The Courage Companion, in October) to talk about her first book, Living Life as a Thank You, which she co-authored with Mary Beth Sammons.
Nina is an award-winning marketing professional who runs Spinergy Group, which represents authors, corporate clients, and nonprofits. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two daughters, and is on the executive committee for Litquake, the largest literary festival in the Western United States.
Shelly Rachanow: What inspired you to write Living Life as a Thank You?
Nina Lesowitz: I started noticing the difference saying “Thank You” was making in my life, and starting talking to people and noticing trends. I noticed that shifting my perspective has caused me to be grateful for what I DO have instead of focusing on what’s lacking.
Also, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about happiness. I’ve read many self help books. They didn’t seem practical to me, raising two children and working full time. I didn’t have the time to join an organization or meditate for hours a day. I fantasized about a different life and thought that the only way I would achieve a state of contentment was if I moved to Tuscany to renovate an old farmhouse. Happiness was always some far off, conditional state in the future. When I started practicing gratitude, I realized that happiness is not something that is dependent on outside circumstances, it comes from within.
Shelly Rachanow: With the Thanksgiving holiday this week, people may be focused on gratitude more than they usually are. How can we live life as a thank you year round?
Nina Lesowitz: By recognizing our blessings every day, throughout the day.
Shelly Rachanow: Is there proof that an attitude of gratitude can transform people’s lives?
Nina Lesowitz: Yes, a UC Davis study by Professor Robert Emmons found that gratitude is one of the very few things that can measurably change people’s lives. He’s spent his career studying what makes people happy and he’s found that happiness is facilitated when we want what we have, instead of focusing on what’s missing. It is actually a critical component of happiness.
In one study, the professors asked three groups of volunteers to spend their week thinking about and writing down what happened to them that week. One group was asked to focus on what they were grateful for, another focused on hassles and irritations, and the third simply recorded what happened.
They found that a daily gratitude intervention resulted in much higher levels of energy, and of course, happiness! And based on my own personal experience, I find that I am so much happier when I am consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
Nina Lesowitz: Interestingly, we think that if good things happen to us, we will be happy. Yet scientific literature on happiness shows that it’s the other way around. When we are happy, good things happen. The benefits of happiness include higher income, greater productivity, more friends, more satisfying relationships, better physical health, lowered stress levels, etc.
Practicing gratitude has transformed my outlook, which in turn has transformed my reality. It has enabled me to live in the moment instead of constantly focusing on “what’s next.”
Shelly Rachanow: Gratitude doesn’t always come naturally to people, especially when they feel they’ve been wronged or victimized? Why is that and what are some things that can help?
Nina Lesowitz: Some people associate the act of giving thanks as something that places them in a state of obligation and debt. At the risk of generalizing, men have a harder time expressing gratitude because they would rather feel self-sufficient. Also, it’s much easier to be a grouch and a cynic. While we’re focusing on annoyances, and grievances, we take the good things for granted. Without a conscious intervention, we lapse into complaints. I always did that with friends, it almost seemed like a competition – who had more stress in their lives, more problems with their teens. Another issue is that we live in a time of entitlement, and there’s been much talk about how today’s children expect a lot. When we feel entitled, we’re not focusing on gifts; we take good things for granted.
By expressing gratitude, we can re-wire our brainwaves to appreciate our many blessings. When you shed the negativity, it clears space for something better to arrive.
Shelly Rachanow: Can you give us some gratitude practices and tips, for year round and for this week as people may be standing in long lines or stuck in traffic on the freeway?
Nina Lesowitz: When you feel a gripe coming on, try to turn it around. For instance, instead of focusing on the long lines at the security scanner, give thanks for the people who are working to ensure your safety. Go to bed with a smile, thinking of all you appreciate in your life. Appreciate your family, friends and co-workers. Take a walk in nature, and notice the beauty around you. And last but not least, be grateful for you! We quote writer Anne Naylor in the book, who says, “Be grateful for and bless your qualities and strengths. There is no one else quite like you. Honor and appreciate yourself.”
Shelly Rachanow: And last (because I bet you have more than one answer to this question), the 'If Women Ran the World Blog' question for everyone - What would you do if you ran the world?
Nina Lesowitz: If I ran the world, I would ask everyone to take time to incorporate the practice of gratitude in their lives. This would engender more compassion toward those less fortunate, and inspire more charity. (Grateful people are more likely to give back to others). Also, by expressing appreciation for others, goodwill would radiate across the planet, bringing peace to all.
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