Janice Kaplan has enjoyed wide success as a magazine editor, television producer, writer, and journalist. She is the author or coauthor of twelve books, including I’ll See You Again, which spent six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. She lives in New York City and Kent, Connecticut. Signature caught up with her to discuss her new book, The Gratitude Diaries.
Signature: You have had enjoyed a long and successful career as a journalist and novelist. What made you decide to write this memoir?
Janice Kaplan: I’ve never written a personal book before, but a few years ago, I oversaw a national survey on gratitude for the John Templeton Foundation. The results surprised me. I discovered most people say they’re grateful for family and friends, but less than half of us ever bother to express our gratitude. In other words, we have a huge gratitude gap. Research shows that gratitude can make us happier—but we still don’t manage to appreciate all the good in our lives. I realized I was as guilty as anyone. So I took it as a personal challenge to spend a year living gratefully and see how gratitude could improve my mood, marriage, friendships, and health. Once I started, the changes occurred so quickly that I had to share them—and write about them.
SIG: You cite the source of your transformation as a negative woman at a New Years Eve party. It seems like it must have been something turning through your brain for awhile. You mention that you and your sister were born as “blue” people (perpetually looking at the glass half-empty). Did you ever attempt something like this earlier, or consider the possibility?
JK: My own mom had a tendency to worry and always see the potential downside to even good events. I knew that didn’t make any of us very happy. So I had thought about the power of perspective from early on. I understood that actual events don’t make us happy or sad—it’s how we view them. My children remember that we used to have family dinners together most nights. Once a week, on Friday nights, I would ask everyone to talk about something good that had happened that week. I realize now that was an instinctive effort to teach them how to look on the bright side.
SIG: As a journalist, you have dealt with many less-than-optimistic stories. Do you think gratitude was a helpful antidote to a rough industry?
JK: I have been incredibly inspired by people who have lived through tragic events and still find a way to emerge with hope and gratitude. I describe several of them in the book. People can have many perspectives on the same story. You can recognize when life has been random and unfair but still find gratitude for what remains. I think it is often the only way people can move on.
SIG: In the time following the onset of your gratitude project, and throughout the publishing process of your book, have you learned anything new about yourself that doesn’t make it into the book?
JK: Gratitude never ends! Perhaps the biggest change during the year occurred with my marriage. By being positive, my husband and I had a better year than almost ever before. But when I finished the book, I slipped back a bit. I didn’t always let him know every day how much I appreciated him and some of the incredible joy we had found in each other ebbed. But the good news is that once we realized what had happened, it was easy to get back where we wanted to be. Spending time being grateful is a little like learning to ride a bike—once you learn how to do it, you can always get back on and move forward.