Teaching My Son Gratitude Flickr / Timothy Tsui
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What A Pair Of Knock-Off Air Jordans From My Dad Taught Me About Being Grateful

The following was syndicated from Medium  for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

Son,

Some days I would wake up feeling depressed because I had nothing to look forward to. I thought that feeling was normal, but it isn’t.

One of my most vivid memories of childhood was an incident that happened when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I desperately wanted a pair of Air Jordans. They had just come out. They were the red, white and black ones and all my friends had them.

I came home from school and my dad had a surprise for me. I eagerly opened up the package to find a pair of hightops. They looked similar to Air Jordans, but they were not Nike. I didn’t even say thank you. I told him I would never wear them. He did not say anything, he just walked into his room and closed to door. I remember that image vividly.

You said something to me the other day that spurred the urgency of this letter. We were talking about buying a new game console. You said you did not feel like you needed to buy anything expensive. And you felt sad because there was nothing new to look forward to. I understand that feeling. It is the opposite of ‘gratitude’ and it has to stop immediately. Let me explain why.

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I know you do not need me to preach about being grateful. There are people with far less than you. You already know that without gratitude you can never be happy. Negative emotions like jealousy, greed and resentment creep in when you are not grateful. People want to be around grateful people. And people avoid complainers. Being grateful even improves your immune system. You get physically healthier. But you already know all that.

Gratitude is a skill you need to practice. It is like a muscle.

What you probably didn’t know, may be the most critical reason of all:

Gratitude is not a feeling you get when something good happens to you. Gratitude is a skill you need to practice. It is like a muscle. And muscles get stronger the more you exercise them. The more you practice feeling grateful everyday, the easier it is to recall it. And the more grateful you are, the more you will have to be grateful for!

My son, this is incredibly necessary because, there will be times when you will face overwhelming loss. It could be a situation, relationship or loss of a loved one. It will be devastating. But if you have been practicing that gratitude muscle like a true athlete. You will reflexively focus on the good things in your life. Rather than falling into distress. You will be a pillar of strength for those around you.

You do not become a gratitude olympian overnight, it takes time. So start working out now!

Here are 5 easy ways to exercise that gratitude muscle:

  • Before you get out of bed each morning. Think of 3 or more personal things you are grateful for (for example, you get to play basketball). Focus on them for a few minutes. Then think of 3 external things (for example, you live in a peaceful country). That buys you a few extra minutes in bed but also puts you in the right state of mind to start your day.
  • Do things for others. Help your parents, siblings, peers at school, or teachers. Go out of your way to do one small thing that benefits someone else. When you take focus away from yourself, the gratitude muscle grows. If you are too busy, give a sincere compliment to someone. That only takes a few seconds.
  • Do not complain or gossip. Period.
  • When someone gives something to you (a waiter serving you a glass of water, or a teacher complimenting your work) receive it with a smile and genuine “Thank you.”
  • Pray (or meditate). And focus on the things that you are grateful for during the day. Include the small things that we sometimes take for granted. Journal it down if you like (get a gratitude journal app).

It’s time to get in shape, kid.

Alex Lim is a father, husband, educator, YouTuber, Facebooker and choose yourselfer.