Kathie Lee Gifford Wants to Inspire People to Choose Kindness in Her New Book: 'People Feel Hopeless Right Now' (Exclusive)

"We've got to get it back to what's truly important," the former TV host says

<p>Jeremy Cowart; Thomas Nelson Publishing</p> Kathie Lee Gifford

Jeremy Cowart; Thomas Nelson Publishing

Kathie Lee Gifford

Kathie Lee Gifford is looking to inspire people with her new book.

The former TV host, who hosted Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee with Regis Philbin for 15 years and the Today show for 11 years with Hoda Kotb, believes that humanity has changed over the years — and not for the better.

"When I was growing up, what was rare was cruelty," Gifford, 40, tells PEOPLE. “And it just broke your heart and you'd sob at these stories on the news about cruelty. Now, what's rare are stories about kindness. There’s cruelty every other minute. We've got everything wrong now. We've got to get it back to what's truly important.'

And if society doesn't turn things around, she cautions, "We’re going to lose humankind."

"People feel hopeless right now. They feel terribly hopeless. They're afraid. I've never seen so much fear in my life," she adds.

Tyler Essary/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Kathie Lee Gifford
Tyler Essary/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Kathie Lee Gifford

With her latest book I Want to Matter: Your Life Is Too Short and Too Precious to Waste, which came out April 30, Gifford is on a mission to remind people of what’s important in their lives.

"I hope it's a blessing to everybody. It's a sweet little book," Gifford says.

The self-help book is a follow-up to the Emmy Award winner's New York Times bestseller It’s Never Too Late: Make the Next Act of Your Life the Best Act of Your Life, which came out in 2020. She recalls being asked by several people in publishing to share more of her "many great stories." Each section in the book includes a brief story from Gifford followed by a reflection prompt.

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"This is a little perfect little book for a Mother's Day gift or a hostess gift, or now for a graduation gift," the author says. "A lot of people do not have the time nor do they have the interest in reading a 400-page book. The world's changed, it really has."

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Gifford hopes readers use the bite-sized stories in the book as a guided meditation of sorts, to remind themselves what's important.

"You can read literally one [story] a day for 60 days and come away thinking about what's most important in life really. The older I get, the more I realize that there's a lot of stuff I can waste my life on, and I don't want to," she continues. "All of us need to remember that: like your family, your faith, your kindness to people.”

With the graduation season underway, Gifford reflects on the early days of her career and the advice she'd pass on to young people who are also dealing with life transitions. She recalls getting hired in 1977 for her "big break in show business" as a singer on Name That Tune at a time when she was ready to give up on her Hollywood dreams.

Through it all, she remembered her late father’s advice: "Find something you love to do and then figure out a way to get paid for it."

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"He never mentioned success. He never mentioned anything. He never mentioned money. He just said, ‘Do what you love to do, honey, and it will all follow you," Gifford shares.

True to that mission, Gifford swore to treat everybody on set with respect, from the guard at the studio gate to her executive producer. "You respect all people, but nobody over anybody else," she says.

Steve Friedman / ©Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee
Steve Friedman / ©Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee

On her last day of work, she walked out of the studio with her father and remembers the security guard's appreciation of her kind behavior.

"This man said to my father, 'Mr. Epstein, I just want you to know that every time your daughter came through this gate, she brought love with her.' And my daddy was starting to cry. That's the kind of person he wanted to raise."

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"He knew I was gonna become very successful in the industry. He knew I was. He knew it since I was born," Gifford says of her father's support. "But that didn't matter to my parents. What mattered is: How are you going to treat people? Are you going to be kind? Are you going to be loving? Are you going to be generous if they need something or are you going to see them as individuals who just walk right past. And that that that changed my whole life."

I Want to Matter: Your Life Is Too Short and Too Precious to Waste by Kathie Lee Gifford is available now, wherever books are sold.

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