"Gratitude turns what we have into enough."
Last weekend I was blessed to host a group of seventeen amazing women taking part in a ChildLight Yoga training at our studio in Portland. I was reminded, at a time when I desperately needed to be reminded, that there is still so much good in the world, and that there is a heck of a lot to be grateful for.
We talked at length about the pressures and stressors that kids face these days, and how drastically things have changed in just the past 5 to 10 years. The lists of issues we came up with were LONG and it really drove home the fact that kids need yoga and mindfulness now more than ever. I am so grateful for the women I shared space with over the weekend, and for the amazing work they do each and every day with children and families. I am excited to hear about how they use their new tools to share the joy of yoga and mindfulness with the children in their lives!
I left the studio Sunday evening with a full heart and inspired mind. I was thinking a lot about how I want to start working more with older children, as most of my work is currently in the preschool world. I was thinking about how much teens and tweens have on their plates, and how easy it is for us to say "kids these days are so ungrateful and entitled." I wanted to dive deeper into understanding how kids have gotten this way and what we as caregivers and teachers can do to help.
I arrived at my mother's house that evening to dogsit, and on the kitchen counter amidst the notes left by my dear mom was an article cut out from the Wall Street Journal with a note from her: "Very interesting... for the next generations?" I shrugged off the message I read between the lines: "When are you going to have babies?!" and dove into the article, titled "An Attitude of Gratitude."
The article gave a lot of important information, some of which I will summarize below:
There is a general concern for the emotional development of children these days. Parents and teachers report a lack of eye contact from their kids. They also note a distinct lack of respect, and sadly, many parents dont even expect their kids to be grateful anymore.
In a 2012 national poll, only 35% of people ages 18-24 reported expressing gratitude regularly, and the ones who did report feeling gratitude were most likely to express it for self-serving reasons ("it will encourage people to be kind or generous to me.")
Kids feel a sense of entitlement not seen in previous generations. Psychologist Richard Weissbord, faculty director of the Making Caring Common initiative, blames this generation of entitled children on the self-esteem movement. Parents were told that in order to make their children felt better about themseves, it was necessary to praise them, to cater to their every need, and to make them happy at all costs. But what we've seen in many cases is the opposite. Parents have organized their lives around their kids, and their kids expect everyone else will do so as well. Add in the instant gratification that has become ingrained in them from the internet and social media, and you can't blame these kids for acting like entitled, arrogant little you-know-whats. "When children are raised to feel entitled to everything, they are let feeling grateful for nothing." says Weissbourd.
Research is being done that shows the many psychological benefits of regularly counting your blessings. One of my favorite holiday traditions is sharing with friends and family what we're grateful for on Thanksgiving. But why just once per year? Why not count those blessings each and every day? Doing so regularly shows that even on a boring, regular old day, there is always something to be grateful for.
A 2011 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that feelings of gratitude were linked to less anxiety, less depression and greater overall well-being. Adolescents who rated higher feelings of gratitude tended to to be happier and more engaged in school, were able to give and receive better social support from family and friends, experienced fewer depressive symptoms and less anxiety, and were less likely to exhibit antisocial behavior, such as agression.
"Grateful people experience daily hassles and annoyances just like everyone else, but they tend to view setbacks through a different lens, reframing challenges in a positive light."
One mom interviewed for the article talked about how she had to work very hard to make gratitude a family habit. She warned against nagging kids to do things like write thank you notes, because it can actually have the opposite affect, giving kids negative feelings about expressing gratitude. She encourages parents to find gratitude in "the everyday stuff," and not just in response to special events like holidays and birthdays. She also stresses the importance of leading by example. She regularly thanks her children for little, everyday things, like when they hold a door open for someone or help clean up the house.
The good news is that it's never too late to cultivate an attitude of gratitude! One study even showed that in as little as one week of "gratitude training," kids reported experiencing more grateful emotions and greater increases in positive social behavior and emotional wellbeing.
Here are some ideas for how you can cultivate an attitude of gratitude at home with your families:
Point out and reflect on the thoughtfulness of others. For example, "Jack really knows how much you like football. That was really thoughtful of him to give you a jersey of your favorite player." or "Wow, Grandma took a five-hour train ride just to see you perform in your play!"
Volunteer together. Helping others in need will naturally spur feelings of gratitude for what you have and will teach empathy. You can find volunteer opportunities in your community here.
Make a "Gratitude Jar." Every evening, at dinnertime or bedtime, reflect on the things you are grateful for that day. Write them down on slips of paper and keep them in a jar. When you or your child are having a bad day or when you're feeling like your kids are acting a little entitled, dump out the jar and remind yourselves how much there is to be grateful for. It's fun to look back at the end of the year on how many blessings you have to count, and the visual of a full jar is very powerful.
Model gratitude. In an online poll conducted by the Templeton Foundation, less than half of the poll-takers reported expressing thanks or gratitude daily to their spouse or partner. Practice what you preach and start giving thanks daily. Thank your hubby (or child!) for taking out the garbage. Give your partner a heartfelt smooch on the cheek for making the family a delicious meal. Give your mom a big hug when she comes to visit and tell her you appreciate her making the trip. Look each other in the eye more often. Tell your kids you love them every day.
Write cards and letters together. When was the last time you received a card or letter in the mail when it wasn't a holiday? The art of letter-writing is nearly extinct, but you can bring it back! Take the family shopping for some nice stationary (or make your own) and set aside time to sit down together to write notes. Keep a list of all the peope who think would appreciate receiving a card in the mail, and chip away at the list throughout the month.
Have other ideas for cultivating an attitude of gratitude? We'd love to hear about them! Comment below or shoot us an email to tell us how you and your family express gratitude.