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Diana Butler Bass Author of Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks



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Jason Hartman chats Dr. Diana Butler Bass, Ph.D. in religious studies and award-winning author of many books including her latest, Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. Jason and Diana discuss gratitude for individuals and for the community. She shares how gratitude makes you more healthy. In addition, she goes into how gratitude is in the higher thinking areas of our brain. The two discussions the 4 dispositions of gratitude. They end the show talking about the play.

Announcer 0:01
This show is produced by the Hartman media company.

Jason Hartman 0:03
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Diana Butler Bass 0:12
Welcome to the Solomon success show, where we explore the timeless wisdom of King Solomon and the Bible, as it relates to business and investing false prophets and get rich quick schemes are everywhere. Let’s not be distracted by these. Instead, let’s go to the source, the eternal principles that create a life of peace, power and prosperity. Here’s our host, Jason Hartman.

Jason Hartman 0:40
It’s my pleasure to welcome Diana Butler bass. She is a Christian writer for The Huffington Post in the Washington Post. She’s best selling author of Christianity after religion, but her newest book out of the 10 that she has, is entitled grateful the transformative power of giving. Thanks, Diana, welcome. How are you?

Diana Butler Bass 0:59
I’m good. I’m glad to be with you today. Good to have you.

Jason Hartman 1:02
So you have a really interesting thesis. It’s not really about gratitude per se, even though I’m sure it is. But it’s more how it comes into the public sphere, and how we interact with each other. And how it sort of doesn’t express itself, I guess, is as much as you would think like people, if you ask them, a lot of people will say, Hey, I’m grateful. You know, I see that on social media all the time. I see people literally in their Facebook descriptions about themselves saying they’re grateful. Is there a gap here somewhere?

Diana Butler Bass 1:33
The idea that there’s a gap between the private experience of gratitude in our public lives is one of the ideas that inspired this book. It goes back to November of 2015. When I was reading the Washington Post One morning, and you know, here it was almost Thanksgiving. And they had a little story from the Pew Forum, which is a research organization. The Pew had asked people have you felt a strong sense of gratitude in the last week, and 78% of Americans said they had. And I looked at that number and I thought, well, that’s astonishingly high. Because it’s hard to get people to agree on anything. Her more than 65%. And so here, we’re 75% or 78% of people saying that they felt grateful. And so I just was kind of startled by the size of that number. One of the things that I knew about gratitude is that, you know, gratitude makes us healthier, you know, for grateful people, we have better health outcomes. If we’re grateful people were less stressed if we’re grateful people, we have less depression and anger and fear. So I thought to myself, wow, you know, that’s really amazing if 78% of us feel strongly grateful in a week that shows something really good about the United States. Three days later, There was a poll that came across my email from an organization that I follow called public religion research. And they had just completed a survey, asking Americans a series of questions about different kinds of social and political issues and cultural change issues. And by asking the series of questions, they had been able to figure out some of the emotions that were pushing our political life. And they discovered that Americans were more fearful, more hopeless, and more divided than anytime that they could draw sort of a parallel in our political or emotional lives. Well,

Jason Hartman 3:45
okay, so here’s, here’s an interesting, here’s this gap. Are they divided Dianna? between the Grateful and the ungrateful people?

Diana Butler Bass 3:56
I actually don’t think so. People were divided. Because they will they were not only divided, but also miss trustful, that was the really strong, strong number in the poll is that we didn’t trust institutions, and we didn’t trust one another. And that lack of trust was causing division. So anyway, it was just fascinating in the same week to get to polls side by side, different organizations, one showing all this positivity around gratitude. And then the other one showing all these negative emotions, in our political and social lives. And that, for me, became the framework of the book that I eventually wrote. I call that the gratitude gap. Why is it that we are so strongly grateful and private, but it seems to make no difference in our public lives? Very interesting. First off those two surveys that you mentioned, though, we’re serving different sets of people, right? They’re not the same populace. Well, they were general surveys of the American public. So you know, of course, they wouldn’t have hit exactly the same people. But both organizations are interested in religion and ethics. And they were looking for things that, you know, matter to us that shape our spiritual lives that shape our ethical choices. And so even though they were certainly framing the questions differently and doing the kinds of things surveys do differently, nevertheless, I mean, that’s a pretty difficult bridge to get over, you know, how is it that on one hand, we know that gratitude is good, and so many of us will say, yes, yes, yes, I’m grateful. I’m grateful. I’m grateful. But on the other hand, when we’re asked questions about economics, or community, or who counts as a citizen are all these different kinds of questions that are obviously, you know, pretty hot button questions, but that are negative emotions come forward, rather than positive ones.

