How can you teach your children to be grateful if you have trouble expressing it yourself?
It’s a concept I’ve struggled with lately, especially as I ponder Thanksgiving coming on Thursday.
I have much to be grateful for in my life. I’m blessed with a wonderful wife, relatively healthy and wise children, a beautiful home and a job that reflects my wide-ranging interests.
Yet, like most Americans, I ponder what I don’t have. I fixate on what I perceive others have, like exciting social engagements, fancy vacations and experiences I can only imagine.
Society isn’t helping with it, either. The Christmas season, marred by commercialism that creeps into late October now, changes our focus from what we have to what we want to have. It makes us look at the lives around us and think we can make lives so much better after we find that perfect gift.
Gratitude is so passé. We barely have the language to express it. I say “thank you” to the servers at a restaurant. I use those same words when someone compliments my work. And I use those same, nearly meaningless words when my spouse does something really thoughtful that shows how well she knows me and my needs.
We all know a lot of words, but we struggle on gratitude. I try to sprinkle in “appreciate” once in a while, but it hardly seems adequate.
I worry that I’m raising children who are even less appreciative than I am. What father hasn’t paired the word “ungrateful” with their offspring, at least in his head? What mother hasn’t dreamt up the word “unappreciative” after a selfless good deed?
How can we blame them, though? How much time do we really take with them to count their blessings, to show them how much better their lives are than some of the least fortunate?
In our case, not nearly enough. They know I demand they say thank you to people who help them, but they probably think that falls in the category of manners, not of gratitude.
I may be middle-aged, but I’m a work in progress. I think we all are. I hope over this Thanksgiving season I can emphasize the “thanks” of this holiday and spend a little less time on the “giving” of the season to come. There’s still time for improvement.
And, with any luck, I’ll get better at this genuine gratitude thing. After all, we all know our children learn more by watching and mimicking us and than by any speech we ever give them.