Tag Archive for generosity

In Family, Is It Better to Give or Receive?

If you are a student of ancient Biblical sayings, you probably think you know the answer to this question already. In fact, you will quote the words of Jesus in response to the question: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Researchers from Ohio State University put that to the test in a study involving 1,054 healthy adults between 34 and 84-years-old. Each participant completed three measures: one of their social integrations, one of their perceptions of how much they could rely on others, and one of their perceptions of how available they were to support family and friends. Two years later they returned for follow-up blood tests that measured markers of systemic inflammation in the body. These markers are associated with increased risk for health issues like cardiovascular disease and cancer.

What did they discover? Lower inflammation markers [and, as a result, the risk for related diseases] was associated with increased availability to give social support to family and friends. In other words, the researchers found the healing power of relationships increase when a person gives support to family and friends rather than simply receiving support.

Don’t mistake, receiving support is also good. It, too, is associated with greater health. But the greatest health benefit comes when we offer support as well. So, it’s true. When it comes to giving and receiving support in your marriage and family it really “is more blessed to give than to receive,” even in terms of our physical health. With that in mind, how can you give support to your spouse and family? The ways are endless but let me offer three principles.

  1. Being available to give support to your family takes time. You have to give of your time to your spouse and your family to remain available to offer support. Get out your calendar and prioritize time with your family.
  2. Giving support to your family means setting aside your personal agenda at times. The need for support often arises at “inconvenient times.” You might have to sacrifice watching your favorite game or TV show to spend time supporting your family. You might have to change your schedule, postpone an activity. But, in the long run, what really is more important to you, your family or a sitcom? Your spouse or a video game? Your children or reading the news? Postpone your agenda and make yourself available to support your family.
  3. To truly support your spouse and children, you have to know them well. Each person receives support in slightly different ways. One person may feel supported with encouraging words while another desires hands-on assistance. Moreover, each person may need support in a different area of their life depending on their developmental needs and current needs. Take time to know your family so you can support them in the ways that are most meaningful to them. If you can’t figure out how a family member wants support or in what area they might like support, ask them.

These three principles will open up a “world of opportunity” to support your family. As you do, you will experience the joy and health of giving support to your family. You will gain firsthand knowledge that “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

6 Tips to Make Your Marriage a Taste of Heaven on Earth

Marriage can provide us with a taste of heaven on earth…or leave us living in hell on earth. Unfortunately, we don’t generally receive training in how to make our marriages a happy, fulfilling experience. I know you can’t learn everything you need to know about a wonderful marriage in a blog but let me give some tips to offer a good start. Here are 6 tips for making your marriage a taste of heaven on earth.

  1. Practice radical generosity. Radical generosity means giving your whole life to your spouse. Give your best energy to your spouse. Give service to your spouse…with joy. Give affection to your spouse on a daily basis. Give your spouse compliments. Give your strength and effort in keeping a home. Give your time by doing an extra chore. Give your time by engaging your spouse in conversation and togetherness. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, even when they hurt you. Give all of this and more with radical generosity.
  2. Be the first. Of course, be the first to apologize when you make a mistake. Be the first to apologize when an argument arises or when you have a disagreement, even when it isn’t your fault. Be the first to volunteer to do a chore around the house. Be the first to offer your services to your spouse. Be the first to offer genuine forgiveness. Be the first to sacrifice for the good of your spouse and your marriage. Be the first.
  3. Don’t complain, adore instead. We often find it easier to complain and nag than to adore and compliment. Make an intentional effort to look for the positive in your spouse and your marriage and then acknowledge those positives verbally. In fact, set a goal to say nine positive things to and about your spouse for every one negative. That’s a 9-positive to 1-negative rule. Verbally appreciate or adore your spouse multiple times every day. Focus on the joy and the beauty your spouse adds to your life and verbalize your appreciation of it on a daily basis. Doing so will change your marriage.
  4. Have fun. Make it a point to laugh with your spouse. Find activities you can engage in together just for fun. You might enjoy bike riding, reading a book together, sampling restaurants, hiking, going for walks, listening to music, going to plays…. The list is endless. Make it a habit to enjoy at least one fun conversation daily and at least one fun activity weekly. Have fun together. Laugh. Celebrate your love.
  5. Listen deeply. Listen with respect to hear their wisdom. Listen to understand their intent. Listen to understand their emotions. Listen to understand their desires. Listen so you can understand their view of the world. Listen so you can respond lovingly to what you hear. Yes, listen deeply—for by listening deeply you come to know your spouse better; and in knowing your spouse better you come to love them more.
  6. Accept completely. When we live with someone we begin to see their flaws (just as they see our flaws). But you can’t change your spouse. Don’t even try. Accept them in all their uniqueness instead. Take time to remember all those aspects you love about your spouse. Focus on the aspects you admire and adore about (return to #3 on this list). When their “little traits and idiosyncrasies” begin to irritate, remember how those same “traits and idiosyncrasies” made you love them when your first met. Accept them completely.

