Commentary

Crib Notes: Why giving thanks is good for all

By From page A5 | August 09, 2017

When I moved to El Dorado Hills in 2003 with my husband and first child, who was an infant then, our new house seemed like a mansion compared to the two-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalow we had just sold in the Bay Area.

Flash forward 14 years and three more kids later and our home often feels cramped. Over the years I’ve searched the real estate ads from time to time, dreaming of something bigger, something more. I’ve expected our kids to complain about sharing bedrooms, but they don’t because it’s all they know. The time we were most serious about selling, when my mother-in-law died and my father-in-law was going to move in with us, the kids asked if we could add to our house instead. I realized then that it’s the memories that have made our house a home to them and not the size of it.

Cue Janice Kaplan, author of the best-selling book “The Gratitude Diaries,” which I read this summer. Kaplan chronicles the year she spent living gratefully and how that transformed her marriage, family life, work and health.

Kaplan takes on the modern problem of adaptation: The more we have, the more we want. She proves that people with wealth or with more things are not necessarily happier because of it. My godmother lived in India for several years while her husband worked for the State Department. I’ll never forget the astonishing stories of joy she shared among people living in one of the poorest areas on Earth.

Kaplan’s book got me thinking: In a society where we’ve grown used to, and expectant of, so much, if it’s difficult for adults to remember to be consciously grateful on a day-to-day basis, how do we help kids do the same?

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and author of the semi-autobiographical novel “Night,” a staple in the high school canon of literature today, spoke about finding gratitude even under the bleakest conditions. “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity,” he said.

We can’t blame kids for not appreciating the smart phones and tablets that they see as necessities or for the brand-new school clothes that are often discarded on the floor before the price tags are even cut off. They don’t know any different because they have grown accustomed to these “things.”

Of her many tips, Kaplan suggests exposing children to experiences to gain a perspective of appreciation, which words alone can’t do.

I thought about the delegation of teenagers who travel to Mexico every spring through area churches, including Rolling Hills Christian Church, to build homes for the impoverished. When I have interviewed them for stories, they all say that they benefited as much as the new homeowners. Holy Trinity Parish just completed A Year For Haiti and I know the parishioners who took part gained just as much gratitude from the experience as the Haitian people did. This summer I’ve worked with my teenage sons at the Upper Room in Placerville, serving food to the homeless. It sounds corny, but the first time we went, I got verklempt when I saw my older son heave a big bag of juicy garbage outside with literally a smile on his face as my younger son scraped food off of plates into a wash bin. My happy near-tears came from the fact that they gag and complain when they do the same at home.

Every year my two daughters’ Girl Scout troops walk in the Folsom Veterans Day Parade. My absolute favorite part, and again, sappy me gets misty-eyed, is when the girls bound over to veterans lining East Bidwell to say “Thank you for your service,” as they hand them each a box of Girl Scout cookies we save just for the occasion. The service men and women get this shocked, then warm, look on their faces and their gratitude rubs off on the girls and on me.

It makes sense that Kaplan noted how psychologists have found that a sincere act of gratitude, like writing a detailed thank you note, can benefit the writer for up to 30 days with feelings of well-being. Now that’s a win-win.

Julie Samrick is an El Dorado Hills mother of four children. She can be reached at [email protected]

Julie Samrick

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