There are so many things to be grateful for every day, but it’s still easy to pass over the small blessings and take our good fortune for granted. That’s the idea behind cultivating gratefulness. It’s about taking a few moments every day to appreciate what we have.
When we started this dinner-time practice of expressing daily gratitude over a year ago, I wasn’t sure how the kids would react. What I did know was that only good could come from ritualizing our meal-time and from verbalizing our thanks on a daily basis.
Dinner Time Ritual
Gratefulness, as the practice is lovingly termed at our house, has been an overwhelming success – so here I share our somewhat unconventional take on Grace.
The routine goes like this:
- Dish up.
- Dig in.
- While enjoying the meal, go around the table and share:
- Our Gratefulness for the day
- Our Good Wishes for the day
Not only does this expression of gratitude focus our energy on the good in life, it allows for recognition of forces greater than ourselves in a way that is inclusive of the sort-of-secular-religious mish-mash that is our large family. Regardless of who’s at the table, they can contribute comfortably to this offering of thanks. Gratefulness is also innately participative, which makes it popular in a house full of little people, who all want their turn to be heard. I imagine that in a house full of teenagers who are less keen to share, it may be less popular, but it would be just as important! The thoughts that are expressed during Gratefulness often offer insight into our children’s days and form the basis for subsequent dinner time conversation.
The second part of the gratefulness ritual is the expression of “good wishes.” Each person at the table sends out a good wish, which provides the opportunity to focus positive energy on friends, family or forces that need it and also reinforces our relative good fortune. Perception is relative, and when we spend a few moments recognizing the challenges that others are facing, it helps to maintain perspective about the hiccups in daily life. Further to that, sending out positive energy to those that need it keeps those people or causes fresh in our mind and increases the likelihood that we’ll make time to assist in a more hands-on kind of way.
What are we Grateful For
Surprisingly, this simple expression of gratitude can feel like a daunting task when first establishing the routine. To help you on your path, here are a few favorites at our house:
Family. Every night our daughter is grateful for family and every night she looks at her big brother with such love when she stating this that it almost makes up for her biting him moments earlier. Almost.
Kids. At some point nearly every day I feel I might strangle my perfect little darlings. But at gratefulness, we recognize our special kids, their special moments, special behaviors and special skills.
Food. Dinner is my husband’s go-to gratitude – especially when it’s not burnt! Lunch is less often remembered, but it’s nice when our school-age son recognizes our lunch-packing efforts. Farmers, the garden, pantries full of food and pies with perfect flaky crusts are also popular!
Nature. The sun shining. The rain watering the plants. The rain taking a break. The trees making oxygen. The bees pollinating flowers. The flowers making the yard pretty. The fruits and vegetables growing. The leaves changing color. The birds building a nest in the bird house. The bear and cub we saw near the river.
Sports. Scoring a soccer. Scoring at hockey. Scoring at baseball. The Canucks scoring at hockey. The Whitecaps scoring at soccer. The Canadians scoring at baseball. There’s a pattern here.
Health. Good Health. Health care. Health care professionals. Rest. More rest. Leisure activities. Laughter.
Employment. Employment one enjoys. Problems being solved. Challenges being met. Bills being paid. Necessities being acquired. Special purchases being made.
School. Great teachers. Great administrators. Great Programs. Great friends. Favorite subjects. Lessons learned. Lessons mastered.
Mixed in with these stables are always small pleasures that might otherwise be passed over: the baby sleeping, the pass I got in the soccer game, the special time doing art today, the treat my friend shared with me, the cucumbers growing in the garden, the cuddle from the dog, raspberries, grandpa, patience.
More Expressions of Gratitude: Waldorf Inspiration
The Waldorf method of learning is a great resource for families seeking to create their own rituals for meal-time gratitude’s. In Waldorf methodology, meal-time reverance is a key component to teaching children an appreciation for the natural world, for the food they eat and for themselves and their communities. Founded in Germany in 1919 by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf schools arose from the widespread search for new values after World War I.
According to Waldorf experts, a candle on the table is key to making the meal a special time. The candle is to be lit at the beginning of the meal and it’s snuffing marks the end of the meal. We’ve adopted this practice for special celebration meals and our daughter adores this ritual at her daycare. Waldorf also provides beautiful verse that can be incorporated into meal time expressions of gratitude. One of our favorites goes like this:
Blessings on the blossoms
Blessings on the roots
Blessings on the leaves and stems
Blessings on the fruit
Blessings on our meal and on everyone here and dear!
The Many Benefits of Gratitude
In addition to the obvious benefits of cultivating a sense of gratitude within yourself and your family, the practice of meal-time gratefulness has other benefits, including:
- A forced slow-down to the meal, that feels organic instead of imposed.
- A chance to speak and be heard. Conversely, an opportunity to listen to one’s siblings/children/parents, whether one really wants to or not.
- A reverence for food is established that feeds into a deep appreciation for the earth.
There aren’t many practices that can be so easily integrated into daily routine, at no cost, with such a powerful list of benefits.
However you’re family chooses to give thanks, share gratitude or bless a meal – the benefits of “gratefulness” are plentiful. Perhaps best of all are the surprising, insightful and often humorous things my kids have expressed their gratitude for, like this beauty courtesy of my three year old daughter “I’m grateful for my cat. She’s soft. And I love her. And I’m grateful that even though she’s dead she’s in the garden. I miss her.” Didn’t see that one coming and probably wouldn’t have known that she thought about our cat who passed away over a year earlier without this daily practice.
If you have a daily gratitude practice, leave a comment and let us know what the greatest benefit is to you and to the kids? What surprises have they shared while giving thanks?