Once again, this list is far from exhaustive. What have you done to help create a marriage that gives you a little taste of heaven on earth? What would you add to this list to help others have a heavenly marriage?

What A “Pittsburgher” Learned About Family in Cleveland

My wife and I enjoyed a trip to Cleveland. We had a great time and met some wonderful people. (Yes, I am from Pittsburgh AND I found Cleveland fun & enjoyable…go figure.) After breakfast one morning we strolled through the Arcade 5 and saw this sign outside the Johnnysville Woods store. It lists “The 5 Commandments for Being Happy.” I thought I’d share it with you and how the same “commandments” can help our families.

  1. Free your heart from hatred. Hatred destroys. It takes root in the heart and fills a person with resentment, bitterness, and mistrust. Hatred destroys relationships, even within the family. The antidote to hatred is apology and forgiveness. Both apology and forgiveness are crucial to a healthy, happy family life because families are made up of people who make mistakes—who say the wrong thing, forget the important thing, offend unknowingly, and blame wrongly. Each will demand apology and forgiveness to restore the relationship. Humble yourself to apology. Become vulnerable enough to forgive. Often.
  2. Free your mind from worry. Worry can kill a family too. Worry flows out of fear, usually irrational fears and fears about things over which we have no control. Excessive worry creates unnecessary limits. It hinders our exploration and our growth. It hinders our risk taking, our willingness to “put ourselves out there,” and our ability to nurture our relationships. Don’t let worry and fear drive your family life. We can begin to let go of worry by nurturing gratitude and trust toward our spouse, our children, and our parents.
  3. Give more. Give more love. Give more gratitude. Give more service. Give more consideration. Give more encouragement. Give more benefit of the doubt. Give more…and give more generously. Give so much that your family will remember you as a generous person who enjoyed giving to others. When you do, your family will grow healthier and happier.
  4. Expect less. While you give more, expect less. In fact, “consider one another as more important than yourself. Don’t look out only for your own interests but for the interests of others.” Rather than expect your spouse and children to serve you, serve them…generously. Look more to what you can give than to what you want to receive. After all, “it’s better to give than to receive.” (For more on expectations in marriage, read Do Expectations Help or Hinder Your Marriage.)
  5. Love simply. Yes. Love simply…but realize that loving is not always easy. Even when it is hard to do, love simply. When a family member says something that hurts your feelings, love anyway. When your spouse forgets to finish the “honey-do-list,” love anyway. When your child does not listen, love anyway. When your parent doesn’t understand, love anyway. Simply love.

These “5 Commandments for Being Happy” will not only bring greater happiness to you as an individual, they will also fill your family with happiness. Practice them for a month and see if you don’t agree.

The Highest Form of Kindness

We live in a society starved for time. We are swamped and over-scheduled, running from activity to activity. We don’t have the time or the patience to wait for anything. Instead, we want immediate gratification. Running behind for practice, grab some take out. Feeling a headache coming on, take some fast-acting aspirin. Too worked up to fall asleep, take a sleeping aid. One study even found that 96% of its participants were so impatient they knowingly consumed hot food or beverages that burned their mouths.

Driven by time, we have become impatient with ourselves and others. We have no time to offer a simple act of kindness. Rather than show kindness, we become irritated with one another for “wasting our time,” not responding “quickly enough,” or not “catching on” to this “obvious fact.” In other words, we become impatient. Because of our harried schedule, we have lost the patience to show kindness to others by allowing them the time they need to grow and mature. Instead, we force them to hurry their growth. We become impatient at the “fast food” because the service is so slow and “I’m in a hurry.” As a result, we respond with irritated curtness.

This happens in our families as well. We rush through the day without showing kindness to our family. “I’d like to help with the laundry, but I’m too busy.” “I’d love to listen to your long story but I’m on a schedule.” “Another game tonight. When will I get my work done?” “Hurry up, we’re going to be late!” Any of that sound familiar?

