I used to prompt my relatives to say what they were thankful for before the Thanksgiving turkey was carved.
Holding the bird hostage for some words of gratitude really embodies the holiday spirit, doesn't it? Understandably, the answers became repetitive by the time we made it around the room. Surprise: Everyone is thankful for family, food, good health, friends and shelter.
Those are the things for which we cannot be thankful enough -- especially when the news is filled with images of refugee families fleeing war and persecution. We should find a moment every day of our lives to feel blessed for having our physical and emotional needs met. Along with finding a sense of purpose, these are fundamental to our understanding of a good life.
A recent New York Times op-ed by Arthur C. Brooks broke down the science of gratitude and why it makes us happier. In it, he suggested we practice gratefulness for "useless" things, as well. It's easy to recognize the Big Blessings, but the truly happy people find ways to be grateful for the insignificant and inconsequential.
When times seem darkest, it might be even more important to recognize and appreciate the little things. These are the things that can get lost in the midst of larger despair.
I took his advice to heart.
Instead of trying to extort gratitude at a contrived moment, I asked my children and husband to share the small, weird things they appreciate in their lives. Their answers were amusing, but also revealed something deeper about what they value.
My 10-year-old son said he was thankful for gravity because "we would be on the ceiling right now without it, and it would be really uncomfortable." He mentioned planet Earth, heaters, comforters and a cozy bed. Clearly, a child who appreciates comfort.
He's also grateful for batteries -- the lifeblood to his video games -- and for the comics, specifically "Pearls Before Swine" and "Mark Trail." That the daily newspaper is a morning ritual for him is a large joy for me.
His 13-year-old sister rattled off a surprisingly long list, considering that she has that teenage air of chronic dissatisfaction about her so often.
She mentioned ponytail holders, the band Twenty One Pilots, phone chargers, digital clocks, Sharpies that are better for drawing than regular markers, gelatin-free marshmallows and the unicorn emoji. "It's aesthetically pleasing," she explained. I know she's also rather fond of snarky Internet memes.
She added that she's grateful for words in the English language that sound funny, like "disgruntled." To hear her include words among the things she's grateful for provoked an even greater sense of gratitude in me.
I didn't think my husband of 15 years would note anything surprising to me, since we know one another pretty well by this point.
I could have guessed that imported loose tea and turntables (for his hundreds of LPs) would be on his list. But I didn't expect to hear that he was grateful for credit card machines at the gas pump and online banking. I'm starting to see the genetic connection to our child who appreciates convenience.
He added that he's at the age where he's thankful for "oldies" radio station, because they play songs from the '70s -- the music of his youth.
Good thing I'm much younger, I thought. (Not that much.)
My own list may have also been predictable. I'm grateful for GPS apps, so I'm lost less often. I appreciate that yoga pants have become acceptable to wear just about anywhere.
The mild fall temperatures and vibrant fall colors make me unreasonably happy.
I also have a fondness for emojis, the hearts and hearts-as-eyes smiley face, in particular. They add an element of warmth to the cold brevity of shorthand communication.
Speaking of phones, I'm grateful for grandfather clauses on unlimited data plans.
I'd be lying if I left off my hometown Cardinals.
Every day, I'm grateful for the prose of the writers I've read.
Whenever I sit down to write, I'm infinitely grateful for readers.
I realized from the commonalities in our lists that convenience is time saved. We appreciate technology that aids connection and communication.
We need music, art, words, entertainment to feel fully engaged.
Sometime in the next few weeks, find a moment to ask yourself and your loved ones about the unconventional things you're all grateful for. See if you learn anything new about each other.
You might find that the small things aren't so inconsequential after all.