Joco Diversions

Emily Parnell — Sharing the good and bad around the table

Have you ever said, “That’s the best thing that’s happened all week?” I say it all the time, often to something relatively unremarkable. Maybe a comment struck me as particularly funny, or my favorite shampoo was on sale for 50 percent off. Sometimes a compliment earns the No. 1 ranking for the week — a warm fuzzy that makes me smile each time I think about it.

The best thing that happened to me this week, so far, is that a neighbor helped me catch our beagles after they escaped the back yard and embarked on a neighborhood safari. While they explored uncharted (or at least unmowed) territory and marveled at suburban wildlife, I operated a search and rescue from my car, mainly worried they would run into the road and get hit. I finally spotted them. A neighbor had one of them by the collar and was calling the number on his tags. I was hugely relieved and felt quite lucky.

At the end of the story, my dogs are sitting here beside me, just like they were before they ran away. If you take away the panicky search, you have a non-event. Many times the “good” things that happen are simply an absence of the bad that might have been. Especially when all is left to chance.

Sometimes at dinner, our family plays the “worst and best” game, which is really just a conversation starter and helps us get in touch with each other. We take turns around the table, each of us telling the worst thing that happened to us all day. Sometimes we discuss our unpleasant moments in detail, other times it’s just a mention. Occasionally, we’ll all hone in on the same event — usually some sort of parent-child disagreement — as the worst part of our day.

It’s important to complete the next part of the activity, because after dwelling on our least favorite moments of the day, moods can sour. So we follow up by everyone sharing the very best thing that happened to us through the day. The good things are often a result of our efforts. A good grade on a test, a pat on the back for work well done, a project completed. The good things usually take work.

I love this dinnertime conversation activity because it helps me know what’s important to my husband and our kids, and gives us all a chance to think about our accomplishments.

It goes without saying that none of us asks for bad things. A snub at recess, a mistake at work, bumping a toe — these are not things we plan. They can be the result of haste or inattention, but bad things can also just fall out of the sky, results of the law of chaos.

Don’t do this exercise, it’s useless, but if you were to list all the potentially bad things that could happen to you today, that list would be endless. Turn on the news if you don’t have any ideas.

However, if you make a list of all the amazingly good things that could happen to you, I’m guessing it would be much shorter. My “potential good” list is shorter, and I’m an altruistic optimist. A glass half-full girl. My glasses are rosy pink.

Unless we reach out and make good things happen, they probably won’t. Sitting back and waiting doesn’t invite the “wow” moments. Random events will provide us pitfalls as well as chances. But it’s up to us to grab those chances. You can’t play music if you don’t learn your instrument. You won’t win the contest if you don’t enter. Nobody will offer you the job if you haven’t even applied. You won’t know if you just met Mr. Right unless you say “hi.”

If you’re like me, the status quo feels good. Life’s normal little perks are, for the most part, enough. But sometimes, don’t you just want to reach out and invite something amazing to happen? Gather up your courage! Make it happen.