Fostering an attitude of gratitude vs. a sense of entitlement in our children.
That’s the theme for today’s post and I’ve been stewing about it for weeks, because it’s a complicated issue, and Black Friday weekend is probably not the best time to really delve into the matter. Or maybe it’s exactly the right time, given the incredibly bizarre and narcissistic behavior of shoppers reported in the news. What will people NOT do to get that Xbox – it defies logic, doesn’t it?
In her book on modern family life, The Shelter of Each Other, author Mary Pipher worries that our consumer-saturated culture may be breeding feelings of "narcissism, entitlement and dissatisfaction" in today's kids.
The issue of entitlement isn’t just a current one though – we can trace its roots in the United States to the Industrial Revolution and the availability of cheap goods, as well as to post-WWI Madison Avenue marketing schemes. It’s not easy to avoid an entitlement belief system when you grow up with daily messages like this:
- You deserve a break today
- Because I’m worth it
- You’ve come a long way, baby
- Ask for more
We have for decades been brainwashed to believe we have all kinds of "rights" to all kinds of things.
In the final analysis though, rights and entitlements are only man-made concepts, and any person who has ever suffered a natural catastrophe can attest to the shift in attitude such an event will cause. Most people who survive a hurricane, earthquake, devastating fire, or any act of nature are most grateful for a very few things that include:
- Their own lives
- The lives of friends and family
- The well-being of their pets
- Family photographs and small memorabilia
- A way to meet their basic daily needs: food, shelter, and safety
That’s it. For this they are truly and deeply grateful.
How to create a gratitude shift in ourselves so that we can demonstrate it to children, that’s the compelling question, because walking the talk is the only way children will learn this huge lesson. How can we use the holiday to begin a shift away from the belief that our wants are important and that we deserve what we want?
Perhaps we could first reject the brainwashing – the advertising that creates and fuels our desires.
Then we could eschew cheap goods as a gift-giving option and as a measure of our love for one another.
If disaster and lack creates gratitude, perhaps intentional “doing without” before a period of gifting would create a foundation for true gratitude. The idea of “fasting” isn’t new. It’s a time-honored pre-holiday tradition in many religions, but it can be practiced in a secular environment just as well. Do without for a while so you enjoy the bounty, even a smaller one, on a deeper level.
Here’s how this gratitude shift might play out in your family as a conscious and planned effort.
Intentionally give up something at regular intervals before a big holiday celebration. It could be food, some form of entertainment, even some taken-for-granted comfort like hot water. Brainstorm this idea with your children.
Reduce your purchased gifts to none (or perhaps just one small item like a book) and replace those you would ordinarily give with a service of some sort, whether doing a chore for someone else or making a special gift with your own hands. Again, get everyone involved in the idea.
As a family, give some of your bounty to a cause in need of your support, whether you give canned goods to a community food pantry, a caroling visit to a housebound senior citizen, or a cash donation to a child in a poor country. Give what you would have spent on yourself – whether time, effort, or money – to someone else. But make it active, not just writing a check. It will make you more grateful for what you receive this holiday season.
In short, teach your children by demonstrating that we can feel gifted and blessed by giving more and receiving less. As bestselling author, Stephen Covey, says, “love is an action verb” and gratitude being an aspect of love works in just the same way. You must practice gratitude often and for the smallest things, for it is the feeling of gratitude that is transformative – that is the true gift. There is no better time than this season to begin teaching your children… and perhaps yourself, too.
How would this idea be enacted in your family? Could you do it? Would the whole family support it? What would be toughest about giving up a consumptive holiday? What would be the greatest benefit to you? Please leave us comments!