Two days ago, Taylor Swift was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. I haven’t tracked the commentary on this choice, but I can see in my news feeds – people have had a lot to say about it.
The Person of the Year is a person who has impacted the news cycle, for better or worse, and according to Time, “embodied what was important about the year.” I can understand why people have varying opinions about who should be named – plus, we’re really good at being upset and outraged these days about anyone’s opinions.
What no one can dispute is Taylor Swift’s influential power, whether she is The Person of the Year or not. And that got me thinking of people of influence in my own life.
Out of curiosity, I made a list in my journal last night entitled The 50 Most Influential People In My Life To Date. I wanted to see who would pop up – and, I wanted to see if there were people on the list who may not know how they’ve positively influenced my life.
One of the most effective ways to deepen your gratitude is to *express* gratitude. In my prompts, I’m sure you’ve noticed how often I suggest an action of thankfulness – write the text, make the call, communicate your gratitude.
When you act upon your appreciation, you amplify the positive impact of gratitude in your own life and you activate gratitude in someone else’s.
To take this expression a step further, one of the big dog researchers in the science of gratitude, Dr. Robert Emmons found that the “gratitude visit” is an experience that significantly enhances the positive emotion associated with gratitude.
This is when you write a letter of gratitude to an important person in your life, a person whom you never properly thanked and then visit that person and present them with your letter.
As far as positive psychology interventions go, according to Dr. Martin Seligman’s research (Seligman is the most distinguished scientist in the field of positive psychology), the “gratitude visit” makes people happier than any other intervention.
The first three people on my list were my mom, my dad and my sister, Julie. Then came memories of my childhood girlfriends – Tossy, Shannon, Lise, Michele.
And then the list went to a group of people I have always held so dear in my heart – my teachers and coaches.
When Dr. Rex Mooney’s name came through my pen, I paused. Dr. Mooney was my AP Humanities teacher senior year of high school – a course that combined history and English and was open to only a few students. Tossy, Lise, and I took the class together – and we loved it. It functioned like a college seminar and Dr. Mooney and our English teacher, Ms. Wells, combined novels with history so the curriculum was integrated before it was a thing to integrate like it is now.
Dr. Mooney was kind and soft-spoken – he had a dry wit and a true devotion to learning, to reading, and most importantly, to his students.
He died this summer and Lise called me after the memorial service. We reminisced about that Humanities class and what we appreciated about Dr. Mooney.
For me, it was one singular interaction with him that positively influenced my life.
He had helped me with my college admissions process – while he wasn’t officially my college counselor, he and I had discussed my essays and he knew my aspirations.
Second semester my senior year, I was waitlisted at my top college choice – a small school in the South that I had recently visited and met with the volleyball coach, in case I wanted to walk-on, and then enjoyed a long stroll through the campus, perfect Fall weather, cute guys throwing a Frisbee with their hats on backwards, their black Labrador retrievers rolling in the grass by their feet. I thought this was my future – and I didn’t want to have to wait for it.
I don’t remember talking to Dr. Mooney about the waitlist. I do remember the afternoon I passed by him in the hall – it must have been an off time to be in the hallway because it wasn’t crowded. I slowed down approaching him, he reached for my arm.
“You’re too much of a feminist for that school,” he tells me, softly, kindly – just as only he could be. “They’ve only been co-ed for 8 years.” He squeezes my arm and walks away in his signature shuffle step.
I wasn’t an outspoken feminist in high school, in my opinion – but I was, and still am, upset by the inequities of the world. I was not shy about my personal struggle with it. It came up all the time in my essays for that Humanities class – the objectification of women, the degradation, the Old Boys’ Network of it all – but it wasn’t like I went around demanding the world to change. I don’t know that I’m a pioneer in that way. I wouldn't have had the confidence and there’s a certain brand of feminism and activism that just isn’t my lane.
Which is all the more reason Dr. Mooney’s comment was so influential. Even the way he said it – finding me privately, saying it just to me, in passing – no big deal. This is just you. You’re interested in freedom, the unfairness doesn’t make sense to you, you have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the differences between men and women and how our culture goes about confining us to those roles – don’t put yourself in a place where you can’t safely explore your freedom.
It was one of the first experiences I had with this huge concept we all must live through: trusting life.
With Dr. Mooney’s trust in my future, I took myself off of that waitlist. When I got home that day from school, I checked the box on the postcard that said I did not want to be considered any further and mailed it back to the school. I let it go and looked to a different path – and that’s because Dr. Mooney could see one for me.
From some other dimension, I hope Dr. Mooney heard my conversation with Lise. From some comfortable chair in heaven, I hope he is reading this passage with you now. I wished I would have made an effort to thank him while he was still living. I wished he could have heard from me that it was a gift to be seen by him. Thankfully, I know he did hear it from many students. Expressing gratitude to someone affirms that person’s sense of purpose – it reminds the person that he/she is making a positive contribution with his/her life. And that is what every person wants, whether they can verbalize it or not. We all want to matter.
Make your list of influential people. It’s too busy to consider a gratitude visit this month, but wouldn’t it be fun to plan a couple of gratitude visits in 2024….wouldn’t it be great, to make someone happier?
DAY 13 Reflection Questions
*Get out a piece of paper or a journal and write these words: The 50 Most Influential People In My Life To Date. Let it rip. Some people on your list are not there for their positive impact – they are there because of the lesson you learned from the hurt that ensued from their behavior. You don’t have to be grateful for the pain these people caused, be grateful for who you’ve become as you’ve walked through that fire.
*Review your list and focus on one or two names. Tell your family, tell a friend about these people tonight. Draw this person closer in your memories, in your thoughts.
*When you have time, write this person or people a letter and consider a gratitude visit. It may even be possible that you will see one of these people in the weeks ahead as you gather with family and loved ones. Express your gratitude and savor the feelings of connection that this exchange evokes.