Best Things: One Question That Can Make Any Day a Great Day

Marissa, our youngest daughter, was home for the weekend. She’d been at college for over a year and occasionally came home on weekends to see high school friends, do laundry, and sometimes even hang out with Mom and Dad.

On one of those weekends, we managed to coax her to stay for a leisurely Sunday dinner and catch us up on all the latest events in her life. While the food was being dished onto the plates, she blurted out, “Let’s do Best Things! I’ve been missing it like crazy! Dad, you go first. What was your best thing?”

One of our long-time family traditions is called “Best Things.” Over the years, we found that by engaging the family in this little five-step practice, we could do more to affect our kid’s—and our own— outlook on life than just about anything else.

We usually did it at the dinner table and often several times a week. It’s a simple practice and apparently one the kids loved—even if they seemed to resist it at the time.

By asking everybody at the table one simple question, the emotional climate of the day could be completely turned into one of optimism and gratitude. It’s the fastest way I know of to ensure that anybody can have a great day.

Here’s how it works:

  • Step 1: Set the ground rules.

    • Everyone will have a turn being asked one question.
    • The respondent may only answer the specific question being asked.
    • The question my not be altered.
    • There will be one conversation happening at the table.
    • One person speaks, all the others listen.
  • Step 2: Ask the question of the first person.

    Then move around the table asking each one the question:
    “What was the best thing about your day?”
    Or, “What was the best thing that happened to you today?”
  • Step 3: Don’t accept “Nothing” as an answer.

    You’ll probably find that “Nothing” becomes the default answer. The response will invariably go like this, “Nothing good happened today. But, let me tell you about ‘X’. It was awful!”

    When this comes up say, “Oops. Remember, we’ve got to follow the rules. Of all the things that happened today, what was the BEST thing?”
  • Step 4: Persist until you get an answer.

    Know this; we human beings like to wallow in our misery. We like to complain and we like to get sympathy. So, it can be really hard for us to admit that something good actually happened. And there will be days when it truly seems that nothing good happened.

    If you get to a dead end with someone at the table, pull out the secret weapon. Say, “I know, it sounds like you had a pretty lousy day. BUT, if you HAD to find one thing that was best, what would it be?”

    You’re likely to still get resistance. Just keep sounding like a broken record. “I know. I know. But if you HAD to pick out one thing, what would it be?” Or, you can ask, “If you DID have a Best Thing, what would it be?”

    Gently persist. Trust me. It works.

    If you ask this with a bit of humor, the person will usually give in and come up with something. Everyone usually has a good laugh when the person thinks and thinks and FINALLY comes up with the one thing.
  • Step 5: Probe a little deeper.

    Once a “Best Thing” is identified, ask a follow-up question: “What was it about ‘X’ that was so good?” The idea here is to focus more tightly. It’s one of my beliefs that you usually get more of what you focus on. So, let’s be intentional about where we direct our focus.

As parents, we have a window of years when we can dramatically influence our children. Developing a family tradition, like playing “Best Things,” can be one of the most enduring and positive ways we can teach them to experience life.

Even though our children are grown and out of the house, we’ll notice that at birthday dinners, or other family get-togethers, someone will invariably start the table conversation with, “What was your Best Thing today?” It really gets fun when guests are at the table and they have to be asked, “I know, but if you DID have a Best Thing, what would it be?”

And, I have to smile when I catch Michael or myself asking the other this question with no one else around except us. It’s an amazingly powerful question.

As a side note, I’ve also been proudly told by my married daughters, that they are carrying on the tradition with their own kids. What more reward can a parent hope for?

So, give it a try at your house. Let me know how it works out.

Go make it a great day!

P.S. I want to add one more thing. Take a minute and scroll down through the comments until you get to the one left by Marc Ensign. Read what he says. He talks about a similar practice called “Highs and Lows.” I love it. In fact, I might like it better than Best Thing alone. It’s a great lead-up to it. What do you think?

Question: What was your best thing today?

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

32 Responses to “Best Things: One Question That Can Make Any Day a Great Day”

  1. Just stumbled across this post from Michael’s post about perceived scarcity. I love hearing what practices were most effective for families such as yours. Clearly, the “Best Thing” has left a profound impact on generations to come!

    My wife and I do this occasionally and informally with our kids, but it’s time to step it up and make it a daily routine. Thanks for the motivation!

