Giving Thanks at the ‘Gratitude Table’
This fall was grueling for my family. My job suddenly became much more demanding and my hours increased. Both our kids had major transitions, with my 5-year-old starting a new school and my 3-year-old a new classroom. My husband had a significant injury which sidelined him for over a month, and we had just gotten a puppy because sometimes we like to punch ourselves in the face for fun.
None of these events were a tragedy in and of themselves, but I noticed in my own day-to-day talking that I was focusing my thoughts too often on the negatives these changes were bringing. The kids were reflecting that in small ways too. We had so much to be thankful for everyday. I knew that. I was just doing a poor job being mindful of it in between the busyness of daily life.
I am a big fan of giving thanks. In fact, the daily act of reflecting on what we have to be grateful for is a superfood for our emotional and physical well being, with benefits ranging from sleeping better and being less stressed to being more empathetic and less likely to act aggressively (University of Kentucky, 2012). I’d read about gratitude journals as a practice—basically you write down what you are grateful for everyday—and liked the concept. But journals (and every other paper product) in our house often end up covered in stickers and Hello, Kitty! doodles. And while a journal is a great individual practice, I didn’t want to just recalibrate myself. I wanted to do it as a family. However, a group journaling project sounded like a recipe for epic Pinterest-esque failure, and I try to avoid those. So instead, we created our own practice. My 5-year-old later dubbed it “the gratitude table.”
The gratitude table doesn’t actually require a table, though we started it at dinner, hence it’s name. The basic premise? Take turns going around the dinner table saying something you are grateful for. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
For us, the answers always start with the basics. We are grateful for each other. Our new puppy gets a lot of gratitude, (our poor cat scrapes by), and friends, family, and teachers each get their turn. We talk about specific moments too, not just people. Like when we bit into an apple that day and it tasted so sweet, or we found a pair of clean matching socks (no small feat in our house), or when we told a joke and somebody laughed. We also focus on the very things that are hard and refocus to see the positive. We’re grateful that my husband’s injury wasn’t worse, or that by starting a new school you can make new friends, or that the puppy only ate two shoes and peed on the rug once today. Progress!
Almost immediately, I saw the difference in all of us, and I was amazed by how much my children loved to play it. It quickly usurped I-Spy as the game-du-jour in car rides and restaurants, while we put on pajamas or splash in the bath. But the best part, for me, is that the kids really began to understand and embrace the joy, and nuance, of giving and receiving thanks for every part of their day. And my husband and I got our much needed refresher course on the same.
For us, since beginning to give thanks at the gratitude table, while not much of our circumstances have changed, our attention has, and that is something to be truly grateful for.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy is a freelance writer and digital communications specialist who has lived in Western Massachusetts for the last ten years. The mother of two young daughters, Amy is a frequenter of coffee shops and bookstores, and an avid hiker. She is a long-time student of mindfulness meditation, and loves nothing more than a good friend, a good book, or a good nap.