One school holidays I organized a trip to an artificial limb factory to help my children grow in knowledge, compassion, empathy and be thankful for all they have received. I rang to make a booking. The gentleman on the phone politely asked if a family member was an amputee. “No”, I replied. “I just thought it would be interesting and educational for my children to see how artificial limbs were made”.
When we arrived we were greeted warmly and directed down the corridor toward the glassed-in museum. With hands and noses pressed up against the window-panes the children were guided through the history of incredible advances in the making of prosthetic limbs.
As interesting as this was they were even more intrigued by what happened next. An elderly gentleman with long grey trousers approached them and asked whether they could pick which one of his legs was artificial? He paraded up and down the hallway like a fashion model on a catwalk. The bets were as even as his gait. He was brilliant and funny – we just couldn’t tell which leg was artificial.
After much discussion the correct trouser leg was lifted to reveal the prosthesis and the winners declared. We thanked him and walked on. Eventually we came to a plaster room where a little girl was having a prosthesis fitted. She was laughing as she joked with the technician.
My kids went quiet. They didn’t know how to respond. My seven-year-old son was a little confused by what he saw in the plaster room that day. On our way home he asked…
“Mummy, why was that little girl laughing when she only had half a foot?” I explained…“You don’t need a whole foot to be happy, son. Happiness comes from deep within, when we try to live a good life, be contented with who we are and grateful for the many blessings we have received”.
The videos below remind me of the determination and resilience of this little girl, her self compassion and the compassion her friends showed her. My children learned a lot about compassion that day. Here are some exercises designed to increase your level of compassion developed by Dr Paul Gilbert based on his compassion-focussed theory.
The children also learned to be more grateful. Gratitude is having a deep sense of thankfulness to God, others and self. Gratefulness is one of the many virtues that can be learned and developed as we grow older in order to live a good life. The ‘good life’, according to Aristotle, is to have meaning and purpose otherwise we can act aimlessly.
In a world of human and material achievement it is easy to be overcome by anxiety, self-comparisons, and become emotionally and spiritually vulnerable. Children as well as adults need to be mindful of what is going on around them and what they are doing. Teaching mindfulness to children improves spirituality, strengthens character and overall wellbeing – all necessary for living a meaningful life. To find out more about your character strengths and weaknesses, complete the VIA Adult Survey.
To live a meaningful life rich in authentic happiness, positive psychologist Martin Seligman recommends we strive to have positive emotions (P), become fully engaged in life and work (E), have positive relationships (R), a depth of meaning and purpose (M) and experience a sense of achievement (A). This is explained in his well-being PERMA Profiler Model.
Visiting the artificial limb factory that day gave all of us a deeper understanding of what is meant by having meaning and purpose in life.