What does all this have to do with the highest form of kindness? The highest form of kindness is the gift of patience. Yet we struggle to give this lovely gift of patience because “time is of the essence,” driving us at a pace that squeezes out any possibility of kindness.

Giving the gift of patience is a kindness that takes time. In fact, patience is the highest form of kindness. Think of it. Giving the gift of patience requires that we invest our time in sharing a simple act of kindness to another. We patiently sacrifice our time (never to get it back) so we can do something kind for another person. After all, kindness takes time and giving away time takes patience. Whether it be helping our spouse fold laundry or sitting down to patiently help our children with their homework, the gift of patience is the highest form of kindness. Giving this gift of patience will increase your willingness to forgive, which will improve your marriage and family.

Show little kindness by giving the highest form of kindness to your family—patience.

The Fantastic Duo of Giving: An Experiment with Toys

Several young couples have told me about the vast number of toys in their home. They have so many toys that some even remain unopened. Their children have grown tired of other toys… now they lay in a corner collecting dust. Stuffed animals that once lined the bed are now stuffed in a closet. Broken Barbie Dolls lay under the bed forgotten. And, of course there are the boxes and wrappings that our children found more fun to play with than the expensive toys the boxes protected! It all makes me wonder: how many toys do our children need?

With this in mind, I propose an experiment. A challenging experiment that you and your child will find rewarding when it is all said and done. It’s an experiment to thin out the toys. Here are the steps involved.

  1. Team up with your child and talk about the virtues of sharing and gratitude. You might also want to pick a nice name for the project, like Team Generosity or The Great Toy Giveaway.
  2. As a team, pick out the toys you will give away to those who have less. You can identify the toys no longer used to give away and choose a couple more to represent an extra level of generosity and caring.
  3. Decide where you want to give the toys to. You might choose the Salvation Army, a toy lending library, or even someone you know. You can also learn about children who might have a need through an area social service agency or church.
  4. Pick a time in which you and your child (The Fantastic Duo of Giving) can deliver the toys to the charity the two of you agreed upon.
  5. Deliver the toys.
  6. Finally, talk about the experience with your child. What, if anything, was difficult? What was easy?  Now that it is finished, how do you both feel?

Not only does this experiment allow you and your child to declutter the toy room, but it also allows you to spend time together as well (and isn’t that what children really want?). As a bonus, your child will likely experience the joy of generosity and gratitude as they complete this process…and that experience may just prompt more great team giveaways. (For more read One Ingredient of Happy Children.)

A Mother’s Power to Raise Generous Children

Would you like your children to become generous, giving people? A study of 74 preschool children and their mothers suggests that mothers play an important role in helping children become generous.

In this study, 4-year-old children earned 20 tokens by engaging in a variety of activities. The children could then exchange all the tokens for a prize or donate some or all of them to children experiencing sickness or some other hardship.

In the meantime, the children’s mothers completed a survey to measure their level of compassionate love. This whole process was repeated two years later when the children were 6-years-old (only 54 of the pairs returned) and produced similar results. What did the research reveal? I’m glad you asked.

The children whose mothers showed a greater level of compassionate love exhibited greater generosity. They were more likely to donate some of their tokens to help other child in need. In addition, children who donated more tokens also exhibited a calmer physiology after sharing. This suggests a greater likelihood of good feelings. In other words, a mother’s compassionate love contributed to her child’s greater generosity and her child’s ability to self-soothe.

If that sounds like something you want for your children, start living out a compassionate love in the presence of your children today. Here are some simple ways to get started.

  • Help other people and involve your children in helping other people. Let your children witness your kindness.
  • Be available to those who need help.
  • Show kindness to your family and friends. This can be as simple as pouring a drink for your spouse or driving your child to their practices. It might also be as involved as making a meal for a friend who recently lost a loved one or helping a friend move.
  • Show kindness to strangers. Offer directions to someone who asks. Buy a meal for the homeless person on the street. Pay the bill for the person behind you in the coffee shop. Show kindness whenever you can.
  • Point out kindness that others engage in. We spend a lot of time in our society focused on the negative. We criticize, complain, and voice suspicion easily. Make it a practice to focus on the kindness of others instead. Point out other people’s acts of kindness—the times they let someone merge, the holding of a door for someone else to go through, the polite language used, the simple smile, etc.  
  • Volunteer together. Pick a favorite charity and volunteer there with your child. Volunteer at your church or a local social group (like scouts). Go to a nursing home and play board games or card games with the elderly. You might do this monthly or annually. Either way, volunteer together.

