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

“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!

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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!”

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