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The 10 rules for a great life – #9 Appreciate

Something wonderful is happening in my neighbourhood.

Two years ago, my north-of-Toronto subdivision was nothing more than two square kilometres of mud. Not long after that, they built the streets and houses. Paved driveways and grass followed. And now, the park.

I camped out in my car on a cold October night a few years ago just so I’d be firstish in line and close to the park and playground. Over the last three weeks, I’ve woken up every morning to the sounds of machines and hammers going at full bore, and I’ve gotten to watch the place grow from the ground.

I’m not the only one. I startle the kids awake each morning with a park report. We walk over and inspect the place after school every night. It’s something for which I’m so appreciative. My exuberance and adult appreciation is showing the way for the kids too.

At least I hope it is.

I blew a gasket over the weekend because several from my team had been showing the opposite of appreciation – they focused on only what they didn’t have over what they did. It irked me to no end, and I’ve been sitting here for three days wondering why it bothers me so much.

After all, kids don’t appreciate things the way we want them to. We have constructed a world of alarming consumption, one where every victory can be easily forgotten. My kids have wept when they didn’t get a treat after they’d had dessert. I’m sure you’re nodding your head right now thinking “that happens to me, like, 11 times a week.”

So, in my thinking process, I’ve started to sort this out, and I’ve started by asking myself what appreciation actually is. When I first wrote my list of 10 things, I vacillated between “Be  grateful,” “Be thankful” and “Show appreciation.” None of them seemed to capture everything I felt, and yet all of them did. Lightbulb this week when I came to realize that “appreciation” actually means three things to me – three things I want to see more from when it comes to my kids.

Appreciation means thankfulness for what you have. Stop and smell the roses and all that. It sounds quaint, but I’m going in another direction on this. The park showed me that we should find ways to make things an “event.” I’ve been making better breakfasts of late, getting the kids to be excited about them the night before. We’re jumping in the car to look at the construction of roundabouts. We’re making YouTube videos. For me, we are being excited and thankful for what’s around us in a way that’s different than what our parents asked of us. Thankfulness = the same level of excitement for everyday things that you reserve for new and spendy things.

Appreciation means gratitude. Gratitude is understanding what someone has sacrificed to give you what you want and then responding accordingly. My son smashed his iPad screen a few weeks back. I drove him an hour each way to get it fixed. What I asked for in return was gratitude – an acknowledgement of what I was doing and an action. For him, that action was spending time cleaning the garage with me because he knew he’d cost me two hours and wanted to contribute to my day. Giving a curt “thank you” for something you receive is no more thanks than awkwardly mumbling “sorry” after you hit another kid when you’re not really sorry. This one’s a personal mission for me over the next little while. Gratitude = recognizing and doing something about it.

Appreciation is accepting responsibility. Hang out with me for any period of time and you’ll know that accountability is a big part of who I am. I am accountable and accepting of blame because I learned that it’s the shortest route to a solution. People respect you more when you can say “I messed up and here’s how I can fix it.” To me, appreciation is more than being thankful, it’s appreciating that you are the pilot of your own journey and that sometimes you’re going to make mistakes. On this front, I encourage the kids to be honest, letting loads of things slide because they tell me the truth. The second thing I do here is to challenge the kids not to only come to me with problems they’ve created (“I spilled water on the floor,” “I got a bad mark on this test,” “I ate too much candy.”) Instead, I want solutions. Tell me how you’re going to get out of this mess you’ve created. Responsibility = respect and positive action.

Appreciate. Whether it’s the new park, the Tuesday morning oatmeal or cleaning up the mud you just tracked over the floor, It is absolutely one of the most important skills I can build in my kids.

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