Learning to cultivate gratitude in our families
November is one of my favorite months. It finally feels like fall in Yuma, the holidays are approaching and it's the month many people pause to think about their blessings.
I have many memories growing up and celebrating this special holiday with my family. My mother always works long hours but for Thanksgiving Day, she makes a special effort to get the house ready, cook a delicious dinner and invite everyone over to her house. My favorite part, though, is that right before everyone starts eating, she asks that we pray together and share with everybody something we are thankful for this year. I love to hear what others are grateful for and it helps me appreciate life even more.
I think this is a great tradition in our family; but what I appreciated even more, is that my mother has taught us to be grateful not just this time of year but all 365 days. Appreciating life and all the blessings and hardships that come with it is something I continuously work on.
The challenge is greater when I try to teach it to my children because they will do as I do, not as I say. If it is difficult to live a grateful life, why is it worth our effort? Besides the fact that it feels good to be thankful, studies have shown that it is good for your mind, your body and your relationships.
Despite these wonderful benefits, the challenge to teach thankfulness and contentment to children in our materialistic, consumer oriented culture is great. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Bill Maier, children are conditioned to believe they are entitled to everything they want — now!
Kids have also come to believe they should always get the biggest and best. The Center for a New American Dream reports another disturbing trend known as the nag factor. Its recent surveys found that nearly 60 percent of kids nag their parents for a toy or a privilege even after being given a no. In fact, 10 percent of all 12- and 13-year-olds admit they will beg their parents more than 50 times for products they've seen on TV.
I believe that one of the most effective ways to combat the cultural mind-set is by modeling a grateful attitude. Being verbally thankful for all of life's blessings, even for simple things like a roof over your head and food, sends a powerful message to children that we are not entitled to everything we have.
Dr. Maeir also points out the importance of modeling gratitude in our relationships with others: friends, relatives and co-workers — and not only when they do something special for you. Let others know how much you appreciate them simply for who they are. Express that kind of unconditional gratitude to your spouse and children as well.
You can help your kids learn to be generous by serving others who are less fortunate. As the holidays approach, consider doing a family service project. Your family might volunteer to serve Christmas dinner at a local rescue mission or visit residents at a nursing home, singing carols and delivering Christmas cookies. Most of our children receive many new toys each year. They soon lose interest in most of these toys, which wind up collecting dust in a closet or storage bin.
This year, our family is planning to start a new tradition. We are going to ask our kids to choose several of their toys to donate to orphan children. We plan to deliver them one week before Christmas. I hope to report good outcomes of this new tradition in my next article. I encourage you to put into practice some of these ideas or come up with your own and start enjoying the benefits of living a grateful life.
Dubia Zaragoza is an associate faculty in the Business and Liberal Arts Division at Arizona Western College. She can be reached at Dubia.Zaragoza@azwestern.edu.