Gratitude and “Luck”: Another Way to Accomplish Your Goals
When I was in high school, my mom told me about the academic struggles of the son of a family friend. “Dominique’s so lucky,” he mused, not realizing – in a perfectly normal teenaged way – the hours of studying that had gone into my “A’s.” In many ways, of course, I was lucky: he likely studied just as long and hard as I did but did not earn high grades. In other ways, though, it felt as though Lady Luck had left me behind. Today, when people – especially those who know my long history of orthopedic injuries and surgeries – see me limping three months after foot surgery and say, “Gosh, how unlucky you are!” I try to use it as an opportunity to count my blessings instead.
According to David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, it turns out that this sort of attitude might be important for accomplishing our goals. In my last newsletter, I offered parents three ways to assist their children as they work toward their own goals. DeSteno’s research shows that cultivating gratitude and compassion might be even more crucial than building grit to achieve one’s dreams. So, in my own case, my goal to resume walking smoothly and without pain might just be enhanced by regularly acknowledging my blessings, like having parents with whom I lived for almost three months while I was on crutches (thanks, Mom and Dad!); being healthy before surgery, which has accelerated my recovery; finding a great physical therapist who helped me get back on two feet; and so on. Experiencing gratitude for how far we’ve come, it seems, might push us to achieve even greater heights.
How can we, as adults, assist the young people in our lives to cultivate gratitude?
Here are three quick ideas:
Model being grateful and express your own gratitude. During the car ride home or at the dinner table, after posing the standard, “So, how was your day?” ask your child, “What were you thankful for today?” Share your own insights, especially at first, when your teen might be taken aback or struggle to come up with an answer. Your own expressions could be as simple as, “I was so grateful that your dad filled the car with gas last night so I didn’t have to do it before driving you to school today,” or as profound as, “I’m thankful that your school was a safe place today.” As a teacher, I often asked the entire class to share what they were grateful for before we left for Thanksgiving. And rather than ask them where they went during their winter vacations, I would ask students how they exhibited compassion to at least one other person since we’d last seen one another. DeSteno’s studies suggest that compassionate people are also more likely to achieve their goals.
Encourage your child to keep a gratitude journal. For more than a decade, positive psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar has encouraged students and audiences to write down five things for which they’re grateful each night. Not only will this practice keep gratitude in the forefront of your child’s mind, the nightly ritual might serve as a calming practice, helping his brain to wind down and fall asleep.
Openly discuss feelings of envy, jealousy or unluckiness as they arise. It’s natural for everyone to make comparisons to one’s peers and walk away feeling envious or unlucky.
Thirty seconds on social media show us great vacations and nights out that we missed or the “A” that a family friend earned on the test that I just flunked.
Other than deleting your Facebook or curtailing your child’s social media access, you might encourage her to share feelings of envy or unluckiness when they emerge. Such heart-to-hearts will give you a chance to broaden your child’s age-induced myopia by asking her to reckon with information that she might not have considered (like the fact that the other student also might have studied hard). These conversations might also increase her awareness of the “triggers” that elicit these emotions – like going on Facebook or Snapchat – though you might need to nudge her in this direction! The goal is not just to reduce her experiences of such emotions, but also to reframe her thinking so that she can recognize the “lucky” qualities and relationships in her own life when she inevitably starts to feel them. Feeling grateful for the gifts in her own life might then enable her to build on these successes to accomplish even greater things!
As always, let me know how it goes.
May we all cultivate the “luck of the Irish” in our own lives by recognizing where it already exists each day.
Dr. P. (Dominique Padurano, Ph.D.) is an author, speaker, educator, and Founder and Head Coach of Crimson Coaching LLC. Crimson Coaching™ provides expert academic assistance in all subjects for students aged 12 to adult.
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