When our son was 20, he returned home to live for a period of time. This arrangement was not what any of us would seemingly have chosen. While our son was working on establishing his independence, my husband and I were having difficulty shedding our role as parents. I was finding myself becoming the archetypical nagging mother. When I observed that our communication was in a major downward spiral, I realized that something needed to change. I knew that praise could shift this situation. The problem was in order for praise to work its magic, it needed to be legitimate and genuine: no false compliments.
I thought for a while and finally came up with something I thought might work. I told our son I wished to thank him for being so considerate with consistently parking his car in the driveway so that I could get my car out of the garage in the mornings. He looked at me with disbelief (I think because it was such a contrast that I wasn’t berating him). He mumbled, “You’re welcome,” and things shifted almost immediately. I saw our son become more considerate around the house. I also found that I changed. I wasn’t focused on what he was doing wrong; rather, I was able to see the consideration he was giving us. Like magic, from that day, on our communication improved, and we were able to cohabitate in harmony (well, maybe not totally).
When our son was young, I was very lavish with praise. It was, in part, because I grew up in a family where praise was absent. We were expected to do our best. No praise was needed. My mother told me one day that I shouldn’t be praising my son as much as I did because he would get a “swelled head.” Her concern was he would become conceited and no one would like him. I responded that from my experience as a teacher, the peer group would readily dispel any illusions my son might have about his greatness. I was more concerned with giving him strong self-esteem. I had seen how children who don’t feel good about themselves perform. They were underachievers, withdrawn, and perceived as unfriendly.
I remember being about 9 when one of my grandmother’s friends told me I had beautiful eyes. The incident has stayed with me over the years. You see, I had corrective surgery on my eyes when I was 4 and had to wear thick glasses. I was very self conscious of my eyes, fearing they would cross again and I would be ridiculed. The children’s tale of The Ugly Duckling really resonated with me. I believed I was ugly. This woman’s words did much to help me feel that at least one person thought my eyes were pretty. In later years, when feeling insecure about my eyes, I would remember her praise.
With some observation, it is easy to find something to genuinely praise. I believe it is one of the finest gifts we can give another person. I’ve made it a habit to praise. It started as a conscious effort with my students to motivate them to perform better. Now, it is automatic. I praise servers at restaurants, clerks at stores, attendants in the washroom, all with ease. It gives me such joy the way the recipient’s face lights up. Praise costs us nothing to give and is a gift for the giver as well. We never know what impact some words of kindness will have on another.
If you’re not in the habit of praising, I invite you to try it. Remember, it must be genuine and heartfelt; otherwise it is just hollow words, and the recipient will know this. I’d like you to consider praising yourself as well. As the saying goes, “if you don’t toot your own horn, who will?”
Praise leads to another powerful action, gratitude. Gratitude is giving thanks. When our life is not going the way we think it should, we find ourselves in a “funk.” It’s easy to complain about our circumstances. What’s our internal dialogue? This is the time our mind is liberal with its negative critique of self and the situation. This is exactly the time to get an attitude of gratitude. You say, “You’ve got to be kidding I should be thankful for this mess?” I would ask you to detach and look again at your circumstances. There is always something to praise. It might be: I am currently in good health, or I’m glad I have insurance, or I’m grateful nobody was hurt. It really doesn’t take a major effort to find something to praise once you let go of the focus of being in your funk. Often, we see victims of a natural calamity giving thanks that they and their family are alive. Things aren’t always as they appear. This event hasn’t played out yet. Be patient and look for something to praise if you wish to shift it more quickly.
We may not be able to change the way life is. However, we can change the way we look at it. Several years ago, my husband and I were staying at a bed-and-breakfast in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At breakfast, we met a woman traveling alone. Her name was Barbara. She shared with us that her car broke down just outside of town the night before. Barbara was told she’d have to spend the day in Santa Fe until her car could be fixed. She was annoyed about this as she was traveling on to Utah to deliver the car to her daughter at the university there. Her daughter would be worried. The woman hadn’t counted on this expense. I asked Barbara if she had to be in Utah by a certain date. Did she have a credit card she could use for the car? I continued to gently probe her with questions to determine why she felt this was such a bad thing. Then, I told her from my perspective if she had to breakdown anywhere, Santa Fe was a pretty nice choice. Barbara began to see my point of view. She started to praise her good luck of having a credit card, a comfortable bed-and-breakfast, and now new friends. We invited her to tour the city with us as she had no other plans.
During our time together, Barbara shared how she was having some difficulty with her marriage. From our dialogue, she gained some new insights about herself and her relationship. If our newfound friend had chosen to focus on her dilemma, she would have missed this magical day. Barbara gave thanks for the breakdown of her car which enabled her to enjoy what was presented to her. All of us concluded that it was a very special chance encounter. This experience helped me see how accepting life the way it unfolds, and choosing for a positive perspective can turn a potentially negative event into a joyous one.
I am of the awareness that I have been a grateful person for most of my life. I think this came as a consequence of being raised in a family that didn’t have abundance.
Ice cream was a very rare treat. I don’t remember going out to dinner until I was in high school. The only new clothes I remember were presents from my grandmother and aunt. While it didn’t feel particularly good at the time, that experience helped me to naturally appreciate when I was able to go out to restaurants and buy new clothes. Over the years, I have eaten many fine meals and purchased beautiful outfits (each one just a little bit larger than the last). I still experience great joy on each occasion and give thanks. Before I fall asleep at night, I find that I take inventory of the day and give thanks to my creator for each event, person, and piece of creation. I believe it is this gratitude that adds to the bliss in my world. Are you one who has a habit of giving thanks? I invite you to take an inventory of your world and give thanks to God, Source, or whatever you call your Higher Power. When you find yourself in low ebb, get an “attitude of praise and gratitude.”

Author's Bio: 

Renee Duane is the author of "Choosing for Bliss, Reclaiming Your Inherent Joy". A motivational speaker and workshop facilitator, Renee brings awareness of the unconcious habits we have that sabotage our health, heart (relationships) and happiness.