Deborah Norville: Count Your Blessings
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com - The idea that gratitude is the secret for unlocking a person’s full potential in life is nothing new. Common sense tells us that to be continually thankful for our blessings can only make us more optimistic about our circumstances.
But is there something scientific that happens to make a person feel this way?
Is a person born naturally grateful?
Can a person be truly happy in times of tragedy?
In her new book, “Thank You Power: Making the Science of Gratitude Work for You” (Thomas Nelson), Emmy Award winning journalist Deborah Norville (Inside Edition) explores how the practice of being continuously grateful is somehow linked to finding inner strength and happiness.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Deborah to discuss how to eliminate negatives brought on by daily stress, how to improve a person’s ability to solve problems, and whether there is a scientific connection between faith and being a happier person.
It has been six years since your last book which was a children’s book. It has been 10 years since you have written a book for the adult market. What was your inspiration to write a book on a topic like this?
You know what, Chris, it was a hunch. I found that when I focused on what was working in my life things were better. But I am enough of a skeptic and I think you need to be a skeptic to be in the media business – to think to myself, ‘I am just faking myself out. This is a mind game I am playing with myself.’ So, the journalistic side of me said, ‘Let’s research it.’ So, I started noodling around on the Internet. I began to discover academic research reports that had been published in journals that would make your eyes cross to read but really caught my eye. They seemed to validate that, yeah, there is something to this. Not only is there something to it here is the proof.
Was there an abundance of scientific research out there to quantify this belief?
It is a new field. Most of this research with respect to counting your blessings dates from 2001 onward. It is called positive psychology. It is a fairly new field, this notion of counting your blessings and the quantifiable benefits of gratitude. But what gratitude does is it puts you in positive affect. You feel good from counting your blessings, you’re more optimistic, you’re less pessimistic, you even exercise on average an hour and a half more per week. That is really cool. You feel good when you do all of those things. Well, if you feel good your dopamine receptors are activated. You are a better thinker. You will do better on a test.
Let’s build on that a little bit. You write – the basic thrust of this book for me is gratitude is the secret for unlocking life’s potential. Why do you think that?
I think because it puts your mind in a positive place which enables you to do your best whether it is your best thinking or your best planning. You make connections that you otherwise would not make. For instance, there is a little thing in the book where I have three words – atomic, lower, and for it. If you are in a positive place in your mind and I ask you to come up with a fourth word that will relate to all three of those you will come up with power because that works. But if you’re not in a positive place you might never make that association. Or, when I tell you the word is power you are going to go ‘that’s stupid’. You won’t get it. So, it makes you better, focusing on what works in your life is – there is almost a domino effect. It’s the first thing and it starts this wonderful chain reaction that even as the biggest skeptic why wouldn’t you try this?
Is there one particular story either in your research or in your life that made you acutely aware of this concept?
That is a really good question. I think I have always been inherently prone to look for the Thank You Power in things. Even before I coined that concept I was always looking for the blessing and as a Christian I have been raised to believe that all things work for the good of them who love the Lord (Romans 8:28) even though on the face of it when you may think God must not love me back. I’m loving Him and this is what He is doing to me. Where is the payback? But truly, in all of my really tough moments in life I have seen some good come from it. When my mother passed away I was 20. I had just celebrated my twentieth birthday. She had basically been sick my whole life. As much as I felt I was cheated, all those conversations I never got to have with my mother, I could also know that finally for the first time since I was eight years old she wasn’t in pain.
You mentioned your faith. What do you think the connection is between spirituality and faith? How does Thank You Power have a positive effect on faith?
I think there is a real easy connection for people of faith. People of faith know what the objective is. And we know that objective will be realized with our debt. If we are Christians and have accepted the Lord as our savior we know that the end game is eternal life in Heaven. That is pretty fabulous. So it is easy be optimistic about that. What I am really excited about is this book has the potential to open those doors for people who would never walk through them otherwise.
In doing your research did you find that people who expressed some form of faith or spirituality tended to be happier people?
Oh absolutely. I cite this in the book. Duke University’s Center on Spirituality has done a great deal of research on that. Spiritual people and religious people live longer. Religious people are happier. There is even one study that encompasses many, many years called the Nun Study. It was published by some researchers at the University of Kentucky. What they did is they took the writings of some sisters shortly after they took their vows and they looked at their explanatory style. They looked at their hopefulness. They evaluated the personality of these people based on their writings. Those who had a more hopeful explanatory style lived on average ten years longer. So, simply being an optimistic person can add a full decade to your life. This is not me making this up. This is proven research published by people who are beyond refute. Why wouldn’t you want to be more grateful if it is going to mean a longer life?
There are a lot of books in the marketplace about how to do this or how to do that -- how to be happier in eight steps or less. What sets this book apart from the others that attack similar issues?
They all say it is easy. I acknowledge it is not. It is hard to get in the habit of forcing yourself to find three things on a regular basis that you are grateful for. It sounds very easy but the truth is the day gets past and you forgot to do it. Tomorrow gets busy and you forget to do it. What I have actually tended to do is make it more of a constant habit. It is a mindset that one adopts and it is a mindset that allows you even during what is potentially a cranky period of your day, you can find something that takes the edge off.
On a different note , do you think a person is born naturally grateful or is it something you need to learn and work at?
Forget about what I think. Let’s look at what they experts say. The experts say that you can cultivate it. A study was done at the University of Pennsylvania characterizing the 24 signature strengths of character -- what makes a human a vibrant individual. The three most rewarding were love, hope, and gratitude. Hope and love are kind of hard to cultivate. If you are Ebenezer Scrooge, love is just not going to happen unless you make some major personality changes. And if you are living in a favela in San Paolo, Brazil, hope is going to be difficult to come up with. But gratitude is something that anyone can cultivate – not easily necessarily but it is a mindset, a practice.
You have children. How can parents effectively teach this concept considering this is a learned behavior? Simply put, how can a parent teach a child to express gratitude?
I think it is so easy. It is really a matter of patterning. Children may not notice the positive moments in life unless we point them out to them. Sometimes there is a question and answer period that you have to do. You always make a point to point out the positives in your child’s day. You always point out to your children where their happy moments have been because they probably don’t notice them.
You could have chosen to write about anything but you chose the topic of Thank You Power. Why this topic?
This means a lot to me. This means something. Really, this was just the product of some down time at work and a hunch. But when I discovered how much research there was and how authentically it resonated with me, I just wanted to share it.
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