This is the season of birthdays in my extended family. As I mentioned in my newsletter earlier this month, both of my daughters, my mom, my sister, a sister-in-law, two nephews, and one niece all celebrate birthdays in the span of about six weeks.
As I was texting one of my sister-in-laws earlier this week about buying gifts for our children, she said about one of her boys, “He is content with what he has, and doesn’t even know of anything for which to ask!”
Few qualities in life rival a spirit of contentment when it comes to determining personal happiness. Being satisfied with what you have and not constantly looking for “the next best thing” is a trait I want my own children to embrace.
Below I’ve listed seven ideas we can use with our children as we seek to teach them contentment. (I have to admit that I haven’t mastered this for myself, so this is definitely a goal we can work towards together.)
1. Emphasize gratefulness. When our girls were younger, it felt like I was constantly reminding them to say “thank you” at the appropriate times. (And just to encourage moms of littles, all that reinforcement does pay off, as our children now do it voluntarily.) Verbal thanks and written thanks – in the form of thank-you notes – help us remember to be grateful. Yet those outward expressions stem from a grateful heart, which is what we need to carefully cultivate.
2. Eliminate comparison. This is such struggle sometimes, even for me. I don’t know if we can entirely eliminate comparison, but I think we can learn tactics to keep it under control. I’ve written before about my struggles with comparison in Releasing Yourself from the Comparison Trap and in a review of one of my all-time favorite books I’m Happy for You (Sort Of…Not Really). Media in general – and especially social media – leads us quickly down the road of comparison, so I’m trying to train myself to truly be happy for what I see others enjoying without feeling a sense of lack if I don’t have those same things or experiences.
3. Appreciate what you already have. Point out, “Isn’t it nice that you’re able to have a warm coat to wear on this freezing cold day?” We’ve also tried to teach our children to take care of their possessions by putting things back where they belong when they’re finished using them, cleaning something when it gets dirty, etc.
4. Value relationships over possessions. Our relationship with God should be our first priority, followed by relationships with others. We can talk with our children about how we spend our time. Are we building friendships and encouraging people or is our focus on getting more for ourselves? My children need to see me living this out in front of them.
5. Show them how to be givers. We can teach our children to be generous not only with their money, but also by sharing their things with others and by giving of their time. Again, I need to be setting the example here.
6. Teach them that happiness doesn’t come from owning lots of stuff. While buying that new shirt and wearing it for the first time will bring temporary pleasure, it’s only a matter of time before it ends up on the closet floor or in a box headed off to Goodwill. It’s okay to own nice things, and God does give us all things to enjoy, but we won’t get lasting happiness from any possession.
7. Remind them that God provides all that we need. Everything we have comes from God, and is what He has designated for us in His perfect will. He gives us what we need when we need it. There are countless blessings all around us that we can thank Him for on a daily basis.
May we as parents grow in this area of contentment as we seek to instill its value in our children!