  2. Hi Gail,
    Thank you for sharing this. We also did this in our family as our children grew up. They are all now in their 20′s. It was a great way to learn about their lives and how to pray for them- and also to thank God so much more for how good He is.
    God bless you and your family,
    Teresa Glenn

  3. Awesome, Gail! We do something similar to this at bedtime but I love the idea of taking the extra step of probing a little deeper. It seems now like we rush through it but I think we need to really dig in and maybe look for some more positive things.

  4. LOVE this idea.

    We have three little girls (ages 5, 3, and 3 months). At the beginning of the summer, I typed up a bunch of questions, cut them into slips of paper, and then put them in a glass mason jar.

    My 5-year-old is always super excited when I say, “Let’s get the Question Jar out!”

    Questions include:
    * What is the most cozy room in our house?
    * If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
    * Would would you do if you saw someone making fun of another person?
    * Name your three favorite books of all time.

  5. I remember this quite well! Growing up, on those bad days when your high school boyfriend just broke up with you, those were the hardest days to find the “best thing”. But I can remember so many times, when you and Dad would persist asking us. This also gave you the opportunity to ask follow up questions like, “I know that was difficult, so what was the best thing you LEARNED through this situation?”

    Also, I can remember countless times when one of us would inevitably answer “What was your best thing today?” with “My nap” and you would never let us get away with that answer!…until recently of course now that we are all working and moms!

    Love you dearly!

  6. Great post, Gail! And your new blog home looks great. I have some friends that were roommates in dental school and they used to do the high-low review. As I live alone, my meals are pretty dull. But I shall recommend your question to my friends with spouses and families.

  7. Gail – I’ve tried to do several versions of this over the years, but my guys (including my sweet husband) always respond by making jokes. I’ve never been able to get the real responses I’m looking for. any suggestions?

    • I totally can relate to what you’re talking about. Re-read #3 and #4 plus read Marc Ensign’s comment that should help. I really like the Highs and Lows concept.

      My husband told me that he does the Highs and Lows with his mentoring group each time they meet. It’s been awesome for them. Maybe that would work with your clan.

    • It wasn’t until I saw your comment in my email that I knew who Val was. :-) (You probably thought my comment about “my husband …” was strange.)

      Anyway, I hope what I said helps. Also, be a bit playful about it. See you soon.

  8. You made me laugh as you described how you might have to persist and encourage the kids to find that one great thing.

    We did this when our girls were growing up, and oh, did they make a fuss some days! “Nothing. Nothing good.” Inevitably, we would get out of them what was wrong with their day, and talk about different perspectives, or how it could have gone differently. We’d then go back to high point.

    This past spring when some of my family was visiting, we’d go around the table to do our highs and lows. I was very surprised to find my dad, who is in his seventies, one of the biggest proponents of the activity.

    This is a great idea to get conversation rolling and to get a bead on what is going on in your kid’s lives that they see as highs and lows.

  9. Love your idea – and Marc Ensign’s Low/High comment.

    I can see where it would work for families with kids of all ages, even those who are grown up. Our kids have their own homes now, but I’m going to try this when they come for supper the next time.

    I imagine this idea would also be a great way to reconnect with a spouse – to get to the meat of how they’re feeling and then refocus on the good stuff!

    (Thanks for continuing to blog – your posts encourage me!)

  10. I started doing this years ago during a difficult family transition. By the end of the day, I felt like the whole family had barfed their negativity all over me, to be honest, and I wanted to set a new tone.

    I didn’t set out to create a tradition, but that’s what it became. If we forget, the kids are quick to remind us. You are so right–it can make any day a great day!

  11. This is very cool. I am starting this tonight with my family!

  12. Love it! We do something similar “What is one success from your day?” But I like BEST THINGS better. Subtle but shifts more to gratitude than accomplishment.

  13. Thanks for sharing this Gail. This is very helpful:-)

  14. Even though it’s only 9:15 a.m., I’ve already had a best thing. I talked to my husband on Skype! I love this idea, Gail. I’m going to pass it on to my kids. Even though my oldest grandchild is only 5, it’s never too early to start.

