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Local Man Explains What He Learned During "Journey of Gratitude"

"This is the Moment" 
By: Walter Green
Courtesy of
"This is the Moment" By: Walter Green
Local Man Explains What He Learned During "Journey of Gratitude"
When was the last time you thanked someone and told them how important they have been to your life? We speak to the author of the new book "This is the Moment" about his year-long journey to thank 44 people who influenced his life. We also talk to family therapist David Peters about what can be gained from expressing gratitude to the people who have helped us along the way.

When was the last time you thanked someone and told them how important they have been to your life? We speak to the author of the new book "This is the Moment" about his year-long journey to thank 44 people who influenced his life. We also talk to family therapist David Peters about what can be gained from expressing gratitude to the people who have helped us along the way.


Walter Green, former chairman and CEO of Harrison Conference Centers, and author of the new book "This is the Moment".


David Peters, Family Psychotherapist with a private practice in Mission Valley.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The path is more important than the destination for one man on a journey of gratitude. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Coming upon These Days a successful businessman in San Diego decided it was time to say thanks. So he tracked down people who given him a hand, or some good advice, or whose example had steered him on the right path. We will hear one thing that you did for him and might do for you. Plus, a war fought, bodies of women. Comes to life in the Pulitzer prize-winning play Ruined. Opening at the La Jolla Playhouse. That's all ahead this hour on These Days, first the news. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you are listening to These Days on KPBS. We are about to say our big annual collective thank you, which is really what our national holiday of Thanksgiving is all about. We will be grateful for our families, the food on our table and whatever else is going well in our lives. But while we are counting our blessings and high-fiving people next Thursday we might also consider if you think you said got missed along the way. For instance, did you ever think the person who steered you toward a good job or introduce you to the love of your life. How about the man or woman who told you it sure was hard to hear but wound up changing everything. My next guest decided it was high time to express his thanks to the influential people in his life. He set out on a yearlong journey of gratitude and he wrote a book about it. Walter Green is former chairman of and CEO of parents and conference centers and author of the book this is the moment. Walter welcome to These Days

WALTER GREEN: Good morning, it's nice to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: and I'd like to welcome one of our frequent guests David Peterson family psychotherapist with a private practice in Michigan Valley. David good morning, always good to see you again. Now we'd like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Have you ever made a special effort to find someone just so you could express your gratitude? Who would you like to think in your life? Who do you wish you could have think? Give us a call with questions and comments, a number here is 888-895-5727. In 188895KPBS. Walter, what is it that inspired you to go on this journey of gratitude?

WALTER GREEN: There were really three contributing factors. One started very early in my life when my dad died when I was 17 years old, so you don't need a more vivid reminder that life is short and precious and unpredictable. Then I remembered Tim Russert's funeral struck me as a remarkable experience.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The NBC Meet the Press host?

WALTER GREEN: And there were thousands of people in tributes paid to him or just extraordinary, former presidents, colleagues, etc. And I thought G. those are wonderful tributes but a little bittersweet. I wish he had heard how he had influenced so many lives it seemed to me to be a missed opportunity were people who thought they were speaking to him with eulogies were really speaking about him. And the third was this whole sense of what people really do when their lives are numbered in their days and we remember Tuesdays with Morrie and the last lecture and Jason daylight. Everybody reaches out, gets very authentic and I'm thinking if it's so important before we die to connect with people who've been important and leave messages, why not now. And that gave me this concept of why wouldn't I take a year of my life while I'm alive and well, travel around the United States and abroad and I could sit down with everybody who had a profound influence on my life and tell them explicitly the impact they had in my life pretty was an extraordinary experience.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Everybody knows there's a big difference between thinking this would be a good idea and actually setting about doing it. So how did you actually put this plan into motion?

WALTER GREEN: Well the first thing I did was to think about well who would isolate to speak with and I had a rather tumultuous childhood, so I had nobody before 17 I could think of but there was somebody at 17 that had impacted my life. Then I got a pad of paper and I put the person's name at the top of the past paper and I said to myself what difference did this person really make in my life and they made a series of bullet points. When I finished I experience it was clear that that person should be invited and that went chronologically up to within the last decade and that's how I found out people that I wanted to select to go on a journey.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did you put down exactly what he wanted to thank them for?

WALTER GREEN: Very explicit. This is very different from he's a dear friend are really very fond of him. This is what difference, what impact did this person make in my life. It was an extraordinary realization that for some of us who think we are self made we are really the furthest thing from being self-made pretty realistic in a year-long journey I was to a large extent made by these people who impacted my life.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What else did you learn about yourself during this journey was easy to say things to people.

