|Two of my thankful things|
There are myriad studies indicating that expressing gratitude is good for your health. Being thankful, they say, leads to better sleep, better mood, better physical and mental fitness. It seems logical that appreciating what you have will make you happier than lamenting what you don’t.
Still, in the regularity of daily routine, I often find myself taking many things for granted: food on the table at each meal, a warm house, a car that starts when I want it to, a really spectacular view from my window. For my children, who have known all these things for all of their lives, taking for granted is natural. And so, some time ago, in an effort to ease the taking-for-grantedness of our lives, we started a nightly ritual of sharing our “thankful things” around the dinner table.
When I was a kid, my family said grace each evening before picking up our forks. My brothers and I each had our own little prayer, memorized at a young age and repeated each dinnertime by rote, without a whole lot of feeling. (Well, except the night the local priest came to dinner, and my younger brother gleefully recited, “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub.” My mother was horrified, until the benevolent guest of honor piped up, “You forgot to say, ‘Yea, God’ at the end.”)
Saying our thankful things seems more introspective, as each person’s “things” change from day to day, depending on what has recently happened, what kind of mood we’re all in, and whether there’s some longed for event coming up. Often the kids give similar answers. “I’m thankful for my whole family,” is a common one. Being thankful for our good food is another regular, especially when a favorite meal is on the table.
The children regularly express thankfulness for some event from the day – playing with a certain friend during school recess, scoring a goal in a soccer game, spotting a particularly interesting animal munching apples in our field. Anticipation is also a common thankful topic, as we look forward to a trip or vacation, a holiday or birthday, a visit from far-away friends or cousins.
Our thankful things turn out to be more experiential than tangible, materialistic items. Events and people (and pets) are mentioned often. Toys, clothes, and other “stuff” rarely make the list.
Sometimes, one of the kids, in a sulky mood, will claim, “I am not thankful for anything.” But the rule is each person has to share two thankful things – has to stop and think about two good things he or she appreciates right then and there. Sometimes the list extends far beyond the required minimum. Often, our thankful things are conversation starters, and it can take half the meal to get through everyone’s turn.
Sharing thankful things with my children has crept into my thinking beyond the dinner table. Sure, I still find myself in the occasional foul mood. I get annoyed at bad drivers and mean people, faulty technology and the perpetual need to do laundry. But when I stop to think about all of the things for which I am thankful, the list is overwhelmingly long.
Many of my thankful things are mundane necessities, which I am beyond grateful to have. Many are there for the taking – and the giving thanks – if only I pause for a moment and look around me.
I am thankful for a home that is not always (ok, hardly ever) clean and has leaky windows and faltering appliances, but is filled with love and the happy chaos of raising children. I am thankful for each of those children – for so many reasons – and for a husband who works ridiculously hard and adores his family. I am thankful for a schedule that, although it sometimes seems unruly, allows me to both be with my children for much of the day and do work that I love.
I am thankful for being born where I was and for living where I do and for all the places in which I have traveled and lived. I am thankful that my children are growing up within shouting distance of all four grandparents. I am thankful for friends near and far.
I am thankful that my children notice the brightness of the stars, the fullness of the moon, and the beauty of a sunrise and the late day glow on the mountains of home. I am thankful that when we sit down together each evening and reflect on the day just passed and the ones to come, there are many thankful things to be shared.
Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings from a full life. This essay also appears in the November 21, 2013 edition of the Littleton Record as Meghan's CLOSE TO HOME column.