Jason Hartman 5:51
Okay. So I want to go back, Diana, to something you said at the beginning, because I think it was really kind of critical that we just kind of go back a minute here. So I agree with what you said at the beginning, by the way, and I’ll remind you of what I’m talking about in a moment. However, I want to play devil’s advocate and I want to play as if I didn’t agree or didn’t know, you made a bunch of statements about how gratitude makes us healthier and all these benefits of gratitude. And I completely agree, by the way, I think gratitude is one of the first keys to success. You know, if you’re not grateful for what you have, you’re just gonna find it very difficult to get more of whatever it is in life, I just, but I don’t know exactly why that is. I believe it to be true. I just don’t know exactly why or how that plays out. I’ve struggled with that question for many years. How do we know that’s true that, you know, we’re healthier if we’re grateful or all that it has all these benefits, the ones you mentioned at the beginning of the interview,

Diana Butler Bass 6:47
that was one of the really fascinating things for me. I’m trained as a theologian as a historian of religion, and so the gratitude literature mostly comes out of the Psychology and medicine at this point. And so for me to explore this topic, and I was interested in it culturally and was interested in, you know, Latin American seems so grateful right now, which is a kind of a historical and cultural question. Right. Right.

Jason Hartman 7:16
But but but what you’re gonna say I think is gonna be about the sort of the psychosomatic component is that what, you know, mind body relationship?

Diana Butler Bass 7:23
Yeah, in order to get to understanding gratitude, I had to really stretch and go and read a lot of literature that I normally wouldn’t. And I was kind of I was actually fascinated by it. Because in psychology, a lot of the movement is towards things like stress relief, and changing psychosomatic reactions to threat and how Mind Body connections occur. And so in all of that literature, people find that gratitude is calming that it redirects our sort of brain function into more evolved parts of our brains where gratitude, compassion and empathy live, rather than things like fear and anxiety, to gratitude functions out of our higher brain, whereas fear functions out of our primal brain. So that was all really fascinating to me, all this neuroscience and how psychologists are trying to help people move towards our more mature selves when dealing with gratitude. And that just helps us be able to function better in the world and make more sense of our experience. But then in medicine, the stuff that they’re discovering, which is mostly our the National Institutes of Health, that’s equally interesting, because they’re finding with this calming response of gratitude, which psychologists look at one way in medicine, it’s really obvious what it’s doing over there. If you’re a grateful person, You actually have better blood pressure numbers, and that your ability to be able to manage the physical effects of stress, you sleep better at night. And so there’s literally physical bodily expressions, that medical scientists now medical researchers have been able to track by looking at people who do things like keep gratitude journals or practice daily meditation, those sorts of things. And they have discovered that if you do this, you’re actually healthier, physically healthier.