WALTER GREEN: To me it was, it was we all know the most important gift you can give anybody as a personal gift. And what would be more personal than to reflect over a relationship switch on average with 25 years and to be very explicit about all the impact that person had over 25 years. The choice is this. We are the only ones who can give the gift. If we don't get that it's like leaving a dark closet and it's never given. And the only potential outcome of never getting the gift is what everybody already has experience. I wish I had told him. I'm so regretful. I have eliminated that work from my vocabulary. There will be no more regrets. I have expressed my profound gratitude to everybody who's been important in my life.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Walter Green. He is the author of the new book this is the moment about his yearlong journey of gratitude thinking of people who would been important in his life. And my, and also David peters is here. He's a family psychotherapist with a private practice in Mission Valley and we are taking your calls if you'd like to join a conversation about perhaps having made, if you ever made a special effort in your life to find someone just so you could express your gratitude or just to tell us how you would like to think in your life or to ask questions about this journey of gratitude. The number is 1-888-895-5727, 1888-895-KPBS. David peters (INAUDIBLE)?

DAVID PETERS: We know from psychology research the practice of positive thoughts can enrich our social relationships. It's very similar to cognitive therapy, which has been around for something like I think 30 years now. Cognitive therapy is where we train someone to monitor the negative for the positive thoughts in their head and to skew them toward the positive. Look for evidence of good things in their life so we don't get stuck in feeling lonely, lost, pessimistic, ruminating on what is going wrong in our lives. So, when we, you can think of gratitude as an emotion you experience spontaneously, but you can also think of it as a practice, an attitude that he purposefully take. That's where it becomes a cognitive therapy intervention. If I collect myself a feeling of gratitude and focus on those events, or those people in my life that I benefit from well, that changes my brain on a neuropsychiatric level during that moment. He literally can't lower cortisol levels and blood screen and can increase to between dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain giving the literally on a neurological level chemical level and experience of well-being come experience of calm and peace in the benefit of my entire body, lower levels of stress, people who practice gratitude live healthier lives on a physiological level.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So in addition to helping the person, one would imagine who gets think, the person who does the thinking also receives a great deal of emotional benefit.

DAVID PETERS: Exactly and as a mental health professional of course I'm focused on the client not the clients friends or family or others. They are not in my room. In a strange way you could very narcissistically want to benefit your self but be grateful to others in your life and talking to them about it. It does benefit us individually, but there's also a societal benefit when someone thinks us, truly, directly for something very specific we've done for them we feel that social connection and we feel like there's greater meaning in our life. So it does benefit analysis, but there are definite mental benefits to taking on what we call the attitude of gratitude.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I wonder if you have David ever actually advised someone I would be a good idea to go find someone and say thank you if indeed no reason not resolving an issue of gratitude was an ongoing problem in their life.

DAVID PETERS: Yes I have on occasion. It's not a frequent practice, but there are times when a client was revealed to me that during a horrid time of their life where they were maybe in high school suicidal there. Stroke and neglecting them into teacher or a neighbor or someone literally saved their life by giving their open and giving them guidance and it's been 20 years since they've spoken with that person. I'd say well have any contact with him in recent years will know they are long gone eyesight you should go back and tell them. My clients of course find this very bewildering, but I do know that by going back to the person and telling them pay you have such an influence on me, you saved my life or saved my heart, my soul, helped me recover from a tragedy, it's a definite health building mechanism for them that they re-experience the Montgomery experience the richness of that. So both parties benefit and it develops a richer deeper meaning in life. Another wise words it solidifies in the mind, in the brain the benefit they've already gone because you can experience the full length of your life as a greater unity. As a meaningful track from back then to now, rather than just a series of events.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are talking about thanking people in your life, taking the journey of gratitude. We are asking if you'd like to join a conversation with your stories of having done something similar or wanting to thank someone for doing something for you years ago and the number is 1-888-895-5727 David is calling us from La Mesa. Good morning, David and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning Maureen thank you for having me on


NEW SPEAKER: As briefly as possible because my time is brief in my senior year I wrestled and almost had to have my leg amputated and the graphic I had the time was a college coach and it didn't much like me.... I never felt that I want his approval or that he liked me and long story short we broke up is his year since then I've done fairly well in my martial arts and MMA and actually tracked down a couple months ago and went and told him thank you for not giving me the respect I have not heard and not doing that and really showing through being a role model wanted was to be that and how I probably wouldn't have been there had he not been back and I'll tell you right now that was, to see the expression on his face and see that it actually broken through to him that I'd actually want his respect years later is probably what about the most gratifying and personally satisfying things to do that he felt that way and that we were in that kind of positive vein. So that's about it, thank you for your program I love every morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much David and thank you for the call. Walter I'm interested how do the people that you wrote down the list, on the pad and you started to go tracked them down and find them how did they respond to you tracking them down and showing up in their lives in a way, if you hadn't seen them for years and years and years.