  15. I’ve been pondering ways to get my child’s focus from the not so reputable things. Her influential rate is at its peek since she’s a pre-teen and technology is at the forefront of influencing. I’m glad I keep the lines of communication open at all times. She tells me everything, right down to if she said something she shouldn’t have said to an adult (on rare occasions but it happens).

    With all that said, I like this game and will incorporate it at the dinner table instead of Family Guy (dont shoot me, I know). This is another way for us to bond and not lose that open door I have with her. I’m a single mom and cherish the fact that I have a beautiful relationship with my daughter.

    • Sounds like you’re doing an amazing job and have an amazing daughter! Make hay while the sun is shining! (Also, see Marc’s comment above. He’s added one more great component.)

      • Thanks and yes, she is amazing. Not because she plays the flute or is on the Beta club (I love the Beta Club!), but because she has this aura about her that people love. I can’t quite touch it yet, but I know if I mentor, coach, and nourish her right, she’s going to do some great things. I can feel it :)

  16. I’m happy to see you are blogging and have signed up to follow by email.

    We’ve done our own version of “best things” from time to time. It’s a wonderful way to bring out the positive in each person’s day. Thanks for the reminder. My best wishes to you with your new blog!

  17. Hi Gail! This is awesome, thanks for sharing it! In my family we have been doing “Highs and Lows” at dinner time every night for years. My kids are 8 and 4 and they love it. It’s become a race to see who can start it first.

    It’s very similar:

    “What was your high?” – We share the highlight of our day. The best thing that has happened that day. What happened. Why it was such a high.

    “What was your low?” – We share the most difficult part of our day. I’m not one to focus on the negative, but with smaller kids now in school this became a great way for us to find out what is going on in their lives as kids get more and more secretive. Especially with bullying, clicks and all of that nonsense. It gives our kids a safe place to talk about the things they are struggling with. For our 4 year old it’s usually about not getting a cookie or something but for our 8 year old it’s been quite eye opening what we have learned! We then talk about how we could make it better or see it differently. It’s also showed them that as parents we also have tough situations and it gives the kids an opportunity to help us think through it. It’s a good confidence booster that also helps build confidence for them!

    It’s become a tradition in our family that I couldn’t imagine a day without. Even if I am traveling, I call in for Highs and Lows. It really is a game changer!

    Glad I found this post and could share our little tradition!

    • You know what? I love the idea of the lows first. I can see where you’d get some valuable information as well as give the kids a chance to get it off their chests and guide them through a response. Thanks for passing that along.

  18. Love this post Gail. We often have dinner talk and this is one of the questions we ask, along with, “What did you do today?” I like how you suggest not taking “nothing” as an answer. Our 6 y/o is definitely in that stage right now!

  19. Oh, Gail! I am so happy to see you are blogging again. Your posts were always uplifting. Best thing so far today (is only 7 AM) was riding to work with my husband. I’m taking steroid infusion right now (NOT my best thing) and don’t drive when I’m on the juice. But I find I adore spending the extra time with him in the car as he drives me to work and then meets me at the infusion center to sit with me while I take the meds. Thank you for reminding me to look for a ‘best thing’ during a not-so-fun part of life!

  20. Ummm…this is why one should follow your husband’s encouragement to “proof read” (as a former English teacher, I know this…) While it would be good to ask myself this question when I am “crumbling”, I REALLY meant “grumbling” . Course, I do have my “crumbling” moments.

  21. Good Morning, Gail!

    I think I’m going to start asking MYSELF this question. Frequently…especially when I find myself crumbling or complaining. Here’s something else I’m “thinking on”…what if, in a difficult situation — one in which it looks like there is no best thing — what if I asked myself “but if you had to pick a best thing” and I simply (but genuinely) answered something like “I have a God who is big enough to handle this and He will do things I cannot even begin to imagine”. This just might be life changing :)

    You just might find me sneaking this question in to my family at odd times…(without telling them just what I am doing)…I think this might be a very interesting adventure.
    Have a wonderful week!
    Debbie

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How to stay positive in a negative world. | Matt Tolman - October 2, 2012

    [...] everything. As a family we started a new game, we play at the dinner table called what’s the best thing about your day. I got the idea from Gail [...]

  2. How to stay positive in a negative world. | Matt Tolman - October 2, 2012

    [...] everything. As a family we started a new game, we play at the dinner table called what’s the best thing about your day. I got the idea from Gail [...]

Leave a Reply