On the Table: Gratitude

We've been in a bit of a frenzy here lately, getting ready to leave the farm to attend a workshop at Quail Springs.  The trip preparation happens against a background of  wrapping up harvests, processing food, a major woodworking project (the first one with a deadline and a payment), and some serious thoughts and planning about our next move.  At the moment our beloved barnboard kitchen table reflects that chaos: baskets of squash and ripening tomatoes share the space with a DeWalt drill, a bottle of wood glue, the extra-large first-aid box and some pruning shears.  

In the midst of all this end-of-season activity, it seems like a good week to share something a little less tangible that is also at our table for each dinner meal: a ritual we call gratitudes.  Maybe it's the fact that this week started with the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, or that we are headed to spend time with people who inspired the start of this practice in the first place, but it seemed like a good week to explain and share this simple exercise that has become a regular part of our days.   

Each evening when we sit to dinner--even if that is just a quick stop to pick up a slice of pizza while out on errands--we take a moment to each say, out loud, something for which we are grateful. Sometimes the grattitude is one single thing, a clear highlight from the day; sometimes we have a long list, a conversation that continues as we eat. When friends or family join us, it sometimes becomes a series of celebratory toasts.  

Homegrown food and gratitude on the barnboard table.  Photo by Noah.  

Plenty of research shows that expressing gratitude can have powerful benefits on mental health and happiness.  We feel those benefits, of course, but the reasoning is less academic than that: simpler and closer to home.  It feels good to take those moments to be grateful, and the influence extends past that pre-dinner conversation.  I find now that as I cook dinner, while the front of my mind may be focused on gathering and preparing ingredients, another part is gathering and turning over the potential grattitudes for the day.  In that sort of unconscious sifting, seeking the best grattitude for the day, so many other small ones are identified and acknowledged, too.  

The structure of tying this practice to a meal, something that we do every day, helps enforce the ritual even on days where it takes a little work. Because there are some hard days--days where we sit in silence for a long moment feeling the effort of finding that grattitude. More and more I think those might be the days when it is most important to identify, articulate, and feel it.  The ritual is a reminder that there is always something, even on the hardest of days, to be grateful for.  We've worked in regions where a daily dinner is not a certainty for everyone, and no matter how bad things might be, we know that if we sit down to dinner there is that:  we can be grateful for the food. 

We are grateful, this week, for the food that is still, even now, streaming in from the garden: for hundreds of pounds of squash, potatoes, and more piled up in all corners of home, garage, and barn. We are grateful for friends and neighbors who have come to join us at our table with their thoughts, ideas, and offers of help.  As the garden winds down, we are grateful for all we have learned and grown and harvested from it this season.  

This week we invite you to try the practice yourselves, on your own table.  What are you grateful for today?  Feel free to share your gratitudes in the comments here, or aloud to the people you gather with at your table.