WALTER GREEN: First I want to say the mystery out of this process that I think the listeners, if they thought for a moment just have one person in her life who would make a profound difference, that persons probably within 5 miles of their home, maybe in their home. Now, for me I ended up having a more extensive journey, but even in my case I didn't have to track most of them down. So I will say this, when I called them and said listen I've decided to take a year off and wanted to explicit gratitude to each of these people made a difference you know their first response their first responses are you okay, you must be dying. So the first thing we have the kind of overcome is this cultural bias that the time you do it is when you are dying nice to know I'm alive I'm well and I want to do and they were kind of honored, they felt blessed. So it wasn't as if I had spoken to them for years pretended up seeing 44 people in the course of my journey. And I want to take the mystery out of it because once you sit down with the person and you are very explicit with them is, as David was saying is a very satisfying experience to be able to do it and of course the person who's hearing it feels remarkably good because the last time I checked almost everybody likes to get acknowledged for her contribution they make to somebody's life. It’s no small deal.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is it more uncomfortable though for someone you see on a daily basis to actually take the time out and say sit down I want to tell you something to be very explicit about what that person has meant in your life and to take them for that?

WALTER GREEN: I had wide varieties of the people I know were sometime known for just a decade, most of them a couple of decades and about a third of them were written in driving distance. And having spent 30 years in the conference business I knew people like to be relaxed by having an understanding of what the conversation would be about, so before I went there I said just tell you I'm going to do it and we are going to go through four bases, the first basis how do we meet, the second basis let's talk about our experiences together, that was all remarkable one, the third one is a want to be very explicit with them about their contributions. Everybody was very relaxed by the time I got to that part and they felt honored, felt blessed and were in a terrifically positive state. The fourth one was listen I've known these people for almost 1000 years together as they just give me one or two stones for my mosaic and I built an understanding because he knew the truth is this person that we think we are when we are gone it goes with us. What lives on either memories and thoughts and impressions of everybody that's admitted impact on us so I now have from 44 people their impressions that will live on long after I go.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break and when we return we will continue to talk about Walter Green's journey of gratitude and also about perhaps thinking the people who are important in your life and taking your calls at 1-888-955-7272 you're listening to These Days on KPBS. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You are listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Walter Green. He is a former Chairman of the Harrison Conference Centers and he's the author of the new book This Is the , where he describes his year-long journey of gratitude, thanking people who were influential in his life. And my other guest is David Peters, who is a frequent guest, He's a family psychotherapist with a private practice in Mission Valley. And we are inviting you to join the conversation. If you have made an effort to find someone just so you've expressed your gratitude if you have ever sat down a close friend and told him exactly why they are important to you or who do you wish you could have thanked. Then give us a call with your questions and/or comments. 18888955727. Daniel is on the line from Clairmont. Good morning Daniel and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you very much. First I want to thank Tom Fudge and Gloria Penner and you also Maureen, you also change my life because the information I get from the radio station and I love every morning and it's very nice, it's motivated me to do a lot of good things.


NEW SPEAKER: I'd also like to say and that goes for the editors also that Gloria doesn't even know I'm difficult with them and also for the directors of the show.


NEW SPEAKER: For me it's a friend is kind of lost and I don't know really where she is anymore. She took me to church and that really changed my life. I don't think she really understands how that happened, but it did and how much importance it was to me, but now that I don't know where she is and how she's doing I just have to leave it up to the wind I guess for her to know.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay Daniel thank you for your kind words thank you very very much but that's an issue I want to talk to you David peters about. What if somebody really cannot find someone who was terribly important in their life. You recommend sort of writing a letter to the person or something along those lines paired

