Shortly after the doors locked shut on another day at the family business, I often wandered up to my dad’s office in search of something, anything, to eat. A seemingly tireless work ethic often meant my dad could be found in his office well past dinnertime. Perhaps he would have something extra left over?
I would approach his desk with caution, so I wouldn’t disrupt the countless piles of paperwork, stacks of boxes full of new product ideas, and knick-knacks scattered about. Desperate for food, I would slowly sink into one of the desk chairs and lazily ask, “What did you bring for dinner?”
A natural salesman and professional small talker, my dad would completely ignore the pressing issue at hand—food. Instead, a simple question would roll off his tongue. “What’s the best thing that happened to you today?” he would ask while peering over his computer. The way he would methodically ask, listen, and express genuine curiosity in my answers is something I reluctantly embraced.
Over the years, I learned to answer “the question” quickly and without too much detail (any sort of protracted answer surely would lead to the sort of conversation I couldn’t end fast enough to satisfy my insatiable hunger). Occasionally, the irresistible urge to give a more thoughtful answer brought on an avalanche of reflective musings and opened a door or two that otherwise may have been slammed shut in the course of our father/son relationship. Answering “the question” in the office each day is a distant memory for me, but as I have transitioned into fatherhood, mentorship, and being an adult (most of the time), I’ve found that the habits of the past are just as purposeful today.
Close your eyes, pause for a moment, and think about the best thing that happened to you today. Say it out loud, even though you aren’t ready.
It’s a safe assumption that you might be thinking, “This isn’t as easy as it should be, what’s wrong with me?” More often than not, the first thing your mind will come up with isn’t the best thing that happened. Our days are filled with news headlines, busy schedules, family issues, business issues, and for people like me, hunger. Through all that occurs in a given day, it isn’t always easy to pinpoint that one thing that you appreciated the most and then recognize it when asked to do so. Really, what is the best thing that happened to you today?
So let’s try this again. Take more than a moment to think about your day and see where your thoughts take you. I promise you, it gets easier with practice and your answers are therapeutic, like a daily workout for your soul. Your mind, body, and spirit need a healthy dose of good stuff to drown out all the distractions we face. Like any healthy habit, once you start, you won’t want to stop.
Years of practice and coming up with answers taught me some very meaningful insights worth sharing on this topic:
- “The question” doesn’t recognize age, gender, or any other demographic factor—it is universal. Young children, grandparents, friends, your spouse, and complete strangers all seem to respond the same. At first, people are a little shaky in their response, but eventually, they are grateful that someone took the time to ask and listen. Start a new tradition in your life; you will not regret taking the time to listen to the answers you receive.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortably chatty. It takes some practice to push through the boundaries we create for ourselves. It is much more comfortable to stay in our own bubble. It’s also easy to fall into habits that don’t involve conversations with others. Remember, life doesn’t usually reward people that can’t change out of their comfy pants and put on a pair of jeans from time to time. Call an old friend, talk to a stranger in line at the grocery store, or share a meal with your family and start talking.
- Many people will respond to you with something terrible that happened today instead. When that happens, listen and then ask them again for the best thing that happened. Repeat until they find something awesome to say, it may take a few tries.
- Put down everything you are doing and pay attention. Humans multitask better than any other known life form. I challenge you to “mono-task”—it is way harder than you think. Be present, be real, and look people in the eye. Your phone will not leave you if you stop glaring at it for a few minutes, so take the time to really connect with people. The rewards are more than worth the effort.
- Be the best thing that happened to someone else today. Your relationships are like bank accounts, so in order to make a withdrawal, you also must put something in. Try to deposit plenty of positivity into the lives of those you know! When someone you love tells you that you are the best thing that happened today, there is no better feeling.
Taking a step back into my past reminded me how important it is to give before any expectations to receive are met. I find it a bit ironic that in my relentless pursuit to satisfy a very basic need (hunger), I often found real fulfillment through sharing. Try something different the next time your needs aren’t being met. Ask away and be ready to listen—the answers you receive may surprise you.
Casey Petz is a leadership coach who moved to Traverse City from metro Detroit to escape big city living and find the time to indulge his love for great food and the great outdoors. This guest post was originally published on Life and Whim.