In Memoriam: Selma Baraz

By Jason Marsh | July 29, 2013 | 0 comments

A tribute to Selma Baraz, who went from "kvetch" to grateful grandmother.

One of my all-time favorite stories illustrating the ripple effects of Greater Good came from James Baraz, founder of the course Awakening Joy (and author of a book of the same name). In a Letter to the Editor that James sent us years ago, he described how he’d shared our special issue on gratitude—this is back when Greater Good was a print magazine—with his then-89-year old mother, Selma.

Selma Baraz Selma Baraz

“She is still as mentally sharp as ever,” James wrote. “But, by her own admission, a lifetime of seeing the glass half empty is a tough habit to break, and she knows it keeps her from enjoying her amazingly fortunate life to the fullest.” He continued:

I happened to bring with me a copy of the Greater Good issue on the health benefits of gratitude (Summer 2007). She was impressed. We decided to play a game that we came up with together: At the end of each complaint that rolled so easily off her tongue, I would simply say “and…,” to which she would respond, “And I’m really very blessed.” Although it was a fun game, it started to have some real impact. (She was saying that line very often!) We had a wonderful time as our week became filled with gratitude. To my delight, she’s still keeping up with the experiment. You can teach an elder human new tricks!

In fact, that was just the beginning. Selma continued to cultivate gratitude for years, despite the fact that she started losing her eyesight not long after she and James came up with their gratitude game. James even chronicled her progress in a passage of his book, which included a poem she’d written on her 90th birthday (“Though my eyesight has been dimmed I see clearer than before / The glass is not half empty, it’s overflowing to be sure”). Soon after his book was published, James posted a video of his mother discussing “how my son ruined my life”—meaning that he’d made it nearly impossible for her to continue living life as a “kvetch,” thanks to the transformative effects of her newfound gratitude practice. The video went viral, thanks to Selma’s hilariously deadpan delivery.

Selma Baraz passed away last month at the age of 94. Through his course, James has already paid moving tribute to his mother’s resilience, humor, and intelligence. Though we only knew her anecdotally, we here at the GGSC saw Selma as a tremendous source of inspiration—one of the wisest, funniest, and most uplifting emissaries of the values and practices we hold dear. The video of Selma discussing her gratitude practice is by turns sincere and sardonic—she concludes, “By golly, it really works. ... I really have become—oh, this kills me—a happier person.”

As our own GGSC tribute to Selma Baraz, we present you with the YouTube video of her reflections on gratitude, called “Confessions of a Jewish Mother: How My Son Ruined My Life!”

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Jason Marsh is the editor in chief of Greater Good.


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017
Clark Kerr Campus, UC-Berkeley
Sunday, June 25 - Friday, June 30, 2017 OR Sunday, July 16 - Friday, July 21, 2017

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

The GGSC’s six-day Summer Institute equips education professionals with prosocial learning strategies, tools and processes that benefit both students and teachers.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

Roots of Empathy By Mary Gordon Mary Gordon explains how best to nurture empathy and social emotional literacy in all children—and thereby reduce aggression, antisocial behavior, and bullying.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement