Runners and cyclists are especially familiar with this phenomenon. When running or cycling into the wind, we are aware of the hardship every second. When we get the wind at our back, we are grateful … for about a minute. Then we forget about our good fortune until the going gets tough again. Why is it so easy for people to feel put upon? Why are we hyper-aware when we feel the deck is stacked against us?
Studies have shown that this phenomenon happens in many aspects of our lives. With siblings, older siblings feel that their younger siblings had fewer rules to follow and more gifts and technology than they had. Younger siblings feel that they had less parental attention than their older siblings who have more pictures on the walls and had opportunities for more extracurricular activities. Middle children feel that both older and younger siblings had more of everything, while they were mostly ignored and forgotten about (that’s me).
Sports fans are often guilty of “self-handicapping.” When we have a key player who is not in the game because of an injury, we perceive of our team’s schedule as particularly tough, or have more penalties imposed on our team by the officials than the other team, we feel that we have an automatic excuse or explanation in case when our team loses, or celebrate our victories as glorious and assisted by a higher power if we overcome these unfair obstacles when we win.
In politics, both Republicans and Democrats feel that the system is rigged against their party. Both feel that media coverage is unfair. Both parties feel that filibuster practices and the Electoral College benefits the opposing political party unfairly. We lose sight of how great we have it in the USA and complain that the whole system sucks and demand CHANGE!
I am guilty of this phenomenon of habituation. I work hard to get something; I get it, and quickly become accustomed to it, and want more. I grew up with a rotary phone, phone books, encyclopedias, and a television with only three channels. My family of seven traveled around in a Volkswagen beetle when rolling down the windows was the only form of air conditioning. Now we have cordless phones in almost every room in my house. We have hundreds of television channels and movies on demand. Every member of my family has a cell phone with a magical genie called “Siri” to provide any information we desire in an instant. We have high-speed internet. We have more screens in our house than people. I have an iWatch on my wrist that can tell me the weather or top news stories anywhere in the world. It can make phone calls, send and receive texts, and emails; and it even reminds me to exercise and breathe. Yet I can become upset when being served snacks on a climate controlled airplane because… it doesn’t have Wi-Fi.
This phenomenon is based on desire, self-pity, and greed. We focus on our headwinds and forget to be grateful for our tailwinds. We focus on our misfortune and forget to be grateful for how fortunate we are. People who live with a spirit of gratitude are more mentally and physically healthy, more productive, and happier than those who do not. So what does this mean for the after-school child and youth development programs? How can we teach ourselves and kids to be happier?
Here are 11 simple strategies to promote a spirit of gratitude in the children and youth we serve.
- Show It = actions trump feelings. Model gratitude – be a grateful educator. Tell your kids you appreciate them. Say thank you sincerely and often. Pretend you have been hired to play the part of a positive and appreciative character in a movie. We call this “make like a puppy.” Show positivity, playfulness, and gratitude – fake it ‘til you FEEL it.
- Listen = Listen to your kids and others. Let them finish. Be an active listener. Show gratitude by listening to what others say. Make eye contact.
- Focus on Tailwinds. When you feel a tailwind in your program, hit a mental “pause button” and feel it. Be thoughtful of others. Count your blessings. Write them down – take note of what you are grateful for, and be specific. Breathe – and focus on a spirit of gratitude.
- Expect It = Insist on politeness, kindness, and respect. The Dalai Lama said, “When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect toward others.”
- Talk about It = Lead dialogue and focus on your tailwinds. In what ways are we boosted along? What invisible things make our lives easier? Talk with your kids about our opportunities for education, freedom, access to information. Gather tailwind touchstones – reminders of the tailwinds you have experienced.
- Tell = express gratitude. As a program activity, give supporters thank you cards and talk about your gratitude for their support. Send thank you notes to teachers, custodians, and the principal. Talk about and give detailed examples of appreciation. Smile at those who make your lives better, say thank you – a lot! William Arthur Ward said, “God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one of them to say thank you?”
- Teach = the Truth Sets You Free: Teach kids about this phenomenon. Talk about headwinds and tailwinds and how we tend to focus on only the headwinds. Teach your kids about the neuroscience of emotional states – the more time you spend in an emotional state, the more stable that state becomes. Is your stable home state focused on headwinds or tailwinds?
- MTBOI = Make “make the best of it” a motto in your program. Teach kids to identify and value the fortune that always exists in misfortune – the one good thing that exists in a bad circumstance.
- Pay it forward. Show gratitude for our tailwinds by paying it forward. Engage in public service projects, find a cause and help. W Clement Stone said, “If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share.”
- Relationships = It’s all about Relationships. Don’t let your programs be all about the rapid bombardment of adult information, the latest technology, and the newest toys. Don’t shower them with stuff. Kids learn gratitude by interacting with mature role models who model gratitude.
- Change Yourself Before Others = Remember ways we may have caused difficulty for others, rather than focusing on ways others make life difficult for us.
For breakfast today I had some leftover cauliflower pizza and a cup of coffee for breakfast.
May the road rise up to meet you, and may the wind always be at your back.