What began as a challenging idea — to spend a full year living gratefully — became a life-changing experience for author, magazine editor, and producer Janice Kaplan. Her inspirational memoir, “The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Transformed My Life” (Dutton 2015) reached the New York Times bestseller list. Gratitude will be the topic of her Together in Jewish Learning talk on Wednesday, March 18, which is the second annual Rabbi Lee A. Kivel Lecture on Jewish Life presented by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.
As the editor-in-chief of “Parade” magazine, the most widely read publication in America, Kaplan worked with major political figures and interviewed celebrities and stars. She was deputy editor of “TV Guide” magazine, and executive producer of the TV Guide Television Group, creating more than 30 television shows that aired primetime on major networks. Kaplan began her career as an award-winning producer at ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America.” She has appeared dozens of times on television shows including “Today,” “Entertainment Tonight,” and “CBS This Morning.” A magna cum laude graduate of Yale University, she won Yale’s Murray Fellowship for writing.
Kaplan is the author and co-author of 15 books, including the New York Times bestselling memoir “I’ll See You Again,” written with Jackie Hance. Her novels include “The Botox Diaries,” “Mine Are Spectacular!” and “The Men I Didn’t Marry” and the Lacy Fields mysteries “Looks To Die For” and “A Job To Kill For.” Her books are translated and published in more than a dozen countries.
“The concept of spending a year being more grateful started out as a literary device,” Kaplan told the AJP. “It had a profound effect on me. I ended up having the best year of my life.” Kaplan kept a gratitude journal during that year. “I don’t do that anymore, it is so completely incorporated into my daily attitude. We can’t always change events in life but we can control what I call the reframing — turning it in a different direction.
“Years later, I continue to do the same things,” she says. As an example, she talks of getting frustrated while walking down a jostling, crowded street in New York. “I’ll find myself literally stopping on a corner and thinking how to look at this moment in a different way. Whatever it may be, wherever you are, it’s amazing how it works. Now I want everyone to have the same thrilling experience.
“Most of us understand that grateful people tend to be happier. This is not touchy-feely stuff. Research proves that gratitude makes us healthier, improves sleep, lowers stress, blood pressure, and some inflammatory disease, and lessens depression. Gratitude can have a profound effect on tragedy and sadness. If we can help ourselves and help others, I think that matters.
“It’s expressing gratitude that we’re not very good at. It can be in the form of giving, saying thank you, writing a letter of gratitude — it’s the doing, not just the thinking about it. Find ways to incorporate gratitude into your life, like writing something you’re grateful for on a scrap of paper by the bed at night.
“Gratitude crosses all religions and I will indeed mention its important role in Judaism. Rabbis talk about the deeply Jewish concept of hakarat hatov….look for the good. Every time we say a blessing we’re expressing gratitude and lifting something — like a piece of bread —from the ordinary to the extraordinary.” Kaplan’s keynote presentation will be followed by breakout sessions related to gratitude with community rabbis.
The Synagogue Federation Dialogue Group coordinates this annual lecture, which is funded by the Rabbi Lee A. Kivel Endowment Fund, held at the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona. Jane Kivel established the fund with a gift to the Jewish Federation to support Jewish community learning initiatives in memory of her husband. This year’s committee was cochaired by Rabbi Thomas Louchheim and Avi Erbst.
Banking on the success of last year’s lecture topic — transformation through suffering — Rabbi Robert Eisen suggested Kaplan to the selection committee as a speaker, based on the recommendation of a New York rabbi. “Gratitude brings to the table where we are at the moment. The topic provides practical knowledge with rabbinic resonance. We all realize there are text and pretext. We will follow the lecture with Jewish learning from a different place and meet in the middle,” says Eisen.
Kaplan promises that attendees can profoundly change their family relationships with what she will share in the lecture. “Improve relationships with your children, your spouse, and the whole family. Knowing how to appreciate your children brings gratitude to their lives.” She also will talk about gratitude at work, “how it can help transform a workplace and make you more successful.”
“Gratitude Diary” books will be available for sale for $12 at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, 3718 E. River Road, in advance of the lecture.
The event will be held at Tucson Hebrew Academy, 3888 E. River Road, 7-9:15 p.m. Advance registration is $5 until Feb. 28, at www.jfsa.org/jewishlearning2020. Registration at the door, for $10, opens at 6:30 p.m. Refreshments, book sales, and a book signing will follow the program.