Happy Birthday!

There’s been a movement over the past couple decades to modernize the importance of gratitude in one’s life. Sara Ban Breathnach’s book “Simple Abundance” in the mid 90’s, piggybacked on that trend and created a huge consciousness among women of all ages and spiritual affiliations. Wayne Dyer, The Dalai Lama, Carolyn Myss, Pema Chodren, to name a few, all teach ways we can access the power of gratitude.

These concept can be challenging enough for us mortal adults, and the thought of passing this down to our children in our “gotta have it” world is daunting, at best.

First, let’s look at that “gotta have it” world. Whether you are on the side of healthy materialism or eschew all things glitter, the fact remains that our children are raised in a culture that values bling. Coveting things for the sake of coveting things can be tempered, however, by getting in tune with what your children are really asking for when they are asking for the moon.

With few exceptions, we all want to fit it. It’s human nature, and extremely pervasive when you’re in the impressionable cognitive years, say birth to 90. Having stuff, in the minds of young people, equates to fitting in. Having more stuff than someone else often equates to great status. And children will often take this well into adulthood.

Unfortunately, we recognize as we get wiser, having stuff isn’t the whole enchilada. Having stuff and appreciating stuff is a little closer. Having stuff, appreciating stuff, and giving stuff away is that much more fulfilling. Having stuff, appreciating stuff, giving stuff away, then losing all that stuff and still having gratitude in our hearts sounds impossible, yet I believe we all sense it would be an amazing way to “be”.

But I digress, in an effort to make the point that (not just) children benefit greatly when they are grateful.

As parents, we know how much more willing we are to give when we feel our past efforts have been appreciated. We understand the power of being gracious, yet somehow are at a loss as to how to instill this in our children. Here is a very simple, yet very POWERFUL way to begin giving the gift of appreciation.

The Birthday Circle:

I learned this several years ago in the book “The Everyday Genius” by Peter Kline. I’ve used modified versions of it at birthday parties, family dinners, classrooms, even on conference calls with adults and in business meetings. The results have been nothing short of profound.

Keep in mind that this can be a real challenge for children, and I caution you to not get your expectations to the point of negating any good this can bring. Sometimes the benefits aren’t immediately evident. Ok, that’s your consumer warning, let’s go.

The basic premise it to say something affirmative and sincere about the person in the middle of the circle (or the person whose turn it is) that is intended to uplift. You must be clear on the rules that the person extolling the greatness of the one whose turn it is in the circle, is not qualifying it with a negative. For instance “You used to be a pain in the neck but now I like hanging out with you”. Nor may it be used to diminish the giver as in “I wish I could sing as good as you”. It’s about the person in the center, without comparisons or judgement. You can have everyone begin with an opening statement if you like, such as “What I appreciate about you is______”. People may squirm and roll eyes at first, but it doesn’t take long before everyone is engaged and wanting a turn of their own.

There’s simple, built in structure because it can be preformed within an already organized event. It usually proves to be wonderfully powerful. Most of us will experience “I didn’t realize you saw that in me!” or something similar. You’ve fit in all along, but didn’t know it. Now you know. Wow.

So go forth, be grateful and look for all sorts of creative ways to teach gratitude to all the impressionable people in your life. (That, by the way, includes everyone).

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