Two years ago, when Anne Kubitsky ‘05 printed and distributed 500 postcards inviting people to answer a single question, she was overwhelmed with positive, creative, heartfelt and inspiring responses that sparked a fast-growing phenomenon that continues today.
Her outreach also changed her life. (Read Kubitsky’s story.)
Kubitsky’s question, “What makes you grateful?” has turned into a multimedia series of exhibitions and installations displaying responses from people of all varieties, backgrounds and locales. One notable result of Kubitsky’s question was a partnership with artist Diana Lyn Cote, who responded to the query with painted depictions, then set out to paint one postcard-sized piece every day for a year.
Cote’s collection of painted responses is part of the Look for the Good exhibition at Smith, opening in the Nolen Art Lounge, Campus Center, on Saturday, Nov. 9. Several related workshops and events will take place during the exhibition, including:
- a reception and book signing, Friday, Nov. 15, 7-9 p.m., Campus Center Carroll Room (followed by a contra dance after-party, 9-10 p.m.)
- workshop with Anne Kubitsky and Diana Lyn Cote, Saturday, Nov. 16, 3:30 p.m., Campus Center 103-104.
- back-to-back lectures, on Wednesday, Nov. 20, by psychologists Robert Emmons, University of California, Davis, who will speak on “Gratitude Works! How Gratitude Heals, Energizes and Transforms”; and Jeff Froh, Hofstra University, who will address “Making Grateful Kids: Practical Strategies for Building Character”; beginning at 4:30 p.m. in Neilson Browsing Room.
Anne Kubitsky recently responded to questions about the “What Makes You Grateful?” project.
Gate: How did you arrive at that particular question, “What makes you grateful?”
Anne Kubitsky: That is a great question and a very complicated answer. But I think a lot of grace (and maybe magic!) was in the air when I asked it on 500 blank invitation postcards two years ago, because it has literally changed my life. Although many factors led to this question, I think my Smith training really prepared me to follow questions like this, no matter where they lead. After all, I majored in both biological sciences and philosophy, two fields founded on questions! So in a way, I’m still collecting data. But as author Brene Brown describes, it’s “data with soul.”
Gate: What have you found to be the reactions of people to your projects, exhibitions, etc., around “What Makes You Grateful?”
AK: I think the most surprising thing is that a lot of people start crying when they meet me or visit an exhibition or event. They cry for a lot of reasons but most explain that they are relieved to know that this project exists because it is proof that humanity is still ultimately good. I think that’s why I personally went through so much healing. By giving voice to so much gratitude, it has finally given birth to my own voice of gratitude. Running this project has made me a better person, and in a lot of ways, I think it has helped other people step up to the plate, too.
Gate: Can you share any examples of responses or interactions to your outreach that are particularly memorable?
AK: One cannot overlook the dedication and creative talent of Diana Lyn Cote, my collaborator for the exhibit here at Smith. I met her in December of 2011 and asked her (as I was asking everyone at the time) to fill out a postcard about what she was grateful for. Little did I know what would happen next. She created two postcards on the spot (postcard-sized oil paintings of incredible detail and quality). Next she decided to paint 366 grateful moment paintings for 2012—one every day for an entire leap year—beautiful paintings to go alongside very Zen-like statements about gratitude. She is now showing the entire collection with me at Smith. In the process of Diana’s “leap of faith” into gratitude, Diana and I have become friends and we have both grown tremendously.
There are so many other incredible responses as well that you can see in the exhibit or read in the accompanying book.
Gate: Based on your experience with the growth of this project, how would you define the power in that question? Why does it succeed in eliciting such insight and positivity?
AK: From my personal experience, this question is powerful. It will roll around in your head until your heart opens, your eyes soften, and you finally become open to solutions—healing solutions. Robert Emmons and Jeffrey Froh (who will speak at Smith on November 20) explain that gratitude is essential to building resilience. And if you look at where the world is headed in terms of economic and environmental crisis, we need all the resilience we can get – as individuals, families, and a global community. Resilience helps you respond to problems in a peaceful way (versus a violent way) and is ultimately the glue that holds humanity together. If we loose our resilience, we loose our humanity, and society breaks down fast.
So even though it may seem like a simple question, “What Makes You Grateful?” is profoundly healing and transformative. That’s why I am getting this question out to as many people as possible.