If children could diagnose adults, what syndromes would they say afflicted us ?
This past weekend was a scorcher. It nearly broke some records. Read more »
It was twilight when I got out of the car with Maya in the parking lot of a local grocery store. There was a woman standing in the shadows, slowly rocking side to side on her feet. I couldn’t see her face clearly but I knew instantly who she was.
We hosted dinner for some friends this Thanksgiving, our first such event. We did have invitations to be at the table at some other friends’ houses, but we wanted to stay home, especially after a week away.
This of course entailed a lot of work on Shanthala’s part and she was busy most of the day cooking. We had returned from Hawaii the previous night, but thanks to our friends, our refrigerator was already well stocked with all the things Shanthala needed for the dinner. A friend from India who was staying at our place while we were in Hawaii pitched in with some shopping, but our friend, Brad, armed with Shanthala’s shopping list, did most of the work. The friends who came brought wine and some salad with them.
What a difference this year’s Thanksgiving was, compared to the rather gloomy one two years ago, when Maya was still an infant.
The food menu:
- Sweet Potato & Brie Phyllo
- Brie Crostini
- Sprouted Moong & Cranberry Salad (Sameer/Vaishali made this)
- CousCous & Mushroom Salad (Sameer/Vaishali)
- Butternut Squash, Carrot and Ginger Soup
- Sauteed Brussel Sprouts (with Garlic and Olive Oil)
- Vegetable Pulao
- Parathas from Lovely Sweets
- Chana Dal with Louki
- Apple Pie
The wine list:
- Chianti Classico Red Wine, Incanto Riserva 2005
- Menage a Trois Red Wine
- Moscato Dessert Wine, Sutter Home
Gratitude is Healthy
The new science of “positive psychology” is demonstrating an increasing amount of evidence that gratefulness is a healthy thing. In 2003, Dr. Robert A. Emmons and his colleague Michael E. McCullough conducted three studies that showed that people who expressed gratitude were demonstrably happier than those who did not. This included even people struck down with chronic illness such as neuromuscular diseases. In a study done by one of the founders of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, and his colleagues, in which they followed people up to 6 months after they had started practising gratitude, they concluded that those who were grateful were less depressed than those who were not.
Each year, some major periodical or the other touts further new evidence on the virtues of gratefulness. This year, The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article highlighting the benefits of being grateful. From the article :
“In an upcoming paper in the Journal of Happiness Studies, Dr. [Jeffrey J.] Froh and colleagues surveyed 1,035 high-school students and found that the most grateful had more friends and higher GPAs, while the most materialistic had lower grades, higher levels of envy and less satisfaction with life. ‘One of the best cures for materialism is to make somebody grateful for what they have,’ says Dr. Froh.”
In a country based on the myth of self-reliance, we may find it difficult to practice gratitude because it makes us more aware of the ways we rely on others in our lives, how our lives are enhanced by the actions of countless faceless, nameless people.
How can we practice gratefulness ? One way is to be specific about what we’re grateful for: I’m grateful for my health, for the beautiful crane that glided past me as I ran this morning, for waking up. The WSJ article has a thoughtful piece on how to practice gratefulness:
“A Buddhist exercise, called Naikan self-reflection, asks people to ponder daily: “What have I received from…? What have I given to…? and What trouble have I caused…?” Acknowledging those who touched your life—from the barista who made your coffee to the engineer who drove your train—and reflecting on how you reciprocated reinforces humbleness and interdependence.”
Gratitude In Infants
What about Maya ? Is she old enough to know what gratitude is ? I often wonder about this especially when we seem to insist that as soon as they can speak, children learn to say “please” and “thank you”. We may get them to say the words, but do they know what the feeling is ? Are the words merely social makeup ?
Melanie Klein, an Austrian psychoanalyst theorized that infants understand gratitude thanks to their mother’s breast milk. Many child development experts however postulate that a child can understand gratitude only when it understands empathy, which is around 7 years. But can we cultivate the practice early ? From the WSJ article:
“To help lay the groundwork for gratefulness, Dr. Froh says he asks his 4-year-old son, James, each night what was his favorite thing about the day and what he is looking forward to tomorrow.”
For me, gratitude is also about a lack of entitlement, not viewing the bounty as deserving or not. I’ve had close encounters with lives suffered because of this belief in entitlement and moans over how they have not been given what was their just due.
