Gina Hamadey is an author, journalist, founder of Penknife Media, and mom. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her book, I Want to Thank You: How a Year of Gratitude Can Bring Joy and Meaning in a Disconnected World, was published in 2021 and since then has made a difference all over the country and world. The book centers around Hamadey writing 365 thank-you notes, and in writing a note for every day of the year, she discovers more about gratitude than she could’ve imagined.
Q: Tell me about yourself and your book.
A: Hamadey begins to tell me about her background in magazine editing and details about some of the projects she is working on now. She transitions into the inspiration for her most recent book, “In 2018 I was commuting out to New Jersey and I had all these thank-you notes to write. At the end of the train ride, after I had completed a few, I just felt really good and I felt like that feeling went into my day. It was like I had lifted a veil, and I'm walking around town and I'm noticing it for the first time. It just put me in a really good mood. I looked at my list and I saw that I had written thirty-one, it was January 31st and the whole idea came to me like, `Oh, I've already written a thank you note for every day of 2018, I should write a note for every day this year’ and what would that look like?”
Q: How did writing a book about gratitude change your daily life? Your perspective? Were you surprised by any of the changes you experienced?
A: She nods, and begins to talk about her initial excitement of being able to put something good in the world without knowing what was going to come back. Hamadey was pleasantly surprised, especially when she was able to reconnect with people throughout her life. “Something surprising was how many people reached out and said, ‘this is a really hard time right now for me’. But just by reaching out to them, it opened up that door for them to share that with me, even people that weren't very close with me and that was lovely. It also got me in touch with people who meant something to me a long time ago and who I haven't talked to in a long time.” Hamadey also noticed changes in her daily life. She describes for me a metaphor for how gratitude affects the brain. “Picture hiking trails that are well-worn, and that's the way your brain works. So if you're doing something, again and again, it becomes this well-worn hiking trail, whether that's math or something like positivity and gratitude. So sitting with these grateful feelings on a regular basis for a whole year absolutely made me a more grateful, more positive person. It gave me a lot of resilience actually going into the pandemic.”
Q: Although your book has 4.7/5 stars on Amazon and is highly recommended, you have probably encountered negative comments or feedback. How do you not let that negativity affect you? Discuss how negative feedback from the book or during your whole career has affected you and your view of yourself.
A: Hamadey begins by telling me about her experience in her early years of writing and editing. “I'm definitely better at dealing with [negativity] than I used to be. I remember having really thin skin and taking personally everything that somebody would say about my work. I feel like now anything that's about the work, I'm glad to hear it.” She then tells me about her experience with criticism when writing her book. “My book editor took such a light edit that I was like no. Tell me what I'm doing wrong, push back, tell me where I'm being lazy. I need it. I want it. I feel like it's a gift that I welcome feedback as a writer and I'm not sure that I always did. I'm not sure that I was always confident enough to do that.”
Q: How can teens incorporate gratitude into their lives?
A: Although Hamadey’s children are only five and eight, she’s still had experience with gratitude in teens. “What I start thinking about is that part in my book where I took my son and we went to a high school. I went and sat in on a class that one day spent their hour in the library writing thank you notes, just as an emotional break. They were all pretty skeptical and they were all pretty eye-rolly, which I get, and I probably would have been the same. Then all of a sudden, once they started putting a pen to the paper, it just was like a switch. I think they all of a sudden took it seriously, like some of them wrote 10 and some of them only wrote one, but it's really long. It was great to see because I didn't know if they would be like, ‘I'm not gonna write a letter, what's the difference between that and a text?’ I would say reading a text is great. It's just that it does go away whereas a letter or a card, which can just be three or four really heartfelt sentences, doesn't go away so easily. It's more of a memento. So I would say, give it a shot.”
Q: The new surge of COVID and Omicron is really scary. How can we keep positive and continue to focus on the good things in life?
A: She nods thoughtfully and tells me about what she’s done before going into some of the psychology behind practicing gratitude and its positive effects. “You know, the only way I know how to do that is to keep up a gratitude practice. There are lots of ways to have a gratitude practice. I was talking to this professor at USC, and he said that one thing he does every morning is finding something in the room to focus on. He thinks about why he's grateful for it and what it would mean if it wasn't there or if it was broken. He gave me an example of this blanket, which was a wedding gift. Then he starts thinking about the wedding. So it's only in the first minute of his day but it just starts the day in this nice way. There's so much science behind the fact that gratitude is a powerful tool. You can't just vaguely once in a while think about how you're grateful that there's a sunset or something like that. In order for those benefits to kick in, you need something you can hold on to. It’s important that it’s a habit.”
Q: What’s something that you’re grateful for right now?
A: “I'm grateful for reading in bed with the kids, which is my heaven. We're all healthy in the house and I feel grateful for that.”
Q: Who’s your favorite Jewish celebrity?
A: “Seinfeld came right to mind, is that terribly cliche?” We laugh together and I shake my head. “I would say Seinfeld is the Jewish celebrity that pops into my mind as being wonderful.”
Throughout the interview, as we chatted and laughed, I felt a sense of motivation. Her passion for gratitude is inspiring and it’s beautiful to see Hamadey pass it on to others through her work. As we continue into these darker winter months I suggest to you that every day you try to think about something you’re grateful for. Even if you’re having the worst day, find something that makes your heart happy and that you’re glad exists.
You can find Gina Hamadey’s book here.
Ruthie Zeidman is a BBG from Portland, OR, and her passions include inclusivity, Judaism, writing, volunteering, listening to music, watching too many movies, and laughing (and BBYO of course).
All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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