LIZ WALSH - Sunday Mail Journalist email email@example.com
31 Waymouth Street, Adelaide, South Australia 5000
It's Christmas morning - that delicious morning that happens only once a year when children open their eyes before the sun rises and scream in delight: "It's Christmas Day!"
Then ... it's time to find out exactly who's been naughty or nice. Who is ripping open the coloured paper to find exactly what they wanted? Who's in tears after receiving what they didn't? Who's elated? Who's disappointed? Who prefers the giving of gifts to the getting?
And there's the dilemma faced by parents: how do we make our children thankful - grateful - for their gifts, no matter what they are and no matter their number?
It's one of the buzz words du jour, but possibly one of the hardest philosophies to master and follow. However, those who swear by it say that once you've got your head around it and you practise it on a regular basis, it will transform your thinking, your happiness levels and - ultimately - your life. And that of your progeny.
Toni Powell is one of the leading lights spreading gratitude cheer in Australia. She calls it a "wonder drug". She came to the word when she was depressed and has seen marked changes in her life since she embraced it wholeheartedly.
"I used to associate gratitude with sweet, silly, feminine, Polly-Anna-ery things and have found it to be almost opposite in a way, in that it's not a sweet, easy, happy, sunshiny thing; to me, it puts steel reinforcing rods through my life and has made me really strong, which is not really what I expected," she says.
"I thought gratitude was a response to good things and when something good happened I would feel grateful, but being depressed you don't feel grateful. It was when I understood that gratitude was a decision about how you receive life and how you approach things, that I started looking at it as a practice and not as a feeling. It has become a way I look at the world."
In essence, Powell used to look at the world from the standpoint of a victim. Things happened to her - and often they were unfair."I blamed those situations for my lack of happiness, whereas now, I understand that I have the power over my own happiness and how I choose to approach things is everything."
It's not hard to be grateful for the big things in life, but it's when we start being grateful for the small things that the major changes are made.
Think of the little things that many of us fail to take note of: sunlight peering in through trees; a rainbow; the smell of rain. "I have learned to be grateful for tiny things," Powell says of how gratitude has transformed her life.
"Rather than seeing a kid screaming around the airport as a pain in the neck, I stop and watch and remember what it was like to do the same thing."
Which is exactly what many others are starting to do.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, the students - from Reception right through to Year 12 - and the 130-odd staff sit down and open their personal journals. Here, they are encouraged to write three things that they are grateful for in the previous 24 hours - and why.
College principal, Rosalie Gleeson, introduced the journal as a way to bring the movement of "positive psychology" on to the school grounds.
It's a philosophy spruiked by one of Adelaide's Thinkers in Residence - the eminent psychologist Dr Martin Seligman, who is world-renowned for his work in the field.
Gleeson explains: "He talks about the importance of people having a positive outlook on life because so much time is spent looking at what goes wrong and what doesn't work that in terms of wellbeing. Research is showing in terms of people focusing on what's not working, the more they are suffering from poor wellbeing, anxiety and depression. "Positive psychology is a movement that is saying we should be spending more time on acknowledging what is working and then making that the attitude we have towards everything we do. Not, not acknowledging what's wrong or what's not working, but you don't stay there."
Gleeson says that includes spending time being grateful and not taking things for granted.
"It links very well with our own Catholic philosophy in the Ignatian spirituality we have, which is about reflecting on your life and giving thanks," she says. "That is the core business of what we do as a school anyway, but this is putting it in very user-friendly language for students to understand."
So three times a week, the students and staff spend five minutes being thankful.
"It's about getting back to the simplicity of life," Gleeson says. "It's about the children being grateful; it's not a right to be happy and be given all these gifts, it's about that gratitude that comes from the heart for how fortunate we are.
"The idea was to get the girls to the point where they are happy for the small things in life, like the sunshine or the fact they were able to sleep in a warm bed the night before, or they had blankets."
It's the almost-daily practice of gratitude that Gleeson hopes the students carry with them throughout the rest of their lives.
And it's that routine practice that Powell insists is crucial - but don't expect it to be easy. Gratitude, after all, is a discipline and like all disciplines, it requires work to get it right.
"There's a period of time where it's hard and it takes a while to build up muscles," Powell says. "I watch people walking down the street looking miserable thinking: 'We don't have to walk through life like that'."
Powell has seen her life so altered by gratitude that she now tours the country giving seminars and has started a 30-Day Gratitude Challenge.
"We go through life generally in our Western world, complaining and whingeing when things don't go our way," she says. "It's just an easy habit we fall into. There are very few messages coming in to learn to be satisfied with what you have, to love what you have."
The festive season plays into these hands: if you get your new PS4 for Christmas, well, your life will be complete.
"We all know, but we don't act like we know, that more stuff doesn't make us happy," Powell continues.