DAVID PETERS: If that person is a client of mine in therapy definitely recommend some sort of assignment that and ask the gratitude that they feel or the love they feel or whatever because you know we can think of something in a split second. I can think of how grateful I am to everyone, someone on account of one, two, then it's gone again. I don't experience the benefit. But if I sit down and write a detailed letter to someone even though they're not going to be able to read it, if I write that letter from the heart, Marv the brain is involved in the process on a neurological level. Part of my brain is feeling the gratitude, the part of my brain that expresses itself in writing, that part of my brain is going to read what I wrote and if I read that letter again allowed to experience it again. I've had clients write something out and they bring it in and I say that's really did you get good you did the homework assignment now can you read it to me and sometimes it's very difficult material they say hell no I'm not going to read it to you, why not and they know they are going to experience emotions that could overwhelm them but part of therapy can be to read through that out loud so they experience it more fully. And what's wonderful about Walter's experiences that he's going live to someone face-to-face speaking in detail, hearing from them, it's fully involving the mind and the heart and the soul, the body. So it is an extremely enriching experience. But yes even if the person is passed on, we can write something, we can read it out loud to others, These Days you can post it online at Facebook there's a page, an attitude of gratitude project on Facebook and it's a fascinating place where you just see people writing down what they are most grateful for, people in their life or events in their life. So this gratitude is kind of catchy. Daniel kind of demonstrated that in his column in that just got talking about it calls up the feeling and what am I., who am I thankful for and he couldn't help but say about you in the program here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Which is very nice indeed. Walter Green who was the first person you thanked on this yearlong journey?

WALTER GREEN: The first person was a friend I had when I was 17 that influenced where I went to school at the University of Michigan where my father died of a fatal heart attack three months later he was the one who encouraged me to come back to school and finish and had influences many years subsequent to that as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I read that you also thanked your wife.

WALTER GREEN: I was trying to get the focus actually this conversation when we think about how hard it is to find these people and do you write letters if you can't find them, my reminder to our listeners as, the people who are very present in your life, one thing for example my conversation with both my wife and my sons were three probably the most profound conversations I've ever had. It's not that they don't know how you feel about them, that's not the issue. The feeling that you communicate and this is exactly the impact they had in your life. I made pages of notes before he went into each conversation and I think it's a very rewarding process. I think we are saying our sons and daughters should be grateful to us for everything we've done for them and we all know that program but if we ever thought about the impact and have we ever communicated that impact to our children and Thanksgiving is coming and the family is around, sometimes they can be a little anxious moments, it's a wonderful time, I suggest just find one member of the family, give some thought to the impact that person has, set aside some private time. It doesn't teach you take what my average conversations were an hour or two. Alias and lasting impact it enhances the relationship if something ever happened to the person you would not that you've told them how important they've been to.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call. We have a full bank of calls right now if you'd also like to go online you can express your thoughts of Days. Nadine is calling us from Mount helix, good morning media and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning to you. My story is about being in a town in southwest Iowa called the Shenandoah. And it was a delightful place to grow up. I was a child of the Depression prayer was born in 1931. And we schoolchildren were very grateful just to have a warm place to be all day in. And I had a wonderful fifth-grade teacher whose name wasn't disagree with Ms. Ruth Dickinson and she had like many teachers at the time started her career in a one-room country's glasses and by the time she got to our school she had had lots of experience with all ages of kids. But she had the fifth grade, and she had marvelous devices for dealing with our social problems. It doesn't have to be specifically who is who she helped but you would greatly appreciate what she does for other people. For instance one time there was money missing from someone's desk, so she said there's money missing and we are going to form a line around the circle of the outside of the room, around the desks and there is a cup on my desk, and everybody when they go by is going to put their hand into the cup. And when we have all gone around one time, I think the money will be there. But if it is not, we will go around another time and she said I don't have to know who has the money, but we just need the money back.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nadine, did you ever get a chance to think this teacher.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, and another time, she was marvelous about making people comfortable about anything that made them distinctive.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nadine, we have so many callers on the line we are going to have to leave it there but thank you so much for that call we are grateful for that. I want to ask both of you Walter and David for your insights as to come a for instance Walter you ever ran up against this, did you ever want to say thank you to someone who perhaps he worked on the greatest terms with.

