Louisa Jewell, MAPP '09, is president of Positive Matters and a consultant, facilitator and speaker who works with organizations around the world to develop positive leaders and nurture productive teams. Listen to Louisa's podcasts on positive matters, collected from a radio show she hosted. Full bio.
Louisa's PositivePsychologyNews.com articles are here.
For twenty years my dear friend Ann and I have been watching the Oprah Winfrey show, so it seemed appropriate that we watch Oprah’s last show together. Ann was two hours away in Norwood Ontario while I sat in my living room in Toronto, both of us on the phone, calling each other at every commercial break. (All the grey boxes below are quotations from Oprah.)
“Thank you for being such a sweet inspiration for me as I have tried to be for you.”
Over the years, the Oprah show became a positive intervention for us – our daily dose of inspiration. After learning about Barbara Fredrickson’s positivity ratio, I stopped watching the ‘sad’ Oprah shows – the ones where she interviewed pedophiles or moms who had lost children. I realized I was just filling myself up with unnecessary negative emotions. And when Oprah wanted to fill you with positive emotions she was the master – day after day I sat in awe as she filled my bucket.
Through the power of storytelling and television, Oprah brought to life many lessons taught by positive psychologists around the world. She used her final show to share her greatest lessons from 25 years of the Oprah show. Here they are…
You have the power to change your life.
This was the common theme of every Oprah show. If an African American girl born in Mississippi in the 50’s could rise to Oprah’s level, anything was possible. Oprah’s final guest was a Zimbabwean woman Tererai Trent, who embodied everything the Oprah show stood for. Tererai’s story was one that showed us the power of hope and how it can propel people to overcome insurmountable obstacles and emerge triumphant. See Tererai’s inspiring story here.
You are not alone.
Oprah interviewed ordinary people and shared their stories. It wasn’t until I started watching Oprah that I realized that all families had some dysfunction. And knowing this brought me great comfort. Often, when we see that there are many people just like us, our challenges seem less daunting.
Happiness is contagious.
After interviewing Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, who could feel other people’s energy after she survived a massive stroke, Oprah realized that all of the energy you put out into the world – whether positive or negative – comes back to you. Dr. Taylor gave Oprah a sign for her office that read, “Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.” Just as Jane Dutton, Barbara Fredrickson and others have found, positive energy in the workplace, at home, or in our community, is contagious.
“You and this show have been the great love of my life.”
Other people matter.
The first day Oprah showed up in Chicago to do her show, she found she did not have a studio audience. Suddenly, she didn’t have other people to gauge how things were going during the show – if it was good, if it was bad, if it was funny. We are co-creating every experience in our lives. Oprah surrounded herself with loving viewers and through that profound connection she understood what people needed and delivered a show that struck a chord with millions of viewers in 150 countries.
“Everybody has a calling, and your real job in life is to figure out what that is and get about the business of doing it.”
Everybody has a calling.
Whether it’s to clean drain pipes or conduct an orchestra, we are all called to something bigger than ourselves. Just as Amy Wrzesniewski, Yale researcher, discovered, any job can be a calling and for those of us lucky enough to call our work our calling, it can be a foundation for a lifetime of fulfillment and happiness.Giving is better than receiving.
While she shocked us with incredible give-aways, the most inspiring shows were ones when she reunited loved ones or gave homeless people a home. I remember on one show she asked everyone in the studio audience to bring a pair of pajamas for a woman who donated pajamas to children living in homeless shelters. The audience of 300 brought over 30,000 pairs of pajamas to the show! Through her acts of kindness, she inspired us to give more of ourselves. Jonathan Haidt wrote, “Elevation is elicited by acts of virtue or moral beauty; it causes warm, open feelings in the chest; and it motivates people to behave more virtuously themselves.”
“There is a difference between thinking you deserve to be happy and knowing you are worthy of happiness.”
You are worthy.
We often block our own blessings because we don’t feel inherently smart enough, pretty enough, or just plain good enough. It is what Dr. Martin Seligman discovered when people felt helpless. Realistic optimism and a strong belief in ourselves can have a profound impact on our lives.
“…I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?”
Everyone wants to be heard.
One person- Mrs. Duncan, Oprah’s 4th grade teacher, validated her at a young age, and this changed the course of her life. This is why Shelly Gable’s Active Constructive Responding technique is so powerful. It demonstrates to people that ‘we are listening’ and ‘what you say matters to me.’ Mrs. Duncan reminds us that every single one of us can make a difference in someone’s life.
Her final message is one of gratitude; gratitude for her viewers, her staff, her friends, her loved ones and God’s everlasting presence. Robert Emmons demonstrated the power of gratitude through his research and Oprah brought it to the masses by encouraging people to keep a daily gratitude journal. She didn’t need a PhD to know the power of appreciation.
Ann and I speculated about how she would end the show. Will she turn out the lights like Mary Tyler Moore? Will she have some final dream giveaway hiding under everyone’s seat?
No…instead she somberly walks off the stage, through the audience and walks right over to Stedman, her lifetime love and partner, and kisses him right on the lips. She waves as she walks out of the exit and embraces several staff members as she passes them in the long narrow hallway. Finally, with her high heels in her hand, she picks up her dog Sadie, gives her a big hug, and walks off into the distance.
Her show ends with this final act of love.
Dutton, J. (2003). Energize Your Workplace: How to Create and Sustain High-Quality Connections at Work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Emmons, R. (2007) Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflan Company.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Gable, E. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E. A., & Asher, E. R. (2004). Capitalizing on Daily Positive Events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87.
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Taylor, J. B. (2009). My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. Plume.
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