We all want our children to grow into generous, giving people. After all, they will be taking care of us in our old age. They will create the world…hopefully a world filled with generosity and kindness. Let’s start building that world today by sharing compassionate love with our children in our homes.

It’s All Fun & Games Until… It’s Something More

Teaching our children to be helpful and generous is all fun and games…at least in part. That is what I learned from a study published in November 2014. Actually, it was a series of four studies. The first study involved 1- and 2-year-olds assigned to one of two groups. In the first group, a researcher engaged a child in reciprocal play such as rolling a ball back and forth, pushing buttons on a musical toy together, or handing large rings to one another. In the second group, the researcher engaged in parallel paly with the child. Specifically, the researcher played with one set of toys while the child played with another set of toys.  After six minutes, the researcher acted as though they needed help reaching an object. Those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped the researcher get the object significantly more often than those who had engaged in parallel play.

The second study involved assigning children to the same two groups as the first study. It also added a third group in which the researcher merely sat nearby and talked to the child while he played. This time, the researcher left the room and a second researcher, who did not know which child was in which group, came into the room and exhibited a need for help. Once again, those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped significantly more often, even though the person they helped was unknown to them, a stranger.

The third study involved 3- and 4-year-olds in the same two groups as the first study: a reciprocal play group and a parallel play group. As in the second study, the researcher left the room and an assistant carried out the rest of the study. This time, rather than asking for help, the researcher offered the child 6 opportunities to give stickers to him- or herself or to the absent experimenter through the assistant. Guess what. Those engaged in reciprocal play were significantly more generous.

Finally, in a fourth study involving 4-year-olds the researcher asked two assistants to play with the child while he left the room to complete a task. One assistant engaged the child in reciprocal play for one minute. The other engaged in parallel play with the child for a minute. Then the experimenter returned. He showed the children a picture of the two assistants and asked them to point to the one they thought would give them a gift, help them open a door, or share a toy with them. The children consistently pointed to the one who engaged in reciprocal play with them.

These studies suggest that engaging our children in interactive play—play that involves sharing, taking turns, working together—nurtures their willingness to show kindness to others, even those they do not know but trust. It also increased their tendency to act generously toward others. Generous and kind children…triggered by our own interactive play with them. Simply playing a different game next to them did not promote kindness or generosity. Neither did sitting next to them and talking while they played. Getting involved in their play, interacting with them—tossing a ball back and forth, sharing play objects (dolls), or working on a project together (Legos)—promoted kindness and generosity. In other words, teaching our children to be generous and kind is all fun and games. So, be generous enough to kindly give your children the time to interact with them in play…and they will grow in kindness and generosity as well.

A Marital Battle: Radical Generosity or Self Seeking

Two ancient sayings have been on my mind lately. Both sayings are recorded by Paul, a Jewish follower of Christ. And, although neither one is written in the context of marriage, they both have a profound impact on our marriages. The first saying is short and sweet: “Love is not self-seeking.” The second one reminds us that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap bountifully.”

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I get tired and irritable. When I’m tired and irritable, I don’t want to be generous. I don’t want to sow a smile or a kind word or an act of service. Instead, I want to sulk, give short and even sarcastic responses, or isolate. In other words, I become self-seeking. I watch out for “my own personal interests” and desires. In the process, I neglect my spouse. I don’t pay attention to her needs or struggles she may have encountered during the day. You’ve had those days, haven’t you? We all have. If I am going to be totally honest, sometimes I become self-seeking even when I’m not tired and irritable. I just look out for myself sometimes because…well, because I just want things to go my way. How about you? Ever had that experience?

Unfortunately, we also reap what we sow. When we selfishness, we reap disconnection in response. When we sow a sarcastic response or an isolating action in our irritability, we reap sorrow, distance, and maybe even some criticism from our spouse. Our relationship grows more disconnected in response to the seeds of self-seeking behaviors we sow. Intimacy suffers as weeds of loneliness grow deeper roots and we reap sharper thorns. If we allow this self-seeking behavior to continue to grow, we may find ourselves simply engaging in physical intimacy to satisfy our own needs more often than we express love in our intimacy. In general, sowing seeds of self-seeking behaviors reaps disconnection, emotional distance, frustration, and anger.

