One of the keys to happiness is gratitude. Not many grown-ups are aware of this until later in their lives, let alone children and teenagers who tend to think that the world revolves around them. In a 2003 study from the University of California, Davis, grateful people reported higher levels of happiness and optimism, as well as lower levels of depression and stress. High school students who score high on gratitude have more friends and higher grades, while more materialistic students report more envy, lower grades and less life satisfaction, according to a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies.
In a world full of materialistic pursuits, it is important to stay grounded and hold on strong to the values that bring pure happiness. While most children can be taught to say “please” and “thank you” from early on, true gratitude and generosity take time to blossom. Life won’t always give your child what his heart desires but there are ways you can instill an attitude of gratitude and make sure that, underneath it all, he learns to appreciate what he has.
- Acknowledge his wants and feelings of all the things he wishes to own, but let him know it will only be possible to get a few of them. That way, you will set his expectations yet won’t make him feel greedy or foolish for compiling a lengthy list that’s not attainable.
- Ask your child to make a list of things he wants to get versus the things or actions he is willing to give in equal in number.
- Help him understand quality is more important the quantity, that the thoughts supersedes the value. Whenever he receives a present, point out the process the giver puts into preparing it (eg. chosen favourite colours, time taken to make it, feelings involved). Do this frequently and he’ll get the idea.
- Before any gift-getting occasion, prepare your child for the possibility that he may not like all his presents, but it’s still important to show his appreciation. Remind him that people go the extra length into trying to find him the best thing.
- Engage your child in getting a gift for someone else. Teach her the joy of giving. Around the holidays, focus on celebrating, making memories and visiting with friends and family rather than who gets the most presents.
- Be the role model yourself. Always offer sincere thank-yous and praise to cashiers, petrol station attendants, waiters, teachers — anyone who’s helpful to you or him. You may think your child isn’t observing, but you will be surprised.
- Expose your child to people from all walks of life. Get her to be involved in charity works. For instance, the next time you see a homeless person, pass a shelter or read a story in the news about an unfortunate family, ask questions that get your child to put herself in someone else’s position eg.”Where do you think that man sleeps?” or “Can you imagine what it would be like not to have a home?
- Give service by getting your child to be involved in decorating thank-you notes, baking cookies for a friend or donating belongings to less fortunate children. For older children, they can volunteer at a charity home or animal shelter.
- Make gratitude a habit by starting a family tradition. For example, by going around the dinner table saying one thing you’re grateful for or reflecting on the day at bedtime, noting the small things you enjoyed.
- Assign age-appropriate chores at home. Not only will they appreciate that these tasks require effort but they will also feel the satisfaction of making a valuable contribution to the family.
- Be present. Put down that gadget and model mindfulness in front of your children. Take time to appreciate the sights, smells and sounds around you.