Thanks Giving. November 2017 By Lou Hamilton
“Mind your Ps and Qs”, Old Biddies would say to kids. It basically meant, say ‘please’ when you want something and ‘thank you’ when you get it. You didn’t feel it; you just said it. It got you by without a clip round the ear-hole. Now I’m getting on for an Old Biddy myself I’ve got a different handle on it. Gratitude isn’t just there to grease the wheel, it’s the actual wheel shaft itself. It stops us veering off into the gutter where stress, anxiety and depression lie ready to spread their muck in our minds. Learning thanks from a young age, not for getting the latest toy or trainers, but for just ‘being’ is the most powerful tool in the box.
In America they celebrate Thanksgiving. One day, to be thankful for everything, is a monumental task. It puts undue pressure on forgetting something or someone. It’s your Oscar moment. And you’ve seen the expression on a star’s face as they come off stage radiant after their win and their acceptance speech only to realize they’ve forgotten to thank the director or God or their mum. So on Thanksgiving Day everyone has to down tools, travel the length and breadth of the country, conjure up a feast for all fads, put aside feuds and ooze gratitude for it all. We don’t do Thanksgiving Day as a single event here in the UK. But we’re not exactly peppering our everyday with thanks either. According to the Health & Safety Executive in 2015/16 stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 11.7 million lost work days. We have to learn ways to reduce stress, and to teach our kids how not to get stressed in the first place. Mental health problems affect one in 10 children in UK and 70 percent of those aren’t getting any intervention to help them. As parents and Old Biddies we can do something about that. We can show our kids how to spatter their Qs liberally everywhere, anywhere, at any time. It’s like putting pennies in your piggy bank. Each one doesn’t seem significant, but like compound interest, over a short period of time you’ve built a nest egg of gratitude. And when you feel thankful for everything, you’re not leaving much space in your head for the demonic thoughts, resentments and negativity. Thankfulness trumps stress every time.
When you get to my age you’re thankful to have a body that functions. Grateful for any good health you can lay your hands on. Kids of course can’t imagine anything other than living forever, so how can you persuade them to feel grateful for something that they see as a given? Life, sunshine, a flower, the colour purple, running legs. Why would a kid want to say thank you for something that they have no concept of not having? You get a gift; you say thanks; that makes sense. Things are as they are, why would you say thanks for that? You run to school and you’re meant to say thanks for your feet? You fly a kite and you thank the wind? You breathe and you thank your lungs? You don’t get run over and you thank the zebra crossing? Does it seem ridiculous and a waste of time? Ok here’s one reason for learning gratitude from a young age. According to the World Health Organization chronic disease prevalence, is expected to rise by 57 percent by the year 2020. Many of these diseases are believed to be preventable through healthy lifestyle changes, like nutrition, good sleep habits, regular exercise, stress reduction, strong social networks and avoiding toxic loads. If kids start out with those healthy habits they are building resistance to chronic disease from the outset. So the answer is yes, help kids learn to be thankful that they can climb a tree, or breathe deeply unaided, that they have friends, that their broccoli isn’t covered in poisonous pesticides, and that they have a bed to sleep in. Gratitude is a healthy habit worth cultivating.
Astronauts say that when they stare down at the little ball of earth hanging there in the universe, they are overcome by its beauty and fragility. They say they never again take it for granted. Being awestruck is a spiritual state and it inspires gratitude. Our kids probably aren’t heading to the International Space Station any time in the near future but we can still give them that same sense of thrill at being a tiny human in a giant universe. Let them look through a telescope at the galaxy. Or through a microscope at the miraculous job their cells are doing. Or encourage them to lie on a beach with their face close to the sand and see the rocks, quartz and minerals beaten down by thousands of years of wind, rain, wave and frost into a million multi-coloured grains. Surprise them into gratitude with the awesomeness of the planet, of their bodies, of science and nature and art. Take them on discovery trips, explore a city’s graffiti, and admire patterns in the concrete pavement, cloud formations and airplane vapour trails. Breathe in the bark of a tree, lie in wet grass, and run down a hill. And give them a journal. Encourage them to write down everything they feel thankful for. Maybe it’s their latest toy, maybe it’s you, maybe it’s their favourite pet, and maybe it’s that peach at lunchtime. It doesn’t matter what it is; it’s the noticing that counts. It will help them rise above their everyday worries and concerns, encourage them fight through their fears, make them more resilient and more able to appreciate the things that make them happy.
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour” from the poem Auguries of Innocence by William Blake.
Lou Hamilton is an artist, writer, well-being coach and creator of the illustrated book Brave New Girl- How to be Fearless published by Orion Spring.