THE BLOG
11/16/2011 12:12 pm ET | Updated Jan 16, 2012

Making Gratitude the Main Course at Thanksgiving

"May you live in interesting times."
-- Ancient Chinese proverb

An interesting word, the word interesting. Certainly the time in which we live, by almost anyone's measure, qualifies as interesting, along with a lot of other adjectives one could apply. However you characterize this time in your life and in the world, whether it's interesting, chaotic, messy, disastrous or even encouraging, in the midst of it all there is that for which you can be grateful.

Sometimes it takes times like these, when the threat of loss or change looms heavy on the horizon, to fully appreciate and be grateful for what we have. Often it's not until we lose something or someone we treasured and we truly feel their absence do we open ourselves to acknowledging how deeply we felt about them or how grateful we were to be living the life we had before such a loss.

This is why our yearly observance of Thanksgiving is such an important opportunity to express out loud to others the gratitude we feel. We literally stop the action of our lives for a single day in order to give thanks for our blessings.

But for many, in spite of its name, Thanksgiving isn't about being grateful. It's about confronting old wounds or suffering through what could otherwise be a perfectly nice day. For many, Thanksgiving is an endurance contest to see how long you can bear to be in the same room with your obnoxious Uncle Fred, or that family member you go out of your way to avoid because you find their behavior or character so unappealing, being around them is a downer at best and downright upsetting at worst.

For others, Thanksgiving might be the only day of the year where being grateful is ever spoken out loud. Growing up in the Midwest in the years after WWII, in my family feelings weren't openly discussed. We were about the business of doing what needed to be done without much regard for how we felt about it. I have a hunch mine wasn't all that different from most other families of that era.

So when I became a wife and mother, I invited everyone at the Thanksgiving table to share what they were grateful for. I noticed people were shy to speak about it at first, as if expressing gratitude required a level of intimacy or vulnerability that was too uncomfortable to share. But I've kept at it, year after year, and have developed a method that seems to work quite well.

I give everyone a slip of paper and invite each person to write down their blessings or what they're grateful for. I then collect the slips and place them in a large ceramic pumpkin that also serves as a centerpiece for the Thanksgiving table. After the meal, we pass the pumpkin around and everyone draws out a slip and reads it. We then try to guess who wrote it and that helps to break the ice and gets people sharing.

It seems odd that one would resist sharing what they're grateful for, since what we focus on tends to be amplified. In fact, I recommend going the other way. Err, if that's possible, on the side of feeling and expressing gratitude at every opportunity.

There can't be too much gratitude. Why? Because, consciousness aligns with itself. Gratitude is a very high state of consciousness. It vibrates right up there with love. If you're focused on what you're grateful for, your entire being is bathed in the vibration of love.

If you're focused on what makes you upset and angry, your consciousness is aligned with the vibration of anger, which then is amplified and creates more of itself. The vibration of conflict aligns and draws to it, more conflict.

Do this experiment: The next time you catch yourself feeling angry, upset or depressed, shift your focus to what you're grateful for. Go ahead, just do it and don't try to figure it out beforehand. It might not make sense to your rational mind, but do it anyway.

It's literally impossible to be depressed and focused on gratitude at the same time. The two states do not vibrate at the same frequency. Shifting your focus to gratitude elevates the frequency at which your body, mind and spirit vibrate. Your mind and heart can't help but follow. Try it for yourself and see. And report back.

4 Tips For Shifting Your Perspective on Difficult People

Meanwhile, what to do about Uncle Fred or that pesky person that usually annoys the heck out of you every year? Here are four tips for not only making it through Thanksgiving this year, but also permanently shifting the way you experience anyone who normally gets under your skin:

1) Ask yourself, what does Uncle Fred really want? Figure it out and then give it to him. Let's say more about this:

OK, Uncle Fred is loud and righteous and maybe even downright obnoxious. But underneath all that blow-harded buffoonery what do you suppose might really be going on with him? Why do you suppose he tries so hard to be noticed, be heard, get attention and be right? How do you think he really feels in his heart of hearts?

Yep, you guessed it. Uncle Fred, like everyone else, probably just wants to know that he's loved. Yes, he goes about getting it in a rather obtuse way, but somewhere along the arc of his story, he too probably got shot down and shut down and what you see on the surface is just his attempt at overcompensating for not feeling worthy of being loved.

So why not just give dear old Uncle Fred the love he wants? You can be kind. You can be compassionate. You can focus on his little, endearing qualities. (If you look for them, you'll find them!)

What does it cost you? Getting over yourself just a bit? Think about it. If you continue to hang out in your judgments about him, you're already well on your way to traveling the same path he's traveled. So be careful, you could end up being the updated version of the one you can't stand. That's kind of how it works. What we resist persists!

2) Notice how the one you judge (Uncle Fred and others) is really a mirror for you. How is this so? You already know this, but let's review:

You wouldn't be hooked or annoyed by qualities in another, which don't also live in you. You might be more masterful at suppressing them in yourself and hence, succeed in hiding them even from your own awareness. We project on to another those characteristics and qualities, both positive and negative, we fail to own in ourselves. When we're confronted by something in another that has been repressed in ourselves, that repressed energy gets activated and we think it's really about the other person. It's not. It's about you. Sigh! It's true. It's really all yours.

So what to do? Take back your projections. Own this as your own. Kind of puts dear old Uncle Fred in a new light, doesn't it? He's just mirroring back to you your own denied and repressed qualities. When you can do this, Uncle Fred has served you in a powerful way and for this you can be grateful!

3) Be here now.

The past is gone and the future is just a fantasy. Now is all there is. Make the most of the moment. Who knows how many more you'll have? Life, with all its sound and fury, is the best game in town. Consider the alternative and be grateful for the life you have, which also includes Uncle Fred.

4) Love it like it is.

Or as someone once said, "The rocks come with the farm." Learn to love those rocks. They make the farm more interesting. Uncle Fred adds a unique flavor to family gatherings. Learn to appreciate the "edge" he exposes in you and others. He's your master teacher!

With all the preparations for this special time of year about to begin, don't get lost in the doing. Remember that Thanksgiving is really about giving thanks. Let that be the main dish at your table this year and the Uncle Freds will be magically transformed. If Ebeneezer Scrooge could become open-hearted and generous after spending a lifetime as a curmudgeon and miser, there is hope for Uncle Fred. You might just be the catalyst for his transformation!

And on that note: With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I want to express my gratitude to you, dear readers, for making my experience here one that enriches my life. Your presence here motivates and inspires me. I am grateful for all that you contribute to me and each other in our weekly gatherings.

What are the enduring rituals around your Thanksgiving table? How does your "tribe" express gratitude? How have you dealt with your own "Uncle Freds"?

Please share your thoughts and comments in the space below and/or drop by my personal blog and website at Rx For the Soul or drop me a line at judith@judithrich.com. I welcome your personal contact.

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. I'll see you back here after the holiday as we turn our sights toward the coming season and a new year ahead.

Blessings on the path.