Written by Grace Conyers
Close your eyes and picture what you want in life, what comes to mind? I bet it's not piles of money, but something far simpler. Maybe it's quietly reading under a tree with your dog nearby. Perhaps it's sitting on the beach with your toes in the sand while sipping on iced tea and chatting with friends. Or a work shed where you can tool around after work creating and fixing things like your grandfather.
Wealth is what is valuable to you, nothing more. While all of these things seem like something only the wealthy could do, not a single one screams you need piles of money and a lot of materialistic things. You need just enough and the willpower to get there.
Easily said, right? It's not as hard as you think. There are two key factors: Defining what is "enough," and developing the willpower to create the life we want.
"Enough" is something that only you can define personally and together as a family. Defining what is enough for you means you're not chasing more that won't make you happy. This is hard enough as adults being told what we want through enticing marketing. As parents and caretakers, we have a delicate problem. Children will always want to chase things that they think will put them in a good place within their social circle on top of that marketing.
It's a give and take with children. We need to help them learn strength as well as create their own definitions. We can set an example by fighting the urge to keep up with the Jones' by taking pride in being a trend-setter in little ways. Living for yourself, not for other's expectations, is probably the best example you can give.
Seeing your actions and the happiness it can bring, gives children a sense of something beyond the normal tug-of-war between societial expectations and self. I have seen this in action most powerfully among the poverty stricken area where I’ve worked. There I see how they make more out of what they have by focusing on love and togetherness, travelling only locally, and not really focusing on material things they don't really use.
One of the most fun, frugal, psychologically beneficial things I've seen families do is a make ice cream at home with a Kickball Ice Cream Maker. A laughter-filled family game of kickball turns into a dessert, then everyone sits around enjoying a sweet treat exhaustedly happy. Not only did they get a burst of healing laughter and family time, but they also learnt an invaluable psychological trick: delayed gratification.
The Link Between Delayed Gratification, Willpower, And Success
The marshmallow test as it's become known, was a behavioural psychology test given by researchers to young children. The children were left alone in a room with a marshmallow. They were told that they could have the marshmallow, but if they waited 15 minutes, they could have two of them. Mischel revisited these same children later on as adolescents to find that those that delayed gratification tended to be more successful (Mischel, 1989).
As you can guess, there have been other studies on willpower and the marshmallow test. These tests show that it's not what you have as a family, but how your character matters. This willpower does not come from having money. It comes from having a wealth that is more intangible – being able to trust those around you in every day life to be fair and reliable (Kidd, Palmeri, and Aslin, 2013).
Children can start sensing trustworthiness as early as a few months old, but toddlers start making connections. Children watch everything from everyone, though. Michaelson and Munakata (2016) noted that it's enough to see adults being dishonest and mistreating one another to start this feeling of distrust with adults.
We, as adults, have a lot of responsibility to be able to raise our children with the mindset where wealth is possible in the simple. So, how do we do it?
Don't be dishonest, even if it's uncomfortable.
I’m a licensed professional that people see as an expert. I’m also an educator. My job is to know things. Yet, when I find I don’t, being honest about it wins more respect. A simple, “I’m not sure, let’s find the answer together” goes a long way with all ages and expertise.
Work on projects as a team.
One of my fondest memories was working with my grandfather as he worked through how to fix a boat motor. He would talk to me as if I was his peer, even though I was in 2nd grade. As I asked questions, he would answer. He would give me tasks to complete without hesitation. Not only did I get close with my grandfather and learn about boats, but I also learnt what it took to take care of things around the house.
Plan things out with them, especially when it requires money or hard decisions.
One of the hardest lessons we all learn in life is money – and that we can’t afford all the things. My family never taught me this lesson, so at the lab I’ve opened up the book for all the students and staff.
Through this we’ve learnt cooperation, to discuss priorities, and interestingly enough, how to be creative with the things we already have to achieve more. The 1940s mend and make do attitude is in full force when they don’t want to relinquish their dreams, but at the same time can’t get the newest, shiniest technology or toy just to make it easier.
Explore things fully with all your senses with your children.
Working with a variety of families over the years has taught me invaluable lessons. One of them is to find joy in the little things while experiencing life with all five senses.
One family practised this for years with their children. Once their teen taught us how to find joy in a situation when all chaos was breaking loose. A machine had failed, spewing sewage out. They pointed out joyfully that while the smell was atrocious, it made a musical pattern as it was coming out. So, while they waited for the pressure to go down and we could approach the machine, they invented a dance to go with the beat.
Volunteer, focusing on helping others.
Research on altruism (Post, 2005) has shown that when people do good without over taxing themselves, they feel emotionally better, enjoy better health, and tend to live a bit longer. Being a little more compassionate and giving can help individuals feel success and get a boost in self-esteem – the very things that we think wealth brings.
Kidd C, Palmeri H, Aslin RN. 2013. Rational snacking: young children's decision-making on the marshmallow task is moderated by beliefs about environmental reliability. Cognition. 126(1):109-14.
Michaelson LE and Munakata Y. 2016. Trust matters: Seeing how an adult treats another person influences preschoolers' willingness to delay gratification. Dev Sci. 19(6):1011-1019.
Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Rodriguez, M. 1989. Delay of gratification in children. Science, 244(4907), 933-938. doi:10.1126/science.2658056
Post, Stephen G. 2005. Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Vol. 12, No. 2, 66–77
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