How to teach gratefulness to children: start with a smiling monk

Been thinking about that one a lot lately. Interacting with kids from other families will sometimes do that. Here's the thing. In our house, people say please and thank you or else get nothing but sarcasm. And that includes the adults. We say please and thank you to each other and to the kids. We're not perfect. We all forget sometimes. But that's OK. Perfection is not my goal. Teaching manners and gratefulness is. And so far (she says, patting self on back) it's working well enough. Certainly other parents who interact with my kids comment very frequently on how polite they are. That's good. But it's only one side of the equation.

The other - much harder - side of the equation is to somehow raise children who will be grateful. Not just express gratitude by saying thank you, but really truly feel blessed to have all the good things they do have instead of whining about not being allowed to get a sixth Elsa crown.

I know how to insist on please and thank you. It's pretty easy; all you have to do is not give them what they're asking for until they've asked for it properly. After a while, they get it and eventually it becomes second nature. But how do you teach kids to feel grateful about their lives in general?

Well, that is more of a mystery to me. One simple (not easy, mark you, but simple) way is to model the desired behaviour yourself. That means going through your days counting your blessings and generally feeling fortunate or blessed or lucky to be alive, to have a roof over your head, to have food in the fridge, to have healthy children, a job, a dog who loves you to the moon and back just because you got up this morning, all those good things you have.

And boy, do I stink at that. I was telling my eldest last night that I may talk a great game about gratefulness but I'm almost 45 years old and I only just started trying to feel that way less than a year ago. I admitted to her that I'm terrible at it, and that's true. The temptation to bitch is exceedingly difficult sometimes. Most of the time, it's only nearly impossible to resist. But that doesn't mean I don't stop trying.

"I'm terrible at it," I said to her, "but I'm better than I was. And that's a good thing." (See? Trying to end a thought on a positive note. It's a small thing, right? But to me, it's a big accomplishment. No need to clap, unless you're doing it super slow.)

The punchline of course is that since I started trying to feel gratefulness more often, I also feel more happiness more of the time. I wrote before about this fantastic Ted talk by this charming monk (see video below) about the connection between gratefulness and happiness. He was the one who set me on this path sometime in 2014, and the one I must thank for the small measure of increased happiness I feel in my heart and in my life.

"And that's a feeling I want you to have," I also told my daughter. "I want you to feel happy, not just because you got ice cream today but because you feel fortunate to be who you are. And I would very much like you not to wait until you're almost 45 to start feeling that way..."

She agreed it would be a good idea to be better at happiness than her mom (beating me at anything is something she enjoys mightily). But since my actions speak way louder than my words, I must continue to feel grateful and work on feeling that way more of the time.

Of course school should start later - duh!

The gift of free time