momlogic's Vivian: Most of the children in our country have so much. But do they appreciate it? Writer and dad of six Todd Aaron Jensen thinks that teaching children to be grateful will help them lead happier lives -- by as much as 25 percent!
"Kids today have a sense of entitlement that is detrimental enough on its own, but as you grow older ... if you live with that kind of attitude, you will find the universe increasingly fails you," says Jensen. "The greater your expectations, the greater your disappointments. It's absolutely critical for parents -- whether religious or not -- to teach their kids to count their blessings and be thankful for the good in their lives, from the food they eat to the color of the flowers."
Jensen's concern about kids' lack of gratitude was a key inspiration for his new book, "On Gratitude: 51 Celebrities Share What They're Most Thankful For," which outlines how some of today's most influential personalities express gratitude for the good in their lives. "Almost everyone in the book says [that] to give is the greatest way to live a life," he says.
"We're taught this fuzzy math about all the things that aren't right, instead of appreciating all the things that are right and all the riches that we do have," he continues. "The truth is, I lived my life like that for years. I was amazingly gifted at counting all the lack, and it wasn't until the wheels blew off of my life five years ago, when everything I'd anchored myself to became unhinged all at once, [that] ... a friend said, 'No matter what you've lost, you're still the richest man I know.' That was a blessing, because if it hadn't all gone wrong at once, I'd still be doing a slow death! Like most people, I'm a slow learner. I'd lost all the things that I loved, but I also lost all the things that I had that I did not love and that I did not know that I did not need."
Jensen thinks that, in addition to recognizing what to be grateful for, kids should learn how to create their own "gratitude opportunities." He kindly provided us with these easy suggestions:
LISTEN: Listening may or may not be fundamental to a 5-year-old's behaviorial wheelhouse, but it is critical. Ask your child to tell you something great or interesting about her day, then listen. Ask, "What else was wonderful about your day?" Take a moment to listen to the birds sing or the airplanes soar, to each other's heartbeats or the garbage disposal, or -- they love this one! -- to the toilet flush. Awareness begets gratitude.
SAY GRACE: Saying "please" is the foundation of good manners, but it suggests that our needs are unmet. Saying "no" comes easily to most of us, particularly if we are 4 years old. But saying "thank you" means you are satisfied, fulfilled, abundant and grateful that what you need is what you've got. Bedtime is a wonderful time to express thanks for the day, and provides a powerful opportunity for families to connect before they plunge into slumber. Lead the way by saying, "I am grateful for ...." Then ask your child to list some things. Silly things count!
PLAY "GRATITUDE CATCH": Name something you're grateful for, then toss a ball -- any ball. (If your child is too young to catch, then roll the ball to them.) Before they return the ball, have them say something they're grateful for. Using the body for play lowers our intellectual defenses. Gratitude flows more freely when the mind doesn't get in the way.
USE TECHNOLOGY: Give your children a still camera or video camera and have them walk around your home, the park, even the mall, recording things for which they are grateful. You may even want to ask people you encounter to make their own gratitude lists on camera. Then pop some corn, pull out some blankets, snuggle and review the day's adventures.
VOLUNTEER: "We are here to help each other through this thing, whatever it is," the author Kurt Vonnegut told Jensen a few weeks before his passing in 2007. So practice that. Live that. There is no shortage of people on your block, in your neighborhood, on this planet who could use a little food, love and shelter. Find somewhere to spread some love. Take a checkerboard to a convalescent home, make a dozen sandwiches and stop by a used bookstore on your way to an area that's densely populated with homeless people, help out in a soup kitchen or have your kids donate allowance money to a favorite charity. To give is to live.