Generally, dinner time at my house is pretty relaxed and casual.
For the first several years of my relationship with my partner Davin, our evening dinner routine didn’t vary much. After picking up or making dinner, we would sit down on our well-worn brown leather couch, he’d say a brief prayer, and we’d dig in.
We’d chat briefly about our days and turn on the TV to watch a show. This is one of our favorite ways to decompress.
About a year ago, I started feeling like something was missing. Our days were busy and I knew a lot was happening in both of our lives, but we weren’t really connecting.
I thought about requesting we stop watching television and talk to each other, but I actually really enjoyed the hour of TV.
Then it hit me: Davin was saying thanks to God for the meal, which was great, but I realized that we could also say thanks to each other!
The next night we sat down for dinner and I said that I’d like to try a different way of saying thanks. He looked confused, but replied with a tentative, “okay…” I said, “I’m going to tell you something that I’m thankful for about you, and then I’d like you to tell me something that you’re thankful for about me. Let’s hold hands and look at each other.” He looked at me like I was crazy, but played along.
Michelle: Thanks for coming home for dinner.
Davin: Umm…Thanks for cooking dinner. It looks delicious.
Michelle: Thanks for encouraging me to go to the gym this morning. I feel great!
Davin: Thank you for taking care of Diego. (our dog)
Michelle: Thanks for saying thanks 🙂
Davin: This was cool, thanks for having us do this 🙂
Then he said a brief thank you to God and I expressed thanks for everyone and everything that helped make our meal possible – from the farmers, truck drivers, grocery store clerks, my car, the electricity – it felt so good!
That was over a year ago, and we love the practice so much we do it almost every night. We say thanks at home and in restaurants. It’s fast, free, and a great way for us to connect with each other.
I admit that some days it’s harder than others (especially if we’ve gotten into a disagreement) but it’s always worth the effort. It turns out that there is scientific evidence that expressing gratitude can strengthen relationships.
Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington has been researching marriages for almost 25 years and has found that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative encounters (5:1 or greater), it’s likely the marriage will end.
In under three minutes of observation he can predict which marriages are likely to flourish and which are likely to flounder with 90% accuracy. The formula is that for every negative expression (a complaint, frown, put-down, expression of anger), there needs to be about five positive ones (smiles, compliments, laughter, expressions of appreciation and gratitude).
Saying thanks before a meal is an easy way to boost appreciation and that 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions.
Some days I may only find one or two things thank Davin for, and other days I can find five or six, (maybe more). In my experience, it’s always possible to find one thing to be grateful for, and that’s all it really takes.
The side effects of gratitude, in general, are plenty.
Dr. Robert A. Emmons at the University of California at Davis conducted a study on gratitude and found that people who practiced gratitude felt more positive toward others and their lives in general. They reported greater satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more optimism about the upcoming week, and felt considerably more connected with others than did participants in the control group.
When we cultivate an attitude of gratitude, life doesn’t just feel better — it actually gets better. Gratitude makes us happier, and that has a positive ripple effect on all aspects of our life. Dr. Sonya Lyubomirsky, a research professor at the University of California at Riverside, has proven that happier people have higher incomes, are more productive, have more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, more activity, energy, and flow, better physical health (e.g., a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain) and even longer life. Who doesn’t want that?
Saying thanks before a meal is great for couples, families, or friends and I encourage everyone to give it a try.
There are no rules, so do what feels best for you.
The next time you share a meal with someone who isn’t familiar with this way of giving thanks, you can let them know something specific you appreciate about them without any expectation that they will reciprocate. Just know it will feel great for you and just might make their day.
Originally published at michellemccormickcoaching.com