Tag Archive for generosity

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?

 

Join My New Year Epidemic

A new year has begun. I’m glad. I am tired of the hassle, the bureaucracy, the constant barrage of sensational seeking in the news. I want to shed the heaviness of stress and feel the lightness of joy. So, I’ve decided to start an epidemic in my family. That’s right. I want to become ground zero for sending cheerfulness viral this year, starting right here in my own home with my own family. Perhaps you will join this epidemic to spread cheer and joy in your family and, from there, into the world around us. Here are some ways I plan to spread cheer this year.

  1. Emoticon with big toothy smile

    Emoticon with big toothy smile

    Smile. I am going to find reasons to smile. When I don’t feel like smiling, I will intentionally smile. I will smile at my spouse when she walks into the room. I will smile at my children every chance I get. I will smile at the clerk who rings up my groceries and even the person who cuts me off in traffic. I will smile because I’m happy to be alive. Smiling brings joy to the one smiling and the one who sees the smile. (Read On Safari for the Elusive Smile for more benefits of smiling.)

  2. Laugh. Yes, I want to laugh. I will seek out jokes to make my whole family laugh. I will laugh at myself. I may even tell more dad jokes (learn about The Power of the Dad Joke) to create more “rolling eye laughter” among my family. A good hearty laugh is good for us. It will reduce stress and draw our families closer together. (More in Laughter is No Laughing Matter)
  3. Show kindness. Nothing increases cheer and joy more than sharing a kind deed or being the recipient of an unexpected, kind deed. So, this year I will make it a point to show kindness to others. I will hold doors open for my family and the stranger behind us. I will give away the last cookie and let my spouse control the remote—in a real blast of kindness I will even let my children control the remote. I will wash dishes and do other chores around the house. I will seek out ways to help my neighbors. Cheerfulness and joy will ride into our lives on acts of kindness; I’m seeking ways to remain on kindness the whole way into the lives of all those I meet. (Click here to learn about The Mighty Power of Kindness and 8 Ways to Teach Children to be Kind.)
  4. Express gratitude. In the midst of our abundance, we sometimes lose sight of how richly our families are blessed. We neglect to offer thanks and become burdened with the weight of ungratefulness and even entitlement. This year I will combat that sense of entitlement and say “thanks” to those who wait on my table at a restaurant or ring up my drink at the gas station. I will thank those who teach my children. I will thank my children and my spouse for all they do. I will become known as “the guy who always says thank you.” Wouldn’t you like to know that guy? Wouldn’t you be glad to help that guy? I would. This year, I’m going to “be that guy!” How about you? (Learn about more benefits of Intentional Gratitude in this short blog.)
  5. Practice acceptance. This may prove one of the hardest behaviors in my search for cheer this year. In the words of the serenity prayer, “I will accept the things I cannot change.” Bureaucracy will continue to mount its assault. Hassles will remain countless. Stressors will constantly arise. But, I will accept these impingements on my joy as reminders of what I have. The hassle of being caught in traffic reveals the blessing of owning a car. The bureaucracy that raises the cost of nearly everything reminds me that I have employment and income and opportunities. The stress of paying bills reminds me of the abundant material blessing I have—running water, TV, internet, heat, air conditioning, transportation, etc.—that many in the world are forced to live without. Which brings me to the final way I will spread cheer this year…
  6. Practice generosity. Our families truly are blessed. Unfortunately, those blessings sometimes enslave us and we begin to hoard the blessings. This year I will “break out of the hoard” and share…generously…as abundantly as possible. There is joy in giving, great joy. In fact, an ancient writer tells us that Jesus even said, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” Your act of generosity may even get paid forward in another act of generosity, creating a rippling effect from ground zero in the epidemic of cheerfulness (read about a way to Pay It Forward here).

 

I’m starting this year…ground zero for an epidemic of cheerfulness and joy. I’m making it a point to spread cheer in my family and beyond. The world MAY BE a better place for it; but my family and I WILL BE a happier people because of it. Will you make your family a happier people?

Someone Stole Christmas!

Don’t look now but someone stole Christmas! This thief is sly, too: he carefully replaces everything he takes with some other distraction. I first recognized the evidence of his felony while at the mall. Christmas kindness had disappeared, hijacked from the hearts of Thief pushing a trolley of giftsshoppers and replaced with pushing, shoving, and darting in front of others. Christmas joy has also come up missing, stolen and replaced with profane grumbling over slow cashiers and impatient demands for immediate service. That got me thinking. This thief has ripped off our sense of community and replaced it with a focus on individual rights and privileges as well. He has even snuck into our homes, taken our casual, intimate family time, and shoved frenetic schedules filled with crowd fighting and shopping sprees in its place. I think he even threatens to rob us of our very family, carefully replacing it with toys and gadgets that allow us to be alone, engaged in our own world while we sit in the same room! Someone needs to stop this little thief, catch him and teach him a thing or two. But, he is a shadowy figure, slipping through our hands and minds with no substance to grasp. He is elusive. We have to use a different tactic to end his reign. So, I’ve devised a plan. I hope you will join me in implementing this six-part plan to stop the thief of Christmas.

