11/24/2010 09:44 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Finding Gratitude Even When Things Don't Look So Good

Dear friends and family,

It is this time of year that we take stock of what we have and overlook what we have not. There is so much to be grateful for. Jeff, Neal and I are so blessed to have so many wonderful friends, supportive family and so much love in our lives. Although there are tough times, we fortunately get through them -- with care and even humor. I know that this is not always an easy task.

I remember when I was going through a particularly dark time and felt very alone. My dad provided the wisdom that I needed.

My dad can always find ways to be grateful -- even when he was recovering from quadruple bypass surgery and a massive stroke and had to learn to speak again, and to walk after being told that he would never walk again. Even as he learned to eat with a fork all over again, and to see out of eyes that render him legally blind. "For a man in my condition," he liked to say "I'm in great condition."

When I ask my dad if he ever feels down, he says, "The thoughts come to me, but I decide not to think about them."

I want to think like my dad.

My cousin tells me that in our religious tradition, we are to thank God at least 100 times a day. Whenever we voice something positive, we are to follow it with "Baruch Hashem," meaning, "Thank you, God." Whenever we can, we are to focus on the positive, on beauty, on gratitude. "What a great discipline," I muse. I try it on. It's easier than you might imagine.

"I am grateful that I have eyes to see," I say aloud, "Thank you, God. I am grateful that I have ears to hear. Thank you, God. I am grateful for the hum of the hummingbird. Thank you, God. I am grateful that my eyes can see the bird and my ears can hear the hum. Thank you..." That's four thank-you-Gods and it's still only 7:30 a.m. I have the rest of the day to find the other 96. I'm liking this.

I determine to make a conscious decision every day to see the bright and the light in my world. I discipline my mind the way I would a muscle. It is a conscious mental workout to choose to see good rather than the bad, to feel gratitude rather than entitlement, to perceive autism as extraordinary rather than horrible. I liken it to when I first started yoga and couldn't touch my toes. Then every day I got closer, first to my knees, then to my shins, then I touched the baby toe. Today, I am Gumby, bending so effortlessly that people assume that I've always been this flexible.

So it is with this happiness "muscle." Sure, there are many sad things in the world. But there's a difference between justified sorrow and voluntary suffering. I choose to see the gift in simple things like sunlight and flowers, in friends and family who love me, in miracles that occur unbidden. I choose to find the silver lining, to locate the positive in a given situation.

Thank you, Dad.

May you all enjoy the blessings of this time. Happy Thanksgiving.

With love and gratitude,
Elaine, Jeff and Neal

This post is excerpted from "Now I See the Moon: A Mother, a Son, a Miracle."