An Exercise in Thanksgiving

Step 1. For one week try to be aware of your tendency to criticize, to see what is missing, to focus on what is not there and comment on it. Try instead to focus on what is right. Notice what you have and what others contribute. Search for things to praise. Begin with simple things. Praise the world. Appreciate your own breathing, the sunrise, the beauty of a work rainstorm, the wonder in your child’s eyes. Utter some silent words of thanksgiving (to no one in particular) for these small wonders in your day. This will begin to change your focus on the negative.

Step 2. Give at least one genuine, heartfelt praise to your spouse each day for an entire week. Notice the effects of this exercise on your partner and yourself. If you are able, extend the exercise one more day. Then add another day. Extend the exercise to others—for example, to your children. When you meet someone new, look for what is special about this person. Appreciate these qualities. Remember, this all has to be genuine and heartfelt. Don’t be phony. Notice these positive qualities. Enjoy them. Try to tell people what you notice and genuinely appreciate about them, just find one thing for each person. Ignore the shortcomings.

As you stretch the period of thanksgiving one day beyond a week, and then another day, and then another, you’ll receive a great gift: You will begin to forgive yourself. Grace and forgiveness will enter your world. This is what the spiritual “Amazing Grace” is all about. You begin to enjoy your own accomplishments, rather than consider them inadequate.

One of the most meaningful gifts a parent can give a child is to admit his or her own mistake, to say, “I was wrong here” or “I’m sorry.” This is so powerful because it also gives the child permission to make a mistake, to admit having messed up and still be okay It builds in the forgiveness of self. In the same way, saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it to your spouse is a very significant event. The more you can imbue your relationship with the spirit of thanksgiving and the graceful presence of praise, the more meaningful and fulfilling your lives together will be.