Jason Hartman 9:35
I would agree. It also directs focus, you know, whatever we think about that’s our focus, right? And if we’re thinking about negativity and fear, we’re going to move toward that, you know, it’s been proven many times over that the subconscious can’t distinguish reality from fantasy and so we just move toward dominant thoughts and higher level thoughts are the thoughts that create opportunities for us. And the lower level thoughts are the thoughts that potentially at least keep us safe, and avoid threats. And you know, many times the world just isn’t as threatening as some of us believe it to be. And we act like we’re in a world of threats when we’re not. We’re in a world of opportunities. So it’s,

Diana Butler Bass 10:20
yeah, it’s really, it’s fascinating that we do feel so threatened. There have been some very interesting books in recent years that have shown people across the world are actually wealthier and safer than we ever have been in world history before. You know, poverty is actually being reduced at a massive scale across the planet. And we’re far less likely to die by violence than any other time in human history. And yet, people like, Oh my god, I should know that everything is falling apart. It’s just the worst possible scenario and so when we live into that kind of threat, what We’re, as you say, and you’re exactly right. We’re activating our primal brain. And while our primal brain was really important to keep us alive, you know, thousands of years ago when there were threats all the time to mere human survival. And we needed that in a globally connected world where there’s actually less disease and less violence and less poverty. To be always acting out of the Primal Fear instinct is not helpful. is matter of fact, we’re discovering it’s very hurtful. Yeah. Okay, good.

Jason Hartman 11:37
Okay, so talk to us more about let’s go back to the bigger topic at hand gratitude. And you know, how we should practice this and the difference between the private and public? I think that’s the main focus of your book, if correct me if I’m wrong, but is it the private public gap that we had talked about?

Diana Butler Bass 11:55
Yeah, I talked about gratitude from what I refer to in the book for dispositions, I talk about our emotions, how we feel. And that’s probably one of the first places we go when we think about gratitude. And then I talk about our actions. That is how do we act upon those feelings, you know, everything from writing, thank you notes to me in a sort of mannered approaches to appreciation, giving to the poor, all that kind of the actions that result from feeling grateful. So emotions and actions, and then I talk about it as an individual reality, how I feel about it in my own life, and then how we, in a communal setting, experience those things. So there’s really, there’s these four quadrants of the self and community and emotions and ethics. And so when we talk about private and public, you know, that’s immediately talking about the me the individual and the we the community of gratitude. And I think that’s actually a really fascinating issue right now, because most of the stuff that’s written about gratitude is very privatized and very individualistic. It’s about keeping a gratitude journal, making sure that every night you say thank you about something that happened during the day writing letters to people of appreciation to people who have meant something to you. And so those are all great things. And those are all wonderful things actually. So you feel gratitude, and then you do something about it. You write it down, you make sure you tell someone, you connect with a person in some meaningful way who has given you a gift, or you might give a gift back to someone who has given you something. So that’s a very strong part of this sort of self help and spirituality literature around gratitude. And there’s a lot of great books that are written about that. But I kept thinking the whole time I was working on the project. If gratitude is good for us as individuals, would it be as good for us as a society? So if it lowers our blood pressure, if it helps us sleep better if it relieves our fears, if it helps us live in compassion, if it’s doing that, for us, as individual members of society, what if we could focus on gratitude, more communally in everything from say, churches or businesses, to school groups, to maybe even political kinds of movements? Could there be communal practices of gratitude that would lower the heat as it were, of our current political and social life?

Jason Hartman 14:46
Okay, so what are those practices and how do we put this into society?

