Having dinner together as a family is one of the simplest things that you can do to build a healthy community at home. Whether you share a meal with one person or twenty, taking time together to reflect on our experiences enhances everything from happiness to wellbeing to career success. At the Horn Family dinner table, which is mostly occupied by two adults and a toddler, we always take a few moments to express our gratitude for something with the hopes that such a routine will make all of us more empathetic and positive towards each other and everyone else, too. Here’s a short story about what I am learning from dinner conversations about gratitude.

Expressing gratitude to my wife – and hearing it from her – is a simple way for us to build our relationship. According to Fulfillment Daily’s Emma Seppala, when couples express gratitude everybody benefits because being grateful feels, well, great and hearing gratitude makes us feel appreciated: “gratitude therefore appears to set in motion a powerful positive feedback loop of appreciation, security, further gratitude and overall relationship satisfaction.”

No offense to my wife or our awesome relationship, but where my real learning happens is when my two year old son opens his mouth.

When Miles expresses his gratitude for things (we framed it as “think of something that you like” for him) everyone smiles. Here is an incomplete list of his responses when we ask him what he’s grateful for:

  • Outside
  • Mommy and Daddy
  • Grilled cheese
  • Trees
  • Water
  • TACOS!!!
  • My home
  • Amma and Grandpa
  • My hat
  • My penis
  • Rockaroni (he means “macaroni”, but “rockaroni” sounds way cooler)
  • Horsies
  • Garbage trucks
  • Dave (a neighbour)
  • Herman (the dog across the hall)
  • Henny (a friend from daycare)
  • Ducks
  • Food

Cultivating generosity in kids is important and one of the ways to raise “givers” is to help them appreciate the world. What I am learning from my son is how to live in the moment and keep things simple. Miles doesn’t have to think very hard before sharing what he’s grateful for. He reacts quickly to the question with the positive experience that is freshest in his mind. Sometimes this means looking up at the two people with whom he’s sharing the meal and smiling with appreciation.

Rather than expressing gratitude on special occasions like Thanksgiving, embedding the practice into nearly every dinner table conversation makes the activity hilarious, awesome and really easy. Miles  keeps things simple – in fact, if I start telling a complicated story about how I’m grateful for a colleagues unique perspective on a particular piece of work he moves on to mom or another guest. I am learning to not over think things and to streamline my thoughts into briefer and brighter sentences. Because biting into a grilled cheese sandwich while I reflect on how trees eat pollution and poop out air makes me feel pretty darn grateful that there are so many in my ‘hood.

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