something or performs an act of kindness toward you carries little meaning. Practice looking at the person doing the giving and thank him specifically for what he has offered. A parent might put her hand on her child’s shoulder, look at him, and say, “Thank you for clearing the table and helping me with the dishes.” This personalized thank you results in the child feeling truly appreciated.
Sometimes children need to be taught words to use. You can model an appropriate thank you by saying something like, “When I drop you off at school, I’d like you to look at me and say, ‘Thanks for the ride.’”
It doesn’t take long before the family is more specific in its thanks to each other and to outsiders as well. The result is a greater feeling of integrity and intimacy.
Frequently we find that life isn’t going as easily as we might wish. During these intervals it is particularly hard to feel grateful. In times of bleakness we can raise our spirits by finding things that bring us joy. However life may be going, make a point each day to find things to appreciate. Sit with your children and write down or draw simple pictures of whatever makes you feel grateful. Guide the children if they are having difficulty. You might say, “Do you have a bed to sleep on?” or “Do we have a place to live?” During very difficult times you might have to search. Be grateful for sunshine, running water, or the trees in your city.
Regardless of one’s situation in life, there are always those who are either better or worse off. We can feel appreciative for what we have when we give to others. This may be in the form of money, material goods, or time. Contribute to a cause that you believe in. Take unused clothing and household goods to a thrift shop. Help at a local event or organization. When families participate in these activities together, they can talk about their feelings of serving others. Children usually feel a sense of pleasure in helping.
Helping at home or in the classroom brings the same sense of satisfaction as serving in the greater community. Perhaps your child has come home from school and said something like, “I got to pass out papers today!” He is showing a sense of pride in helping the teacher and contributing to the class. Use this as a moment to express your appreciation and to acknowledge his feeling. By saying “I’m happy for you, and I can see that you feel good about passing out the papers,” you recognize both the help he gave and the feeling it brought.
The world is filled with beauty. Take some time each week to notice. We get so busy that we often fail to recognize what’s right before our eyes. Walk around your yard or neighborhood and look at the trees and flowers. Even weeds have a beauty when we happen to look. Notice the buildings. Is one newly painted? Is construction going on? Has a street been repaved? Indicate your appreciation for what you see. If something unappealing presents itself look around. Soon something that suits you will catch your eye.
Help your children to become more attuned to their environment. When we go through life not really looking at what we see, it’s hard to feel gratitude. Express thanks for the trees, the roads, and the people that care for the community.
Some readers will say, “This is a pretty stupid article. Reality is not like that. Just look at what’s happening in the world and in my life.” All the more reason, then, to begin looking for what to appreciate.
When we are consumed with negativity, we cannot be happy. When we feel like the world owes us a living, nothing feels like enough. It is true that there are unfortunate events in the world and in our personal lives. It is also true that when we look, there is always something to be grateful for. Teaching our children to look for those “somethings” is helping them grow into more positive individuals. Positive, hopeful people are those who get greater pleasure from life and contribute to making the world a better place for all.