We begin every family dinner by holding hands and briefly saying something positive about our day. We do this whether we are eating at home or in the middle of a food court at a local mall. Many of the comments may appear mundane or even silly. Sometimes I’m happy just to be home with my family or eating a favorite food. In other cases, someone makes a remark about their day that then becomes the topic of dinner conversation.
Our family has been doing this for over 25 years, but I can’t remember how or why we started this tradition. I suspect it was somehow related to an incredible sense of gratitude and debt that I have always felt to my parents and others.
For whatever I’ve accomplished in my life, it certainly was not due to my efforts alone. My mom never graduated from high school, and my dad worked seven days a week in a family owned grocery store. They couldn’t offer me any financial support for college, but they gave me something more valuable. Their love and support, along with the help of so many other people, got me through college and many tough times throughout my life. It is only because of the kindness and helpfulness of so many people, particularly teachers, that I’ve been able to pursue my dreams.
My intense sense of gratitude seems so contrary to the spoiled and entitled kids that I see in my office. Structured reflection may help remedy this malaise by focusing attention on our many gifts and provide a balanced sense of perspective on our life. Here’s how this works.
- Make it a habit. Find a time of the day that works for your family. We do this at family meals, but bedtime may work better for younger kids. Do it daily so that it becomes a family tradition.
- Keep it simple. Saying something good that happened that day or naming something for which you are grateful is pretty simple. Accept any positive answer.
- Be a good role model. Be willing to self-disclose to your family, consistent with your children’s level of understanding.
- Talk about stuff afterwards. My experience has been that things mentioned at the beginning of our meal become a topic of dinner conversations. The key word is “conversation,” not interrogations. Be respectful of children’s desire not to talk about certain things. You’ll learn much more about your kids by the mutual sharing of stories and information.
Structured reflection has been researched extensively. This simple technique seems to help people lead lives that are healthier, happier, and more hopeful by helping us become more appreciative of our many gifts.