Diana Butler Bass 14:51
I think that dividing it up into thinking about the emotions and the actions of gratitude is really helpful. One of the pieces But I had great fun with when I was writing the book is I kept thinking about what are the communal expressions of gratitude emotionally. When have I ever seen that or experienced that? And I realized right away, I love baseball. And I thought immediately of when, like the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. And what that was, was this huge communal sense of Thanksgiving, you know, oh my gosh, the Cubs won. I’ve seen 100 year curse broken. My grandparents would have lived for this moment, but they never saw it themselves. And there was this wonderful story that was in the Washington Post, where a sports reporter interviewed the manager of the Cubs and about a year after they won the series, and the Cubs manager said, you know, you would think all kinds of things that the fans would come up to you and say after you’ve won a World Series, but I have to tell you, the main thing that people have said to us In this last year has been, thank you. He says it’s been It was like living in a year of gratitude. After I read that story, and I was thinking about those kinds of feelings that we sometimes get around unexpected sporting events, I thought of other things, too, that communal gratitude. So there’s this vast sense of playfulness that really is present in our culture, but don’t pay that much attention to it. And an awful lot of what happens when we play together. It’s not just about competition, but it’s really about appreciation. It’s about the beauty of sport, it’s about movement and celebration, and all kinds of things that get caught up into the emotions of gratitude. And so, so that is present in our culture. And I think that if we paid more attention to it, that it would take us to a healthier place, because so many of those kinds of events, bring people together instead of separating people and then the other pieces Okay, so say we can feel gratitude together. Well, what do we do about that? Now a really important part of American culture are actually ritual celebrations of Thanksgiving, taking time and expressing our thanks, we have an entire holiday for that. Thanksgiving sometimes gets lost in the midst of the rush to Christmas, or whatever it is, but to really take Thanksgiving again and attend to it. And think about what what does it really mean to live in a country, there are only 10 countries in the entire world that celebrate Thanksgiving, and we’re one of those countries. And so that’s an action that we’ve chosen to do every year as a ritual. And it says something about us and it says something about who we can be. So that really I think is very important. It matters deeply, ma’am, kind of really passionate about Thanksgiving, right now. And the other piece, of course, is oftentimes as communities when we appreciate the gifts, that’s around us, we take time to give back. And so acts of charity, goodness, kindness, caring for the poor, taking care of the strangers among us. All of those things aren’t to earn points to go to heaven. I mean, they might be in some people’s religions, but what they really are is saying, Hey, I have enough. I have been gifted, my community has been gifted. And so we’re going to turn around and take care of the least of these. And so I think that the action of Thanksgiving, that ritual celebration that we have every year, we should really lift that up and say, This is central to our identity, and we’re going to act on what it means to be a Thanksgiving people. And a second of all that expression of gratitude. That is a really powerful and inspiring message about Thanksgiving. I love that.

Jason Hartman 18:50
Yeah, yeah. Very good. Did you want to say something else about that? Sorry to

Diana Butler Bass 18:54
interrupt. No, I just hope that people can really hear it and really embrace it. It’s a really beautiful holiday and we shouldn’t let it get lost with Black Friday and all those kinds of things. So I assume I’m all about reclaiming Thanksgiving.

Jason Hartman 19:09
Fantastic. Good stuff. I’m curious. You said 10 countries celebrate Thanksgiving. Can you tell us about that a little bit? I thought that was a US holiday pretty much. I mean, I know Canada has a version of it, I think.

Diana Butler Bass 19:19
Yeah, you know, I think it’s Canada, Japan, Germany, a one country in Latin America, maybe it maybe it’s Panama. It’s really kind of an American thing. And so countries are really, within the sphere of influence of the United States, have picked it up, you know, over the years and said, Hey, we like this. As a matter of fact, there was a group of people in Hawaii in 1965, who liked Thanksgiving so much, that they created a world gratitude day, which is September 21, to try to share the idea of thanksgiving as a holiday around the whole planet. So not only should we celebrate Thanksgiving Get up here in the United States and be really happy that there are nine other countries to do this. But the idea of a great global Thanksgiving, I think is a pretty cool idea. I’ve always hoped that it would go further than it has. Diana. That’s a great message. give out your website. You’ve got 10 books. Of course, those are available in all the usual places. But what is your website? It’s my name, Diana Butler, bass, calm and people can follow me on Twitter, especially, which is a lot of spirituality, a little bit of politics, a whole lot of hope. And always I’m challenging people with history and theology. It’s a fun Twitter feed. I keep it good. No insults allowed and my Twitter feed.

Jason Hartman 20:40
Fantastic. Diana, thanks for joining us.

Diana Butler Bass 20:43
Well, thank you for having me. I’ve really enjoyed it and giving thanks can bring us back to being the best people we can be. Well, we are grateful to have you on the show today. Thanks so much. Thank you.

Jason Hartman 20:55
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