WALTER GREEN: That's a common question. There's a whole book on making amends, and for me I'm a fairly practical business guy. I took the low hanging fruit. I have all these people that I wanted to again I want to make it clear let's not make this too complicated. As a matter of fact even on my website this is the I lay out a guide so someone could say it like what would I think a person for, how would I express it because I might be attitude of gratitude and David was talking earlier about our capacity to thank people for individual acts, we are pretty good about that. We are courteous and trained cadre of what we are not trained that is his deep gratitude muscle when we look at a lifetime of relationship and begin to think about the power or the impact of that person. That's the movement than trying to have as a supplemental movement to the attitude of gratitude and I'm trying to take the mystery out of it has a businessperson I like to leave it fairly simple.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see. So what you're saying is a set of discrete stuff we can get just being thankful about the good things in our life you are talking about this deep probing of a particular relationship


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That a particular person that you need or you want to express gratitude to an individual.

WALTER GREEN: Absolutely and when I didn't when I looked at this journey I didn't look at any books and say how do you express, I went on it because I felt this tremendous inner drive to make sure that I did while I was alive and well I just want to distinguish, it's like, if we look at it as anatomically, it's a different muscle group. And you won't be able to do it with an attitude of gratitude alone. You've got to be focused on the specific person and think what difference did that person make in my life. It's extraordinary, David has explained psychologically and the reasons that you feel good. I just knew it exponentially was an extraordinary experience.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Without trying to complicate this more than I should I do want to ask David Peters, now are there any risks in doing this if you are expecting a certain response and you don't get it cannot be kind of devastating.

DAVID PETERS: I suppose it's possible, although most people when confronted with someone who is grateful to them can be so taken aback is hard for them to come back and say the wrong thing. You might end up talking to someone who's a terribly low point in their life or who has been damaged since he last spoke to them so they are not able to respond in kind, but when we are talking about what Walter is designing is really a healing moment. A moment where you are joining with the person if you talk to someone with detail about what they've done for you and point out the impact on your life, that is such a powerful therapeutic moment that I have a hard time believing it's very likely to get a very bad response. But there's always a chance you are catching someone who sits and has become an addict or something and have their life is destroyed. So there is some risk, but I think the benefits are fast. To practice this. And it definitely the trade-off is worth it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are still taking your calls and I want to talk now but with Miguel in Hillcrest. Good morning Miguel, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi how are you. Thank you so much for this program I'm fascinated with this being my name is Miguel and I want to thank Donna Price and English as a second language teacher who now works in the Cesar Chavez campus. And she, 20 years ago instilled in me the confidence to continue learning English and I pursued my GED and I have done so many things. Recently after 20 years of being in a classroom with her I want to thank her. I tracked her down and I told her that she had made a huge impact in my life and that you know, everything she had taught me had struck in me and I just love her for her enthusiasm and everything she brought to the classroom. She's an amazing person. So I'm just fascinated with the theme and the program.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well Miguel thank you so much for sharing that with us, we really appreciate it. Walter, and talking about your book and your website, this is the, part of that, part of your book and a part of this website is people sharing stories of their own journeys of gratitude. Tell us a lot about that.

WALTER GREEN: Actually the last third of the book is designed all about the individual creating their own journey. Format already had the pleasure, the journey was all about me. The book is all about everyone else. So actually while I was on this yearlong journey people would tell me stories and the stories were actually incorporated in the book. But one chapter that I think people would pay it particular attention to is the one I call hesitancy is but one step from action and that's where everybody says well I'm too old for this war I am too young, or they'd be uncomfortable or I'd be uncomfortable I'm too busy they are too busy with the one I think is the classic is what I say won't make any difference. And that is where we really have no appreciation for the power of expressing this gratitude. And the likelihood, David was talking earlier, and I wanted to remind you, many times the person that you are thinking just like Miguel was thinking his teacher from 20 years ago she may armor not remember Miguel and it really isn't important, the fact is Miguel was a tremendous beneficiary and I am going back and communicating it to her it doesn't matter if she remembered she will feel very special having communicated to her.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well we have to wrap things up gentlemen but I want to thank you both so much for sharing this, sharing your journey Walter and where can people go to get that sort of primer again

about how to go on this journey themselves.

WALTER GREEN: So this is the is a free guide to beginning the conversations and they don't have to be conversations that could be letters that could be poems they could be songs that gives people a chance to think about not only how can you communicate, what you might want to say and to whom you might say it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The name of the book is This is The Moment; A year-long journey of gratitude. Walter Green and David Peters as always thank you very much.

DAVID PETERS: Always fun to join the show.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: David Peters is a family psychotherapist with a private practice in Mission Valley. There were so many people who wanted to share their stories with us. We didn't get a chance to hear from them all please go to Days. Coming up we will hear about the Pulitzer prize-winning play Ruined that is coming to the La Jolla Playhouse. That's as These Days continues on KPBS.