Thanksgiving Lessons

Recently an article by USA Today popped up on my phone. It was titled, “A Foolish Take: Here’s how much debt the average U.S. household owes“.

Basically it attributed more debt with the cost of living rising, household income not rising as much, and medical expenses as well as food and housing costs rising even more.

With disturbing trends like this I worry for the future of my kids. I’m well aware that, unless things change drastically in this country, the chance of them living the American Dream may soon share the odds of winning the lottery.

In fact, The Guardian wrote about it in their article, “Is the American Dream really Dead?“, “While 90% of the children born in 1940 ended up in higher ranks of the income distribution than their parents, only 40% of those born in 1980 have done so.”

The article goes onto explain that, “Individuals who were optimistic about their futures tended to have better health and employment outcomes.”

Well now. That is something I can work with.

I may not be able to change the bigger picture for my kids, the outside forces that are greater than ourselves, but I can try to change the smaller one. The little images and thoughts that come into their minds at times I’m not privy to. The one that says – it’s too hard, I give up, I’m not good enough.

How does one work to change the inner picture? By changing the inner perception.

Every night at dinner we have a conversation about what we are most grateful for. Then I don’t care what they say, as long as it’s not negative. Many nights the younger ones can only look at their plate and pick their favorite food on it to be grateful for. It’s okay. It’s a start.

Last year we started a ‘good deeds’ board. A magnetic board stuck to the wall with little blank squares of paper. Anytime I caught the boys doing something nice or thoughtful I would write it down on a blank square and hang it on the board for all to see.

I know what you are thinking after reading this. That nice for you, but who has time for that?

I don’t! Every day I feel overtired, overworked, underappreciated. Most days when we are all together as a family at home, we parents are too busy with emails, laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, changing light bulbs, or online shopping to notice the kids. Their noisy chatter stays in the background like an annoying fly that flew into the house and periodically buzzes around your head, interrupting your thoughts and actions just when you are getting somewhere good.

Only when someone starts crying or yelling are we yanked into action.

But by being caught up in the mundane upkeep of everyday life, we lose sight of the most important job of parenting. Setting your kids up for future success.

Now, I know there are many things that can help kids with future success. Studying hard, having a robust social life, having outside interests like sports or music. But more important than all of those things, I see future success as gratitude.

Only by looking around and seeing that you are enough, that you have enough, will you truly every find success in life.When you get a D, will you think it’s too hard and give up? Will you blame the teacher? Or will you look at that grade with gratitude, a wake up call that your study methods suck and need revamping?

Only with gratitude will you not feel shamed by the facebook barrage of other people’s fancy summer vacations when you can’t afford your own. It’s human nature to covet other people’s things. It takes practice to recognize that basic human emotion, then turn it around. Too look around at your own life and see what you have instead of what you don’t. To see your glass half full, not half empty. It’s a problem as old as the bible, yet most of us still haven’t figured it how to combat it yet.

In my husbands line of work he often meets people who earn well over 7 figures and still sit around complaining that they don’t make enough. I believe them. I also know that they will never make enough. Because money isn’t the freedom they are searching for, money is what’s limiting them. Only by giving up the thought that you need more, that having more means being more, can you be free. Gratitude is freedom.

Am I having any success with my endeavors?

Perhaps I’ll never truly know.

But last week – this little nugget. Jack had a writing essay, with the impending Thanksgiving holidays he was asked to write what he was most grateful for. In the past his Thanksgiving essays included toys, vacations and favorite food treats. This year? Food, clothing, a good school, a house over his head and parents who can afford vacations.

Perhaps we can all take the beautiful lesson Thanksgiving offers us, the lesson of gratitude, and use it all year long. Seems silly to only think about it once a year, doesn’t it?

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