Most people think you need to be happy with your life and the way things are going to be grateful. But years of experience and now mounds of empirical research tells us just the opposite: when we keep our awareness high of all the things we have to be grateful for, we’re much more likely to find happiness.
Being grateful is not about having your head in the sand about all the bad stuff that happens, it’s about finding a space in the heart for appreciating the things you do have, even the little things. And gratitude is not just a good thing to have; rather, it is a way of valuing what we do have. Gratitude is necessary for people to be genuinely healthy and whole. Gratitude begets a sense of indebtedness and obligation, a sense notably lacking in the disturbed character who takes, expects, exploits, and abuses without reservation or compunction. Learning to be more grateful is the antidote for this, and it takes a lot of practice.
We live in an age of unprecedented entitlement. Almost everything once regarded as a privilege or something to be earned is now regarded as an inherent right. As a result, many people have come to expect far more than they feel obliged to give, which has set a disatrous precedent for the character formation of our children. This makes the second commandment of sound character development and its message of gratitude very hard to embrace.
Some individuals have a particularly hard time mastering this pivotal first commandment of healthy character formation. And most often, the reason for that involves their impaired capacity for empathy.
People who have overcome their infantile narcissism and have learned to care beyond themselves are altruistic and empathic. And people who are altruistic act for the greater good. They are the folks who see the big picture.
Teaching the important life lessons necessary to overcome our natural, inherent narcissism and making sure the environment supports and reinforces those lessons is a significant challenge, especially in a culture where people who glorify themselves get mounds of attention and are even held up as heroes.
It was once widely believed that children naturally move toward positive growth unless they experience trauma of some type. But we now know that what doesn’t happen in the way of learning certain crucial life lessons is just as important to good character development as the tragic events that might beset a person and arrest or impede their character formation. And that’s what prompted me to catalog what my experience has taught me are the 10 essential “commandments” of good character development.
If there were ever a time when character really needs to be mindfully nurtured, it’s now – in our age of permissiveness, entitlement and moral relativism. And the same lessons we need to learn as children to become adults of integrity are the lessons we need to even more fully embrace and master at and even deeper level as we mature in order to become the best version of ourselves.
Becoming a better person takes a lot of deliberate, sustained effort. And you have to have the right motivation to do the work. External pressure can lead a person to make changes that are often superficial and short-lived. Genuine, lasting changes come when the motivation is internal. That happens when a person sets pride aside and willingly embraces a higher cause.
The tragedy of our times is that far too many folks lack the attributes of character necessary to function in a mature, responsible way. But we all have it within us to become a better person.