"You get a buzz out of getting stuff, but the sort of happiness that is long-lasting and deep; you don't get that from more stuff. And even though we know it ourselves we keep forcing it on our children: more stuff, more stuff."
IT's through the giving of "more stuff" that our children become more entitled than grateful - they expect to be given "more stuff", instead of them giving a bit of themselves.
Mark Le Messurier - http://marklemessurier.com.au/main/ - is a childhood counsellor, mentor and parent coach based in Eastwood.
His latest book, 'Raising Beaut Kids', co-authored with Bill Hansberry - has just hit the shelves and discusses strategies by which parents can steer their children towards gratefulness. For Le Messurier, it all comes down to contribution.
"As parents, we love our children to bits and we want the best for them and if we make a mistake, it's that we over-nurture and over-protect them and we're actually tending to over-give to them, rather than expecting them to give back," he says.
"We forget about the need for them to contribute.
"Contribution helps kids feel as though they have influence over the world."
And encouraging even the smallest of toddlers to help prepare meals, or carry dishes to the sink, all helps in sowing the grateful seed.
"The kids who learn to contribute and learn the significance of contribution actually understand how fluid the world is and how you can connect with other people," Le Messurier maintains.
"We delay that by over-nurturing and over-protecting and not expecting kids to help out or help with others.
He suggests parents ask themselves when was the last time their children made and sent a thank you card?
"Or wrote a long newsy letter to someone or mailed a handmade gift? Took time to visit someone? Even wrote a text to someone who needed their spirits raised?
"We live in a society where we predominantly give to children; we don't expect them to contribute."
Of course, Christmas brings up a host of challenges in the gratitude field - and parents can be forgiven for wanting to spoil their littlies rotten. But don't worry about a little indulgence, Le Messurier assures.
"The real world ebbs and flows and just because you might be showered with gifts at Christmas time, it is Christmas time and the same goes for your birthday," he says.
"But you could probably argue that for the kids who feel a sense of entitlement and are given things 365 days of the year, then those two very special days just reinforce entitlement.
"We know as adults, that it's very fulfilling when we are contributing and we've got to get kids in that zone as well."
This is precisely what Reynella mum Jasmine Catros is doing with her eldest son Hayden and will instil in her newborn Rose. Hayden might only be 18 months old, but he already joins his mum volunteering with local elderly groups, taking them shopping and bringing joy to dementia patients.
Catros, who runs a local group called Pay it Forward Adelaide, has been volunteering for several years and is enjoying watching her son blossom as he learns the joy of doing something for others.
"He's always naturally been really good at receiving presents, but he's also a really good sharer and even though he's only 18 months, he really likes to give gifts," Catros says.
"When we do our volunteer work, I see that he gets that this involves another person; he gets that you're going to help and be with them."
Through Pay It Forward Adelaide, Catros is hoping to "change the world; one good deed at a time". Through her Facebook page, she encourages people to donate items, or their time to others.
She encourages people to contact the site if they need help in any way and the site then does their best to aid that person.
"We don't expect thanks and we don't want any recompense, we would love for that person to pay it forward in any way to another person," she says.
"Between us, we can impact the community and make a positive difference."
Which is what gratitude is about really - looking at the world in a way that helps us see a bigger picture, rather than just our own little lives.
Powell says children should be taught gratitude from when they're very young. "Gratitude plays the role that grace used to at a meal," she explains.
"But we should also be getting children involved with people who have less and in acts of kindness and in situations that aren't just material and activities that are contributing to others is a really good way to let children see a bigger picture.
"And learning to say no to them, so it isn't an endless hole we're trying to fill with stuff, so they go out into the world with this endless hole."
Powell suggests this Christmas time, parents could take their children to visit an aged care facility or to a Christmas event for homeless people. She also suggests giving experiences as gifts - a ticket to a theatre performance, or to the zoo - instead of "stuff".
"Gratitude is a learned skill," she says.
"Happiness isn't a momentary buzz when you get something; it's a deep, resilient optimism that enables you to stand up when things get tough.''
Which is just what Rosie Coppin, professional coach and mentor with Adelaide practice Positive Goals and Solutions maintains.
She says gratitude is critical to living a happy life - and with children, it starts with manners.
"Pleases and thank yous are a good thing," Coppin says, "and moving that on to bringing gratitude into the daily conversation, talking about the good things that have happened.
"It's something that has to be a habit.
"We all have negative thoughts that come into our mind, so it's a matter of shutting those off so you can move on and being able to recognise when something negative happens."
You see, Christmas could really be about one of two things. The presents. Or the time to be merry with family and friends - eat well, sing carols, be thankful for the year that's just gone. Thankful for that full belly, the family (no matter how dysfunctional), the carols ... and the gifts.