As we approach the end of the year, it’s a time of reflection. For me, I always wonder the same things—was I kind enough, did I do enough, and most importantly, did I take the time to be grateful for everything I have. As life gets busier, it’s easy to bemoan the simple woes in our day or to look outwardly at others and covet what they have. In our fast-paced lives, replete with American consumerism and an aura of disposability, how do we teach ourselves, and our children, to slow down and simply be appreciative, happy and content?
These questions have no easy answers, but a conversation on this topic with Rabbi Ben Spratt, CRS Associate Rabbi and RSS Rabbi-in-Residence, was enlightening and helpful. He’s quick to note that there are no “silver bullets” here and that the entire concept of gratitude is more something that must be modeled than taught. He tells me he’s speaking to me with his “parent hat” on, as this is a question he and his wife ask themselves often. In his house, gratitude is a priority. He tells me this in a non-judgmental way. Gratitude manifests itself in simple ways; one example is taking a moment for a blessing before food. That one act physically and mentally slows down the meal and gives time for a brief reflection. Rabbi Ben also offers that it’s important to carve out fixed time for one thing, meaning focus on the activity at hand and really be present in the moment. I make a note to try that at home.
Rabbi Ben starts out his day asking his children on the way to school for one thing they are excited for and one thing they are grateful for. He said sometimes the answers are amazingly profound and sometimes the answers are typically childlike, and that both are okay. It’s the act of saying it out loud; taking the time to find an answer and sharing it is what counts. He mentions also modeling what we are grateful for as adults. This concept resonates with me because I am always wondering am I teaching or am I practicing? This especially rings true when there are disruptions in life, a bump in the road so to speak. “Disruptions are not bad,” he says, “gratitude, by definition, is disruption because you are stepping out of the flow of life and pausing for appreciation.” I cannot tell him enough how much I love this philosophy.
We move on past the spiritual to the physical and the concept of tangible things. One of my biggest complaints is that my children are always being handed things or given things, whether from well-meaning friends and relatives or from the outside world (cookies, balloons, cheap toys as treasures). Rabbi Ben tells me that in his house, presents are homemade, the best of them being letters. I almost tear up when he mentions his own personal collection of letters written to him by his family that were then read at his wedding. “Tangible gifts fade,” he says, “but a handmade gift is an expression of yourself.”
We touch on chores at home as well, and the issue of allowance. He has a 3-jar system for allowance—they have a short-term jar, a long-term jar, and a Tzedakah jar. He ties his allowance to chores but also notes that chores are different than living in a community, so it’s important to teach your children basic life skills as well.
I leave Rabbi Ben’s office both more aware and emboldened. I like that I have practical ideas on how to put the concept of gratitude to work in my own home, and I remain hopeful that I am doing a good job modeling my own gratitude for my children. In our fast-paced, crazy world, I think it’s a good idea to simply slow my own world down a little and enjoy it more. And if I do that, then my children will as well.