Actually, my daughter is not technically a teenager. At 11 and a half, she is classed as a 'tween'; that awkward, in between stage that all would-be teens must endure, when they oscillate (quite violently sometimes) between the sweet little child they were and the attitudinal angst-fest that they will become.
And, this is when I caught her. We were in Starbucks, chilling out over a warming hot chocolate and whiling away the time until my oldest was ready for collection from violin. Glancing up from my drink, I noticed her hunched over her phone, thumb-typing away, tongue poking out between her lips in concentration. With the battle-weary fear that every parent encounters when challenging their teen (or nearly-teen), I casually asked what she was doing. She looked up warily, clearly embarrassed at having been caught. 'I'm adding to my List, Mummy', she answered.
What list would that be, I wondered. A list of pop stars she wanted to follow on the still-out-of-bounds-to-her Twitter? A list of more local boys with a ranking of their physical attributes? A list of neighbourhood drug-dealers?
No, it was, explained Elisha a little bashfully, 'A List of Things To Appreciate In My Life.' Startled, I leaned across and could only gaze in awe at what my 11 ½ year old had been up to. Whilst I had been busy texting friends, checking my Facebook status and counting my Twitter followers, Elisha had been carefully typing 'hot chocolate with mummy' onto her ever-growing 'Things To Appreciate In Life' list.
Humbled, I asked what else was on her list. It read: Family, Health, House, Bed, School, Cars, Trees, Roads, Shops, Cafes, Food, Water, Swimming, Holidays, Cutlery, Money and Grass.
It dawned on me that Elisha's Things To Appreciate List is actually the path to contentment for us all. Taking the time to enjoy the small stuff (yes, even grass and trees), to notice and relish even the most basic of what we have (a bed, water) and to fully savour the special times (holidays, cafes) is surely the route to happiness. I noted that Elisha does not have a counter list of Things I Don't Have but only a list of what she does have. Focusing on what we have, not what we don't - this is surely the secret to a happy life.
As a Psychologist, I often advise depressed clients to list things that give them joy and make them happy. Depression seems to be the plague of the modern world and part of the reason could be that we are so much more aware of what we are lacking today - whether that be material possessions, friendships, personal attributes or 'success'. The outside world is so often pushed into our faces by the media and by social networking so comparing ourselves to others is an almost constant, unconscious activity. It is easy to focus only on what we don't have that everyone else seems to, instead of what we do have.
If we take the time, most of us can identify even the smallest things that might bring us some pleasure in life; a bird's chorus, a glimpse of sunshine, a stroll in the park, freshly brewed coffee and yes, even the joy of using cutlery (imagine not having any??). When depressed clients start making their lists, it's amazing how many things they find they can come up with. And the more they come up with, the better life seems to become.....
You don't have to be depressed to benefit from appreciating life. The road to happiness is within the grasp of all of us. Start your list and, taking Elisha's advice, add three things to it each day. It could change your life.
What will be on your list?