The center, in collaboration with UC Davis, has awarded $3 million in grants to improve the scientific understanding of gratitude, including projects that examine the biology of gratitude.
Patron saint for resilience
The remarkable story of one woman's life and death refined Lewis' interest in resilience and inspired the World Gratitude Map.
"I guess the most amazing thing about my mom is she lived a very small life" — she wasn't famous, never had a great job or money, never made any high-profile accomplishments — "but people loved her," Lewis said of her mother Joan Zawoiski Lewis, otherwise known as Joannie from Pringle.
The nickname refers to the small borough in Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania where Joan Lewis was born. "She retained that small-town simplicity," Jacqueline Lewis told LiveScience.
Joan Lewis' life had no shortage of hardship. Her brother was killed in an accident, her sister committed suicide, she nearly died from a massive hemorrhage while giving birth, her husband abused her and her children, and on May 7, 2011, she died of pancreatic cancer.
But it was how her mother died that caught Lewis’ attention. When Joan Lewis was diagnosed, she was told she would have weeks to live.
"My mom says, 'Oh don't make a fuss, just do something nice for somebody today and tell them to think of me,'" Lewis said.
Family and friends throughout the world reported doing good deeds in her name, including feeding the homeless, translating instructions for a non-English speaker, helping a stranger pay for groceries, and other small acts.
"While dying, her focus on these good deeds done by others kept her alive with end-stage pancreatic cancer past all reasonable prognosis," Lewis said. "The [World Gratitude Map] gives the rest of us a chance to move our eyes in the same direction, perhaps derive the same benefit."
Her mother lived 20 months after her diagnosis. Over this time, "I had a chance to marvel about what it was about my mom that made her different than everybody else," Lewis said.
She noted that even during doctors' visits while she was dying, Joan Lewis found a way to move her attention "to what is good and beautiful and possible in the world, and away from what is dismal," Lewis said.
"She just created a good life," Lewis said.
Lewis' collaborators on the World Gratitude Map and a blog about resilience are Rose Cheney and Kate Cheney.
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