As I write this article, in the still hours of the morning (it is 4:30 am), this year I want to especially thank the work of hundreds of thousands of people on whose free service so much of what I write rests. My blog runs on WordPress software, a free software. I am writing this article within Firefox, a free browser, running on Ubuntu Linux, another free service.
Most days I wake up with thanks on my lips, grateful for the life I have, for the lives breathing beside me, for the blessing of hearing someone call me “Papa”, for Shanthala who is the source of so much that is good in my life and my parents, who showered me with love and encouragement.
Other Related Links:
- Why Gratitude Is Good by Robert Emmons
- 10 Ways To Become More Grateful
- What Are You Grateful For ?
- Better Mood From Gratitude: 2 Minute Exercise
Listen with the night falling we are saying thank you we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings we are running out of the glass rooms with our mouths full of food to look at the sky and say thank you we are standing by the water thanking it smiling by the windows looking out in our directions ... with the animals dying around us our lost feelings we are saying thank you with the forests falling faster than the minutes of our lives we are saying thank you with the words going out like cells of a brain with the cities growing over us we are saying thank you faster and faster with nobody listening we are saying thank you we are saying thank you and waving dark though it is - Thanks, W.S. Merwin
P.S: Click on a picture to view a bigger version.
Of late, Maya has begun to insist that she wants her milk in the blue milk bottle rather than the yellow one.
“Azul”, she cries, as I reach out for the yellow milk bottle.
“But Maya, the blue bottle is dirty. It still has to be washed”, I say.
“No”, she starts to whine, “Azul”.
The process repeats for every item which we have in blue, exactly two: a blue water glass and a blue bowl. My father was thrilled with the news. Many moons ago, some fortune teller told my dad that blue was his lucky color. He immediately proceeded to paint everything he could blue, as I and my mother shuddered and thanked god that the fortune teller hadn’t picked some more easily off-putting color like pink or purple.
When Maya first began naming the world, I wondered how we would teach her the colors. Pointing at a dog or a ball or a car and naming it was easy. How could we point to the color of the thing ? Intuitively, I felt that naming colors would come after naming the things.
Scientific American carried an article last week about the acquisition of the language of color in humans. Melody Dye, the author of the article and a researcher at the Cognition, Language and Learning Lab at Stanford University, begins with an anecdote on testing a two year old for his color naming competence. She says that most two year olds have difficulty naming their colors, despite their parents’ insistence on their complete mastery (she narrates how the parents of the infants being tested had to be blindfolded because many got aggravated and started helping when their kids failed to be as stellar as they were hailed to be). Children even as old as six continue to have difficulty naming colors correctly, despite training.
Maya can confidently, almost dismissively, identify a dog or a cat or a bird, no matter what shape, color or size the animal is. She can even identify one from cartoons and caricatures. But identifying colors is a lot more difficult because identifying colors has a cultural component: not all cultures identify the colors and its hues the same way. The author quotes how in a Namibian dialect, Himba, their name for a color “zoozu” amalgamates the colors English speakers identify as black, green, blue and purple or how another name, “serandu” does the same for what we would distinguish as red, pink and purple. The linguistic erudites know well how the Russians have not a single name for the color blue but instead use two different words, one for the lighter shades of blue and one for its darker shades (but, apparently vodka is a cure for either shade).
The author of the article also points to the problem I pondered about. Children can learn the names of things quickly because they’re used within a context. Cats and dogs have usually easily distinguishable characteristics (Maya did get confused initially with some small dogs) and so can be called out easily. But colors can’t be called out that easily, at least not until the names of the objects have been mastered first.
The denouement of the article is fascinating, another insight into how language shapes thought. Here is Melody Dye:
“As it happens, English color words may be especially difficult to learn, because in English we throw in a curve ball: we like to use color words “prenominally,” meaning before nouns. So, we’ll often say things like “the red balloon,” instead of using the postnominal construction, “the balloon is red.”
When kids were trained using the postnominal construction, they mastered the color much more quickly.
“What color is the traffic light, Maya”, Shanthala asks.
“Red”, says Maya confidently.
“What does red mean”, I ask.
“Go, go, go!”, Maya shouts exultantly.