What a Sunday night dinner routine taught me about gratitude

As far back as I can remember, Sunday dinners at my house were a big deal. My mother was the guest of honor. 6pm sharp. Table set. Family dinner before 60 Minutes aired on CBS. Mandatory attendance. The best thing of all was my mom’s insistence that the kids clear the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher — even as far back as elementary school. This weekly family dinner included saying Grace followed by a question that all were required to answer.

“What was the best thing that happened to you this past week?”

On those Sunday evenings, I got a window into the previous week of my three bundles of joy. I worked full time so the weeks were rushed and busy with talks (and some fights) about homework, lacrosse practice and a mean kid at school.

How lucky was I on Sunday evenings to have the opportunity to learn more about what was going on with my kids when most days I couldn’t crack the code in the rush of a single motherhood.

My mom’s Sunday night question gave my kids the opportunity to share and recognize a good in their life. This simple gratitude practice had such an impact on my happiness as a mother.

I started my own formal gratitude practice more recently and reluctantly after I was diagnosed with cancer. Reluctant was an understatement. It seemed just a bunch of woo woo sh#t.

I had heard that writing daily what you are grateful had proven impact on the soul, happiness and productivity. And then the nudging from my Instagram scroll full of voices of those I followed in the personal development space, who offered the life changing results after following a gratitude practice. So when Brene Brown’s shared research that found when we practice gratitude we are more joyful, I said why not me.

What would it cost me but a few minutes of time. The suggested gains of happiness, joy and productivity far outweighed the cost. Right? If the power of thankful words written on paper have the ability to reframe our perspective on our lives and our problems, why wouldn’t I dive in quickly without hesitation?

Joy. I wanted some of that. And, if it could provide just a bit of comfort during this trying season of cancer treatment, why wouldn’t I dive in?

But I dove in. I picked up a journal that was a gift from my husband after I was exiled from my CRO job in NYC. He knew I was down and needed a lift. The title of the journal: It’s Gonna Be Okay. An Inner Truth Journal. On the cover is a long paragraph that says this journal will reassure myself when I’m overwhelmed by the creeping sense of impending disaster and the all-encompassing fears that there will be happiness. This journal was the perfect place to share my gratitude when I was overwhelmed and fearful of what was next.

I look back at those first days of my gratitude writing. I wrote the expected. Grateful for family, children, husband, friends. But as the pages turn and the days move forward, I read about deep love, stories to remember, hope for the future and possibilities in front of me.

With each day’s writing, there is far more depth to my gratitude. Instead of the expected ‘I love my kids,’ the number of things I wrote not only began to grow, but my statements of thanks started to grow into full sentences and even expressive paragraphs. I wasn’t just grateful for my son Teddy, I was so incredibly proud of his ability to see me deeply and provide incredible wisdom far beyond his age.

Writing about what I was grateful for became easy. It has become something I look forward to it each morning. And when I skip a day or a weekend, I’m so excited to catch up. Yes, I said it became easy and it has brought me calmness, clarity and focus.

I now fully believe that practicing gratitude is an invitation to bring joy into our lives.

‘Oh come on Mom!’ While still met with some resistance, a tradition no less was established years ago with my mom, and continues today when we sit around the dinner table as a family.

Spend some time recognizing traditions that have brought you joy, particularly on those days when it feels like you are climbing the highest mountain. Look for joy in the everyday. And if you are so inclined to change your life and experience more joy, it’s as simple as creating a daily gratitude practice.

What’s stopping you?