  1. The first step in stopping the thief of Christmas is keeping him from stealing the Christmas spirit from your own life. Model the Christmas spirit in your home and community. Practice kindness. Be polite. Look for opportunities to give generously of your time and money to others. Celebrate Christmas.
  2. Spend time with your family. Make time with your family a priority in your life. put down the video game, turn off the phone, and spend time in conversation with your family. Play a game like “Apples to Apples” or “The Game of Things.” Laugh. Talk. Enjoy time together.
  3. Invite another family over for Christmas games or snacks. Share some Christmas cookies. Practice sharing friendship, fun, and togetherness with others.
  4. Watch some Christmas specials. Talk about the message each one communicates. While you’re at it, watch the commercials and talk about the messages they communicate as well. It will likely provide an interesting contrast to discuss, the contrast of between the thief of Christmas displayed in the commercials and the true Christmas spirit communicated in the Christmas special. Just for fun, check out Jerry Seinfeld’s acceptance speech for the Clio–very insightful…and humorous.
  5. Create Christmas traditions. Traditions bring families together and keep families together. So, make it a Christmas tradition to decorate the tree together, give a gift to someone in need, attend a Christmas Eve service, visit a shut-in, back cookies…you get the idea. “Get your traditions on.”
  6. Remember what Christmas is all about…a gracious, generous, and holy God who gave a Child, His Son to ransom our freedom and adopt us into His family.

 

The foundation of this six-part plan rests on relationships. Intimate relationships with our family and community will protect us from the Christmas thief and guard us from his evil scheme to replace our heart’s true desire with counterfeit decoys. By the say, did I start this blog by saying “Don’t look now but someone stole Christmas”? Let me take that back. Open your eyes. Look now. Keep your eyes open to catch the Christmas thief and end his tyranny of robbery. Join me in practicing the six-part plan above to stop the thief of Christmas and find the true joy of Christmas.

The Greatest Christmas Gift You Can Share

businessman holding giftThe Christmas season has definitely arrived. I see it in the overwhelming traffic. I hear it in Christmas carols ringing in my ears. Amidst the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, baking, and decorating, I watch children count down to the “big day.” If you are like me, you love the anticipation of Christmas. Advent Calendars, the “Elf on a Shelf,” and journeying wise men help us build the expectation of Christmas. In the midst of this hustle and bustle, I like to sit down and contemplate the long awaited Christ Child and the new life He brings. It helps raise my own expectation and anticipation of the Christmas season. I am often struck at the contrast between our current Christmas priorities and those of the first Christmas. Maybe you are too. Jesus did not come to earth as one of the economically privileged, a member of the ruling class. Instead, He arrived in poverty, a member of a conquered and oppressed people. He could have entered the world as royalty; but, He came as a Servant.  Rather than setting His Son up in a position of power, God delivered Him to us in a stable, to a family with little resource and no influence. Unlike those of us who live in the “Land of Opportunity,” God did not try to give His Son privilege, prestige, power, or material wealth. Those things did not seem to make it onto God’s priority list for His Son. However, He did give His Son a family. Jesus did not just “pop up” in the desert as a Man with the power and influence to change the world. He arrived as a baby, born into a family, nurtured by a mother who “pondered all these things in her heart” and cherished her Son. He matured under the guidance of an earthly father who was willing to act swiftly to protect his family. Surely the family is one of God’s top priorities—not power, prestige, or material wealth, but family. God, the Father, made the gift of family a priority on that first Christmas day by giving Jesus a loving family to guide Him and nurture Him as He matured. Even more, He gave us Jesus (“unto us a Child is born”), a Brother who willingly gave His life so we might become part of His eternal family! Let’s follow God’s example this Christmas and share the gift of family with our parents, our spouses, our siblings, and our children. No other gift will make Christmas as meaningful as the gift of a loving, intimate family!

Keeping Thanksgiving Alive

Thanksgiving Day may have passed, but why not keep the giving of thanks alive in your family? When you make thanksgiving a part of your family’s everyday life, you will Writing thank you on a blackboard.experience amazing benefits. For instance, research suggests that families who make thanksgiving a daily practice are more helpful, generous, and compassionate toward one another. Family members are more forgiving as well. They feel more positive toward the person they thank and, interestingly, are more comfortable expressing concerns as well. Not only that, but practicing gratitude motivates the one receiving the thanks to work harder. And, the person who practices gratitude feels less lonely as well. With all these benefits, why not make the giving of thanks a daily activity in your family…keep thanksgiving alive all year round?  Here is one simple way to help you keep thanksgiving alive throughout the year. Start a family gratitude journal. Once a day get together as a family and let each person share two to three things for which they are thankful. Write them in the journal. Then, leave the journal in a public place throughout the day. Every time someone gets the urge, they can add a note of thanks to the journal. When you thank Mom for dinner, add it to the journal as well. When your son takes out the garbage, thank him…and then add it to the journal. When Dad goes to work in the morning, thank him for his hard work…and write it in the journal. When your sister shares her nail polish with you, give her a hug of thanks…and record it in the journal. If you don’t like the idea of a journal, do a “gratitude collage” or a “gratitude jar.” Whatever you choose, keep it up for a whole month and observe the impact of continued thanks will have on your family life. You will never want to quit!

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