"Sit. Feast on your life." —Derek Walcott
The first time Tina Turner appeared on my show, I wanted to run
away with her, be a backup girl, and dance all night at her concerts.
Well, that dream came true one night in L.A. when The Oprah Winfrey
Show went on tour with Tina. After a full day's rehearsal for just
one song, I got my chance.
It was the most nerve-racking, knee-shaking, exhilarating experience
ever. For 5 minutes and 27 seconds I got a chance to feel what it's like
to rock onstage. I have never been more out of my element, out of my
body. I remember counting the steps in my head, trying to keep the
rhythm, waiting for the big kick, and being so self-conscious.
Then, in an instant, it dawned on me: Okay, girl, this is going to be
over soon. And if I didn't loosen up, I would miss the fun. So I
threw my head back, forgot about step, step, turn, kick, and just
Several months later I received a package from my friend and mentor Maya
Angelou—she'd said she was sending me a gift she'd want any
daughter of hers to have. When I ripped it open, I found a CD of a song
by Lee Ann Womack that I can still hardly listen to without boohooing.
The song, which is a testament to Maya's life, has this line as its
refrain: When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you
What I know for sure is that every day brings a chance for you to draw
in a breath, kick off your shoes, and step out and dance—to live
free of regret and filled with as much joy, fun, and laughter as you can
stand. You can either waltz boldly onto the stage of life and live the
way you know your spirit is nudging you to, or you can sit quietly by
the wall, receding into the shadows of fear and self-doubt.
You have the choice this very moment—the only moment you have for
certain. I hope you aren't so wrapped up in nonessential stuff that you
forget to really enjoy yourself—because this moment is about to be
over. I hope you'll look back and remember today as the day you decided
to make every one count, to relish each hour as if there would never be
another. And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you
I take my pleasures seriously. I work hard and play well; I
believe in the yin and yang of life. It doesn't take a lot to make me
happy because I find satisfaction in so much of what I do. Some
satisfactions are higher-rated than others, of course. And because I try
to practice what I preach—living in the moment—I am
consciously attuned most of the time to how much pleasure I am
How many times have I laughed so hard on the phone with my best friend,
Gayle King, that my head started to hurt? Mid-howl I sometimes think,
Isn't this a gift—after so many years of nightly phone calls,
to have someone who tells me the truth and to laugh this loudly about
it? I call that five-star pleasure.
Being aware of, and creating, four- and five-star experiences makes you
blessed. For me, just waking up "clothed in my right mind," being able
to put my feet on the floor, walk to the bathroom, and do what needs to
be done there is five stars. I've heard many stories of people who
aren't healthy enough to do that.
A strong cup of coffee with the perfect hazelnut creamer: four stars.
Going for a walk through the woods with the dogs unleashed: five stars.
Working out: one star, still. Sitting under my oaks, reading the Sunday
papers: four stars. A great book: five. Hanging out at Quincy Jones's
kitchen table, talking about everything and nuthin': five stars. Being
able to do good things for other people: five plus. The enjoyment comes
from knowing the receiver understands the spirit of the gift. I make an
effort to do something good for somebody every day, whether I know that
person or not.
What I know for sure is that pleasure is energy reciprocated: What you
put out comes back. Your base level of pleasure is determined by how you
view your whole life.
More important than 20/20 eyesight is your internal vision, your own
sweet spirit whispering through your life with guidance and
grace—now that's pleasure.
Life is full of delightful treasures, if we take a moment to
appreciate them. I call them ahhh moments, and I've learned how
to create them for myself. Case in point: my 4 p.m. cup of masala chai
tea (spicy, hot, with foamed almond milk on top—it's refreshing
and gives me a little lift for the rest of the afternoon). Moments like
this are powerful, I know for sure. They can be your recharge, your
breathing space, your chance to reconnect with you.
I have always adored the word delicious. The way it rolls off
my tongue delights me. And even more delectable than a delicious meal is
a delicious experience, rich and layered like a fine coconut cake. I had
one a few birthdays ago—both the cake and the experience. It was
one of those moments I call a God wink—when out of the blue
everything lines up just perfectly.
I was hanging out with a group of girlfriends in Maui; I'd just come
back from India and wanted to have a spa retreat at my house to
celebrate turning 58.
As girlfriends do even at this age, we sat around the table and talked
till midnight. On the night before my birthday, five of the eight of us
were still at the table at 12:30 a.m., worn out from a five-hour
conversation that had run the gamut from men to microdermabrasion. Lots
of laughing, some tears. The kind of talking women do when we feel safe.
