“A few summers ago we went on a driving trip to the Grand Canyon. I remember one particular day standing near some tourists high up on the edge of the canyon looking down into a deep and beautiful gorge that seemed to stretch on forever. Amidst all the “Oohs,” and “Ahhs,” I overheard one of the tourists remark to this guide, “Wow, I sure would have liked to be here when this was being made.” The park ranger turned to the man and simply replied, “You are.”
Think of how often each day we literally walk sightless through countless miracles that surround us. The mystery of a flowers beauty, the grandeur of a sunset, the first step of a baby, the bonding of love between a small child and a puppy – a lifetime filled with everyday miracles that most of us, and most of our children simply take for granted. One of the most precious of all the gifts we can give to our children, is the gift of appreciation and wonder. When we teach them to marvel at the sun and sky, to stand in awe beneath the stars and vastness of the cosmos, to experience the quiet humility that comes with learning studying the human body and realizing just how incredibly complex and incomprehensible it truly is we are teaching them some of the most profound spiritual lessons of all time.
It doesn’t matter what specific religion you might embrace – all spiritual paths recognize the miraculous in the simple moments of life. For kids who grow up with so much “stuff” all around them, with every opportunity to travel and see the world, to overdose on toys and games and restaurants and theme parks and parties, it is especially important to teach an attitude of gratitude about all that fills their lives.
It is simply too easy for most of our kids to take their lives for granted. The danger of such a cavalier attitude, is that our children grow up acting as if the world owes them everything they have, and can easily grow callous and hardened to the real life struggles of the majority of people that surround them in the world.
You can cultivate a sense of thankfulness in your children in simple but effective ways. For example, you might create a regular time each day to have them express out loud their gratitude for the many blessings that fill their lives. Some people do this at bedtime just before going to sleep. They will teach their children a special prayer to say (like “Now I lay me down to sleep…”), and conclude the prayer with a daily personal list from each child of “the things I am grateful for today.” Creating such a regular bedtime ritual can become a wonderful, loving, special time between parent and child, and inevitably helps nurture a sense of gratitude in your children.
Some parents make sure that their children take a few moments to speak words of thanks before each meal, or every time they eat, or every time they receive something new, or everything something nice happens, or a hundred other life experiences that become appropriate moments to express gratitude. Some parents like to have their children begin each day with a short prayer or few words of thanks for all the wonderful things that will happen in the day ahead and the people who will be part of their lives.
Being grateful for what we have in life is one of the fundamental spiritual lessons that all of us must learn. When the Ten Commandments teach (as number ten) “You shall not covet,” it is an age-old recognition of how difficult it is for people to be happy with what they have, rather than being desirous of what they don’t have. The obsession that Americans call “keeping up with the Joneses” has probably sown more seeds of discontent than all the economic depressions and recessions in our history.
The fact is, no matter how much of anything we have, we could always use more – more money, more possessions, more love, more space, more time, more pleasure – and this fact is one of humanity’s greatest sources of dissatisfaction, frustration, jealousy and anger. That is why to properly appreciate what we have in life, no matter what our age, is the best way to discover what it really takes to achieve satisfaction and joy in living.
The best new is that this kind of appreciation is totally within or control and our children’s, for it depends on only one thing – our attitude. One of the most important lessons you can teach your children, is that once our basic needs have been met, it isn’t the circumstances of our lives that determine our happiness but the attitude we bring to these experiences. Teaching them an attitude of gratitude is a way of teaching them that true happiness comes from within and not without.
On the way back from the Grand Canyon, we stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. At a nearby table, a young boy was impatient, irritable and obviously very hungry, and it was all he could do to stay in his chair. Finally, after what must have seemed like an eternity to wait, a hamburger and French fries were placed in front of him. With delight he grabbed for the burger and was about to take a huge bite, when suddenly he caught himself, put the hamburger on his plate, folded his hands tightly, closed his eyes and uttered a quick and silent “grace.” Then his eyes popped open and he dove into his lunch with obvious relief and delight.
This child at the lunch stand on the road from the Grand Canyon, had clearly been raised in a family where the ritual of giving thanks for food was a part of his daily life. Hungry or not, his behavior was a perfect example of the power of persistent, regular rituals of gratitude to instill in your children habits of thankfulness. This simply habit can be one of the single most important and powerful spiritual gifts you ever give.