Sam Rabon and her sons Hudson, left, and Winston, eat at Kismet Rotisserie. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
Valencia High School

Mindfulness Matters: How spending one hour a day changed my life

Mindfulness Matters is a column by Vivian Wang that highlights the simple ways that she maintains mindfulness and self-care through the treacherous, life-changing journey of high school. In this week’s article, Wang discusses her daily family dinner.

Of the 1,440 minutes in a day, an average high schooler at my school spends almost just as much time locked in their bedroom completing their homework compared to the amount of time that they designate for sleep. This same high schooler who is so occupied with their homework on the average probably spends less than 40 minutes out of the 1,440 minutes of their day with their family on a daily basis.

When life is moving so quickly with homework, school, athletics, work, and extracurriculars, families tend to sacrifice quality bonding time over additional time to work on all their ongoing tasks.

According to Ben Runner from Study Finds, a survey concluded that a typical American spends only 37 minutes with their families on most weekdays.

Countless teens are so attached to their phones to the extent where a one-hour family dinner seems dreadful when interpersonal dialogue and genuine human connection is involved in a meal. An unspoken rule within our family is that all phones belong upstairs, as far away from our dining table as possible. Dinner time is more than just palatable food on the table. My favorite part of the day is dinner time, a time when we all agree to practice mindfulness, compassion, togetherness, and love.

Over eight years ago when I was in third grade, we began focusing our dinners on a concept called “Three Things,” which was translated from Mandarin, meaning “San Jian Shi.”

A routine dinner transcends beyond its purpose as we have taken this valuable time to learn more about each other’s day, whether it be the happy moments, frustrating events, or stressful deadlines coming up. There are three children in my family, with me as the middle child. We each get to share the spotlight during dinner as we share the “three things” of our day.

We each take turns talking about one highlight of our day and these highlights spark conversation relating to the topic. These highlights can be anything, ranging from meeting a new friend to finding out about Disneyland’s new ride coming out soon.

Within this simple concept, we have discovered that dinner time is such a valuable aspect of our daily lives that we would never give up.

“Three things” has brought our family closer together. We understand when someone is going through a rough week; we are also here to celebrate each other’s success (by treating ourselves to a large scoop of ice cream that really should count as two scoops but we are simply too excited for each other’s daily accomplishments).

My family and I embrace all of our accomplishments during “three things,” whether it be big or small accomplishments.

Accomplishments span beyond academic accomplishments. My family and I applaud accomplishments pertaining to self-care and mental health.

Encouraging each other that uninterrupted quality rest is important and that we need eight hours of sleep each day and following through with this goal is an accomplishment in itself. Remembering that mindfulness matters and being here as a loving, supportive family through the chaos of school and life is an accomplishment. We share these accomplishments during dinner and although they seem like simple tasks, we always celebrate these moments.

A few of my colleagues have shared with me how much they would like to have daily family dinners. They shared with me that their family rarely eats dinner together and that eating dinner together is considered an anomaly. Even when they do enjoy a meal together, they find themselves scrolling on their phone or texting their friends while at the dinner table.

I observe similar scenes when we dine out at restaurants; most family members are so devoted to their phones instead of engaging in a light-hearted conversation with the people right in front of them.

I never realized how much I took our family dinners for granted, especially when there’s never a dull moment at the dinner table because there’s just so much to talk about from the 1,440 minutes of my day.

As a family, we have discovered that “three things” is so potent in that it alleviates me and my family from the stress within our life as we wind down and disconnect from our phones and homework to spend our precious family time together.

Through the rigor of the International Baccalaureate program in high school, I find that there are sometimes stressful nights and so my family always reminds me that my physical and mental health comes first.

In the first half of my junior year, I was putting too much pressure on myself to try to juggle too many things at once. As a journalist fanatic, community service enthusiast, and STEM geek, I found myself spending more time in these extracurriculars compared to the time spent with my uplifting family.

There were moments when I wanted to skip family dinners since I could probably use an additional hour for my schoolwork or extracurricular activities. I would think to myself, “In one hour, I can finish studying for my calculus quiz tomorrow” or “I can sleep one hour earlier if I ask to skip family dinner”.

I never realized how powerful our family dinner was. Since I was so busy on a daily basis in the first semester of junior year, I felt that I was not truly present during our family dinners. I wanted to push away family dinners but I realized that being part of the family dinners was what supported me during these stressful moments.

Soon enough, I realized that family dinners were my de-stressors and that these family dinners helped me as my family guided me through my stressful moments.

It’s been eight years since we first began “Three Things.” Writing this article today was definitely the highlight of my day — it looks like I’ll be talking about it tonight at the dinner table.