In two days I was scheduled to interview the famed spiritual teacher Ram
Dass, and by coincidence I started to hum a line from a song invoking
Suddenly my friend Maria said, "What's that you're humming?"
"Oh, just a line from a song I like."
She said, "I know that song. I listen to it every night."
"No way," I said. "It's an obscure song on an album by a woman named
"Yes!" Maria said. "Yes! Yes! Snatum Kaur! I listen to her every night
before I go to bed. How do you know her music?"
"Peggy"—another friend who was with us—"gave me a CD two
years ago, and I've been listening ever since. I play her every day
Now we were both screaming and laughing. "No way! "
"I actually thought of having her come to sing for my birthday," I said
when I caught my breath. "Then I went, Nah, too much trouble. Had
I known you liked her, too, I would have made the effort."
Later that night, lying in bed, I thought, Isn't that something. I
would have gone to the trouble for a friend but not for myself. For sure
I need to practice what I preach and value myself more. I went to
sleep wishing I'd invited Snatum Kaur to sing.
The next day, my birthday, we had a "land blessing" with a Hawaiian
chieftain. That evening we gathered on the porch for sunset cocktails.
My friend Elizabeth stood up—to read a poem, I thought, or make a
speech. Instead she said, "You wanted it, and now you have manifested
it." She rang a small chime, and suddenly music started to play.
The music was muffled, as if the speakers weren't working. I thought,
What's going on? And then there appeared, walking onto my front
porch ... Snatum Kaur, in her white turban. And her musicians! "How did
this happen?" I cried. And cried, and cried. Maria, sitting next
to me with tears in her eyes, held my hand and just nodded. "You
wouldn't do it for yourself, so we did it for you."
After I'd gone to bed the night before, my friends had called to find
out where Snatum Kaur was, to see if they could get her to Maui in the
next 12 hours. As life and God would have it, she and her musicians were
in a town 30 minutes away, preparing for a concert. And were "honored"
to come and sing.
It was one of the most amazing surprises of my life. Layered with
meanings I'm still deciphering. What I know for sure: It's a moment I'll
savor forever—the fact that it happened, the way it happened, that
it happened on my birthday. All ... so ... delicious!
When was the last time you laughed with a friend till your sides
hurt or dropped the kids off with a sitter and went away for an entire
weekend? More to the point, if your life ended tomorrow, what would you
regret not doing? If this were the last day of your life, would you
spend it the way you're spending today?
I once passed a billboard that caught my attention. It read, "He who
dies with the most toys is still dead." Anyone who has ever come close
to death can tell you that at the end of your life, you probably won't
be reminiscing about how many all-nighters you pulled at the office or
how much your mutual fund is worth. The thoughts that linger are the "if
only" questions, like Who could I have become if I had finally done
the things I always wanted to do?
The gift of deciding to face your mortality without turning away or
flinching is the gift of recognizing that because you will die, you must
live now. Whether you flounder or flourish is always in your
hands—you are the single biggest influence in your life.
Your journey begins with a choice to get up, step out, and live fully.
Is there anything I love more than a good meal? Not much. One of
my best took place on a trip to Rome, at a delightful little restaurant
filled exclusively with Italians except for our table: my friends
Reggie, Andre, and Gayle, Gayle's daughter Kirby, and me, eating as the
There was a moment when the waiters, prompted by our Italian host,
Angelo, brought out so many delicious antipasti that I actually felt my
heart surge, like an engine switching gears. We had zucchini stuffed
with prosciutto, and fresh, ripe tomatoes layered with melting
mozzarella so warm you could see tiny cheese bubbles, along with a
bottle of '85 Sassicaia, a Tuscan red wine that had been breathing for
half an hour, to sip and savor like liquid velvet. Oh my, these were
moments to treasure!
Did I mention I topped all this off with a bowl of pasta e fagioli (made
to perfection) and a little tiramisu? Yep, that was some good eating. I
paid for it with a 90-minute jog around the Colosseum the next
day—but it was worth every delectable bite.
I have a lot of strong beliefs. The value of eating well is one of them.
I know for sure that a meal that brings you real joy will do you more
good in the long and short term than a lot of filler food that leaves
you standing in your kitchen, roaming from cabinet to fridge. I call it
the grazing feeling: You want something, but can't figure out what it
is. All the carrots, celery, and skinless chicken in the world can't
give you the satisfaction of one incredible piece of chocolate if that's
what you really crave.
So I've learned to eat one piece of chocolate—maximum,
two—and dare myself to stop and relish it, knowing full well, like
Scarlett O'Hara, that "tomorrow is another day," and there's always more
where that came from. I don't have to consume the whole thing just
because it's there. What a concept!
