Dr Shimi K Kang (author and psychiatrist)
What are you grateful for today? This is the question I try to ask my three children before I tuck them into bed at night.
When I was younger, my mother established the same bedtime routine. Some nights I was more grateful than others, but the question always challenged me to think deeply about the positive aspects of my life. As the youngest of five children in a “non-privileged” immigrant family, everything I owned was a hand-me-down, so I learned to be grateful for other non-material things: a loving family, sincere friendships, inspiring siblings, helpful mentors and connection to my community. The powerful dialogue my mother and I generated about gratitude is among the keys to happiness and self-motivation. These discussions taught me how to count my blessings rather than add up to my problems.
Continuing with this bedtime tradition, my hope is to inspire my kids and the other kids at Dolphin POD centre the attitude for gratitude. I hope to teach them that gratitude is more than just saying “please” and “thank you.” Gratitude involves personal values, beliefs and the expression of appreciation toward others and the world we live in. Unfortunately many of today’s children do not grow up in environment that fosters important lessons about gratitude.
According to a national survey on gratitude commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation, gratitude levels are declining. A whopping 60 per cent of people are less likely to express gratitude than 100 years ago. Sadly, the national survey also indicates that 18- to 24-year-olds were less likely to express gratitude than any other age group and when they did display signs of appreciation, it was usually for self-serving reasons.
The Cisco Connected World Technology Report found one-third of college students were more grateful for their mobile devices than their access to food, shelter, or safety. When youth find value for their iPhones, MacBook Pros and GPS systems more than the necessities for survival, we can understand how the term “Generation Entitled” came to be.
Why are children becoming more entitled and less grateful? Perhaps, it’s because children are growing up without really knowing what gratitude is. In the national survey, 8-10 per cent of respondents indicated that no one has ever taught them the meaning of gratitude. Research shows that a child’s gratitude has its roots in a nurturing family environment. Given this, a good question for parents is: Is gratitude an attitude you are promoting for your child?
Let’s think of the perfectionistic “tiger” parent for a moment. I think it would be difficult to foster gratitude in an over-scheduled, over-competitive, and “#1 at all costs” tiger environment. Tiger parenting tendencies of building a child’s “outside” (i.e. external resume) take priority to developing the child’s “inside” (internal character and values). Can you imagine the tiger parent telling their child to not focus on the results of a task (i.e. winning the piano recital) but to have gratitude for the opportunity to learn to play music? As an adolescent psychiatrist, I’ve worked in sessions with countless kids who have achieved their cherished external goals, such as acceptance into a dance academy, sports team, or college of “their choice”– but whose lives are utterly devoid of internal joy. They tell me they feel that they’re just going through the motions of life for a fixed result, not living the journey of life. POD sessions help children understand that internal satisfaction is the most important aspect of life and with internal peace we lead a happier, successful and sustainable external living.
Throughout my new book, The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Self-Motivated Kids Without Turning Into a Tiger (Penguin Books), I show that instead of pushing towards “the best of everything,” let’s equip our children with the attributes they need to be self-motivated for health, happiness, and success. Time magazine did a comprehensive review of the subject of gratefulness and concluded that the scientifically proven benefits are many, such as better sleep, less depression, better ability to cope with stress and an improved sense of social relationships and happiness. At Dolphin POD centre, we use these tools for emotional wellbeing of the kids and to teach the kids importance of being grateful.
Create gratitude journals. A gratitude journal is a wonderful and scientifically proven way to guide your child towards health, happiness, and internal motivation. Kids proved me wrong and over the years, I have seen first-hand how a gratitude journal has been a consistently effective tool to shift kids thinking from negative to positive.
Role model and guide towards gratefulness. Remember the bedtime tradition I mentioned before? This is just one way to display and guide towards gratefulness. Discuss and share the things you are grateful for with your children. Write thank you cards, phone friends on their birthdays, and model other small acts of kindness in front of your children. Modelling gratitude will show your kids some of the ways gratitude can be expressed personally and towards others.
Serve others. A contribution to one’s community is a powerful tool for health, happiness, and self-motivation and I use it in my sessions. There is a reason why it feels so good to give. Connecting, sharing, and giving all stimulate happy hormones in our neural circuits.
Your role as a parent has a major impact on your child’s understanding of the word gratitude. Take the time to reflect on your own attitude of gratitude and how you project your views onto your children. If you think you are taking gratitude for granted, ask yourself the same question my mother asked me and I ask children: What are you grateful for today? Being grateful is one of the major aspect of POD sessions.