Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (January 5, 2017)
Watch your thoughts for they become your emotions; Watch your emotions for they become your words, Watch your words for they become your actions, Watch your actions for they become your habits, Watch your habits for they become your character, Watch your character for it leads to your destiny.
It’s Christmas season and everyone has been busy shopping for Christmas gifts, writing cards, going to Christmas parties and getting ready for the holiday season. On my shopping trip journey, I walked into a large toy store one day and overheard a man saying to the saleslady “he has asked for a list of these things. Do you have them?” He went through the list one by one asking if they had it in store. I had thought that he was going to choose one thing but he was in fact trying to purchase all the things on the list for one child! I come from a family that is very generous with giving but I don’t ever recall giving my parents a list of all the things I wanted for Christmas, let alone the list having more than one item.
Perhaps this man is the child’s father and was feeling particularly generous this year. Or perhaps this is the norm for their family and the action of purchasing Christmas gifts according to the child’s wish list was a habit. And if it’s the latter, I hesitate to imagine what the child is like.
We live in what I call a ‘microwave generation’ where we want things instantly, the same way microwave heats food up for us in an instance. We want to get things quickly and usually, the more the better. But having this instantaneous gratification doesn’t fair us well in the long run. The famous Marshmallow Experiment tested how long children would wait before having a marshmallow that was put in front of them and they found that the children that were able to wait were the ones who fared better academically, socially and emotionally in their subsequent years. And waiting requires self-control - self-control of our desires and our actions.
If we give in to the whims and instant desires of our children, they won’t learn to have self-control in their actions. And they will be worse off for it. So this Christmas, try these things out:
1) For all the gifts received this Christmas, open one a week instead of all at once on Boxing Day. This has the added benefit of making the Christmas cheer last longer!
2) Even prior to opening gifts, discuss with your child about donating some gifts to other children who may want them more. With their consent and agreement, donate ones that they have offered to donate
3) It may be tempting to get addicted to play with certain gifts (e.g. iPad!) so have your child exercise self-control by deciding on time limits for playing and how these limits will be implemented (e.g. with a timer, only at weekends)
This Christmas season, let’s celebrate with joy and generosity but also let us continue to help our children exercise self-control in their actions. They will be better off for it!