Did you ever notice how so many children today seem unhappy?
No matter how much they have, no matter how hard you try to give them more, they never seem content. They should be the happiest kids who ever lived. They have traveled to islands, gone jeeping through the deserts of Israel, swam with dolphins, but there is a sense of discontent.
There are children who have iPhones, iPads, wiis, Gameboys, American girl dolls, and basements filled with toys. Summer time brings talk of sleep away camp, shopping with long lists in hand or planning trips to faraway places. Even with the difficult economic situation, the reality is that we would rather do without ourselves than have our children feel as if they are lacking.
Last week a father called me. He said that each summer he rents a home for his family in beautiful surroundings. It is a neighborhood where some people buy lavish homes, others rent. Even though he has always enjoyed their summer place, his 13-year-old daughter made it clear that she was unhappy.
At 2 a.m. she decided to have a meltdown.
“I am ashamed of the house we stay in every summer,” she cried. “All my friends have much better houses, why can’t we? If we take this same house as always I don’t want any of my friends coming over. Don’t even think about inviting them!”
She stomped to her room and slammed the door, leaving her father hurt and perplexed.
“I try so hard,” he said to me. “What is she thinking? Doesn’t she see how much I sweat to make a buck?”
How do we combat the unhappiness?
Of course there are many reasons our children act miserably. You can say it is awful chutzpah, too much stuff, absence of parental involvement, or deficient discipline. Others will say there is not enough one on one time, children who do not feel really accepted, a lack of self-esteem or just plain arrogance.
We mistakenly believe that the more we give, the happier they’ll be. Wrong.
But at the root of the misery lies a basic glaring lack of gratitude. When children are not cognizant of their blessings, they do not begin to recognize how much they have. They overlook the good, both the big and the small, and they grow more entitled with each day.
We mistakenly believe that the more we give, the happier they will be.
Wrong. Instead, it is the more they appreciate, the happier they will grow.
I explained to this father that it is time he sat down with his daughter and introduce her to the concept of ‘Dayenu’. On Passover we recount all of God’s many kindnesses. After each kindness we pause and say: “Dayenu – it would have been enough for us!” We are encouraged to recognize each gracious act of giving and realize that every deed deserves thoughtful appreciation. We don’t take anything for granted. We stop and contemplate the blessing of enough.
I received an incredibly long list that had been drawn up for this 13 year old. Here’s part of the list:
- We have a beautiful home.
- We rent a lovely summer house in a gorgeous neighborhood.
- We have traveled to Israel.
- We have traveled to Paris.
- We have traveled to Italy.
- We have gone skiing in Utah.
- We eat in delicious restaurants.
- We have gone to Miami every Chanukah vacation since you were a baby.
- We have celebrated your bat mitzvah with an amazing party.
- We have sent you to sleep away camp since fourth grade.
- We have a loving family.
- We have grandparents who cherish us.
- We have good health.
After each line, the father wrote Dayenu. And then he explained to this child who had been blessed with more than she had ever understood (and more than most could ever imagine) that it was time to appreciate the blessings of that which we have, instead of focusing on that which we think that we are missing in life.
There is one more missing link here – the presence of parents who live with the motto of Dayenu in their own lives. When children hear their mother or father constantly commenting on other people’s homes, enviously recounting the way others vacation, or having conversations about the expensive clothing and furniture that their friends seem to have, we are implanting the ugly roots of discontent and unhappiness in our children’s hearts.
How can we teach the blessing of enough when are days are spent wanting more and more?
Unfortunately, these parents spent many hours bickering. But it is not only financially that we come up short in our minds. Somehow, in every conflict, this husband and wife each felt unappreciated. Both expressed frustration that their spouse was not doing their share.
If I am always concentrating on what my spouse does not do instead of recognizing the good that he does, I end up destroying any potential for joy that I may have. My life becomes filled with negatives and I grow bitter and unhappy.
Let us take the lesson of Dayenu to heart. It is time for us all to contemplate the blessing of enough.