So, what can end the sowing of self-seeking behaviors? Sow seeds of radical generosity instead. Yes, radical generosity is generosity sown in the hard times, the times we feel tired, irritable, and selfish. Showing generosity to our spouse in the good times is relatively easy. But sharing generosity with our spouse when we are tired, irritable, feeling disconnected, or simply feeling selfish is radical! And when we sow radical generosity, we reap radical intimacy and connection. Radical generosity means giving your spouse a hug and kiss upon returning home, especially when we’re tired. Radical generosity gives a kind answer rather than a short, sarcastic response even when we’re irritable. Radical generosity seeks to give pleasure to our spouse rather than simply seeking our own release and pleasure. Radical generosity serves even when tired. Radical generosity sows all these seeds of kindness, affection, and service while wearing a smile. Radical generosity is the opposite of self-seeking; it is loving. Radical generosity will sow seeds of kindness, service, and love into their marriage in great abundance and reap the same in a bountiful return. Sow some radical generosity into your marriage today and watch the bountiful harvest of love and intimacy grow! I going to go share some radical generosity now…by helping prepare lunch. What about you?  

Teach Your Children to Live Happy

I’m always on the lookout for ways to promote happiness in my family and teach my children how to live happy lives (Family Fun Night). Researchers from the University of Zurich just added another tool to my Family Happiness Training Toolbox (Generous People Live Happier Lives). In this study, fifty people were given 25 Swiss Francs each week for four weeks. Half of them pledged to spend it on others and half pledged to spend it on themselves. According to Functional MRI’s, simply pledging generosity activated areas of the participants brains’ associated with altruistic behavior and areas associated with happiness. In other words, simply pledging to use the money generously increased the pledging person’s happiness. Over the course of the four week experiment, those who pledged to spend the money on others made more generous choices.  They also showed an increase in self-reported happiness. Interestingly, generosity did not have to be extraordinary or exorbitant to increase happiness. Just a “little more generous” produced greater happiness.

Why not use the knowledge to promote happiness in your family? Just bring up the idea of doing something nice for someone when you meet with your family. Maybe you can bring it up while eating dinner or while driving home from an activity. The suggestion could be as simple as:

  • Wouldn’t it be nice to give some cookies to your teacher next week?
  • I hear Mr. Smith isn’t feeling well. How about we cut his grass this weekend?
  • I have an extra $10 this week. If you could do something nice for someone with $10, what would you do and who would you do it for?
  • Let’s write the church pianist a thank you note for playing this week. Which card do you think she’d like best…or would you rather we make the card?

You get the idea. Be creative. You could come up with the idea or ask your family to come up with an idea. After you have the idea, enlist your family’s help in getting it done. Then get out there and do it…. You will have done a nice thing and that will increase your family happiness.

One last caveat…. You might find your children really like this kind of activity. They may start coming up with all kinds of ideas to share generosity. When they do, seize the moment. Jump on board. Work with them to make it happen. When you do, do you know what you’re doing? You’re teaching your children how to create happiness in their lives…and that is a lesson worth teaching!

A Gift to Increase Generosity

How can you increase gratitude and generosity in your family? And even better, increase both gratitude and generosity with one simple action?!  A recent study out of Cornell University offers an answer! Give the gift of a meaningful experience. That’s it! Rather than buying your spouse some flowers or a necklace, go for a walk together. Instead of buying
your children the latest video game, enjoy a family outing to their favorite restaurant. I’m not disparaging the flowers or the video game; but, according to the study from Cornell, the experiential gift will produce more gratitude and more generosity in the recipient than a material gift. It’s that easy! So, the next time you want to buy your spouse or children a gift, consider an experiential gift. The recipients of your gifts will love them. They will experience gratitude and likely behave more generously when thinking about that thoughtful experiential gift. In effect, the whole family will benefit.

Of course, any experiential gift you give needs to take into consideration the interests of the recipient. But, with that in mind, here are some experiential gift ideas to get you started.

  • Go to a concert together.
  • Enjoy a picnic together, even if the weather means having indoors.
  • Go sled riding together.
  • Fly a kite together. (Read A Family Activity that “Does All That” to learn the benefits of kite flying as a family!)
  • Go to a play or musical together.
  • Eat dinner as a family at a local restaurant. (Read The Lost Art of Family Meals to discover the benefits of eating as a family.)
  • Go for a walk in the park. Go all out and hold hands as you walk.
  • Go ice skating or roller skating together.
  • Cook together.
  • Take a trip to the zoo together…or the museum.
  • Enjoy a weekend at the beach together.
  • What are some of your favorite experiential gift ideas?

 

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