It's been more than two decades since I first met Bob Greene at a
gym in Telluride, Colorado. I weighed 237 pounds at the time, my highest
ever. I was at the end of my rope and the end of hope—so ashamed
of my body and my eating habits, I could barely look Bob in the eye. I
desperately wanted a solution that worked.
Bob put me through my workout paces and encouraged a lifestyle built
around eating whole foods (long before I'd ever heard of the store that
shares that name and mission).
I resisted. But even as different diets came and went, his advice
remained consistent and wise: Eat foods that make you thrive.
A few years ago, I finally got the big aha and started growing my own
vegetables. And what began with a few rows of lettuce, some tomatoes,
and basil (my favorite herb) in my backyard in Santa Barbara eventually
became a genuine farm in Maui. My gardening interest grew into a
I get ridiculously happy at the sight of the purple radicchio we've
grown, the elephant kale that reaches my knees, the radishes so big I
call them baboon butts—because for me it all represents a
In rural Mississippi, where I was born, a garden meant survival. In
Nashville, where I later lived, my father always cleared a "patch" by
the side of our house, where he would grow collard greens, tomatoes,
crowder peas, and butter beans.
Today that's my favorite meal; add some cornbread and I'm clicking my
heels. But when I was a girl, I saw no value in eating freshly grown
foods. "Why can't we have store-bought food like other people?" I'd
complain. I wanted my vegetables to come from the "valley of the
jolly—ho, ho, ho—Green Giant"! Having to eat from the garden
made me feel poor.
I now know for sure how blessed I was to have access to fresh
food—something not every family today can take for granted.
Thank you, Lord, for growth.
I've worked hard to sow the seeds for a life in which I get to keep
expanding my dreams. One of those dreams is for everyone to be able to
eat fresh food that goes from farm to table—because better food is
the foundation for a better life. Yes, Bob, I'm putting it in print: You
were right all along!
I met Gayle King in 1976, when I was a news anchor at a station
in Baltimore and she was a production assistant—both of us from
circles that rarely interacted and certainly weren't friendly. From the
day we met, Gayle made it known how proud she was that I had the exalted
position of anchorwoman and how excited she was to be part of a team I
was on. It has been that way ever since.
We didn't become friends right away—we were just two women
respectful and supportive of each other's path. Then one night, after a
big snowstorm, Gayle couldn't get home—so I invited her to stay at
my place. Her biggest concern? Underwear. She was determined to drive 40
miles through a snowstorm to get to Chevy Chase, Maryland, where she
lived with her mom, in order to have clean panties. "I have lots of
clean underwear," I told her. "You can use mine, or we can go buy you
Once I finally convinced her to come home with me, we stayed up the
whole night talking. And with the exception of a few times during
vacations spent out of the country, Gayle and I have talked every day
We laugh a lot, mostly about ourselves. She has helped me through
demotions, near-firings, sexual harassment, and the twisted and
messed-up relationships of my twenties, when I couldn't tell the
difference between myself and a doormat. Night after night, Gayle
listened to the latest woeful tale of how I'd been stood up, lied to,
done wrong. She'd always ask for details (we call it "book, chapter, and
verse"), then seem as engaged as if it were happening to her. She never
judged me. Yet when I'd let some man use me, she'd often say, "He's just
chipping away at your spirit. One day I hope he chips deep enough for
you to see who you really are—someone who deserves to be happy."
In all my triumphs—in every good and great thing that has ever
happened to me—Gayle has been my boldest cheerleader. (Of course,
no matter how much money I make, she still worries that I'm spending too
much. "Remember M.C. Hammer," she chides, as though I'm one purchase
away from following in the footsteps of the rapper who went bankrupt.)
And in all our years together, I have never sensed even a split second
of jealousy from her. She loves her life, she loves her family, she
loves discount shopping (enough to schlep across town for a sale on
Only once has she admitted to wanting to trade places with me: the night
I sang onstage with Tina Turner. She, who cannot carry a tune in a
church pew, fantasizes about being a singer.
Gayle is the nicest person I know—genuinely interested in
everybody's story. She's the kind of person who will ask a cabdriver in
New York City if he has any kids. "What are their names?" she'll say.
When I'm down, she shares my pain; when I'm up, you can believe she's
somewhere in the background, cheering louder and smiling broader than
anyone else. Sometimes I feel like Gayle is the better part of
myself—the part that says "No matter what, I'm here for you." What
I know for sure is that Gayle is a friend I can count on. She has taught
me the joy of having, and being, a true friend.
Excerpted from "What I Know For Sure" by Oprah Winfrey. Copyright © 2013 by Oprah Winfrey. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.