Caught in a recent downpour, Nina Lesowitz was on the verge of whining. Her clothes were wet. The streets were slick. But then she thought: Hey, at least I'm headed home.
Like most of us, Lesowitz grew up complaining. "I was fixated on problems. I never knew what 'be here now' meant because my mind was always racing into the future. I always felt like I needed to move somewhere or do something in order to feel fulfilled — like I had to go to Italy and rebuild an old farmhouse." Wrenched by that sense of incompleteness, of what-if and only-when, she had "stress contests" with friends, each trying to outdo the rest in lamenting about spouses, children, work.
It was a kind of addiction, and the cure was astoundingly simple. Lesowitz calls it "saying 'thank you' all day." Forcibly shifting her gaze to the bright side, she began reminding herself constantly to be grateful, for instance, for her hands and feet and the fact that her kids had shiny hair rather than criticizing them for not brushing it.
"All our lives, we've been told to do this," she laughs. "But it's so easy to forget."
Researchers such as UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons have found that those who consciously practice gratitude sleep better and enjoy better health and higher self-esteem than those who don't.
"We're constantly thinking: If good things happen to us, we'll be happy. But the reverse is true: When we're happy, good things happen," asserts the Oakland author, who will discuss her new book Living Life as a Thank You: The Transformative Power of Daily Gratitude at Books Inc. (1344 Park St., Alameda) on Thursday, October 29. Coauthored with Mary Beth Sammons, it's a handbook packed with exercises and real-life examples, such as that of the clergyman who endured starvation, tuberculosis, and dysentery as a prisoner of war and now preaches positive thinking from the pulpit.
Also appearing in the book is a Piedmont stay-at-home mom who signed up to participate in the 2001 NBC reality show Lost, which stranded two-person teams in remote outposts around the world, with a $200,000 prize for the first pair to reach the Statue of Liberty.
"She went onto the show because she wasn't very happy," Lesowitz explains. "So she was dropped off in the middle of the Mongolian desert, blindfolded, with a partner she didn't know and $100 with which to get back to New York. They had to beg their way across Mongolia, then Russia. On the way, she met people who had nothing, yet they would share their meals with her. At one point, she broke down sobbing" because she realized how much she had back home, how full her life had been and still was.
"She had this tremendous epiphany about what was really important," Lesowitz says. "She thought: I don't need the prize money. I don't need a new car." And she lived in the East Bay.
"We live in a fabulous place. It's so easy to appreciate living here," Lesowitz says. "Yet you meet so many people who don't." 7 p.m., free. BooksInc.com
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