When a Texas man stopped at a drive-through restaurant to grab a quick dinner after a busy day he pulled out his credit card and waited while the clerk swiped and swiped, and tried again. It was denied. Apparently he had done so much shopping that day, the credit card company had put a stop on the card.
A young cook working in the back of the restaurant heard the conversation, jumped in, pulled out his own credit card, and paid for the man’s dinner. Of course the business man thanked him profusely. Then was on his way. That could have been the end of the story. But….
A couple of months later, the man gathered a number a people including the cook’s parents at the restaurant to honor the generosity of this young man. He thanked him again and gave him a $50 gift certificate, saying I just wanted to say “don’t stop being a good guy.”
People are good. I know we hear about shootings and looting and gang issues and hate-filled political rhetoric, but mostly, overwhelmingly? People are good. Remember that you are one of those good people. We're not supposed to hold that inside so no one knows we are good and wish good things for others. We are supposed to act on the needs we see.
A little encouragement goes a long way. A smile can relieve someone’s fears. Just holding the door for a person might be proof to them that at least at that moment they matter to someone.
We say “use your words!” to children who are crying for something and we can’t understand them. We expect them to help us out a little—let us know what the problem is. But when it comes to adults, we might have to ask in a better way. “What can I do to help?” “Can I give you a ride?” “Have you eaten today?” “Do you have a place to sleep?” “Do you need something?”
Think hard about all those who have helped you with encouragement, money, love, time, food, or support of some kind. Now look around and see how you can keep the chain going. People fall off the tracks sometimes. Some are born off the tracks. Hopefully, the rest of us won’t just walk by and let them get run over. It is a way to remember to thank those who have helped us along the way. Because every day is payback time.
Labor Day weekend had just passed and hurricane Hermine was soaking holiday visitors on the Outer Banks and up the East Coast. But, since we in the Midwest were enjoying beautiful weather, my husband and I decided to make the most of it by doing a few miles on our bikes at a forested local municipal park.
The park was busy. Families had reserved the many shelters for reunions and while food was being unloaded from cars and SUVs, fierce games were being organized. Biking along, we’d hear shrieks and laughter floating through the air to be replaced by the hum of cicadas until we’d wheel past another group raucously celebrating the holiday together.
Some waved, and yelled “Are you hungry?” My husband, Jim, would call back “Always!” as we cycled on. They were invariably smiling, as generous people usually are. Why is that?
In our book, World Changing Generosity, we sited an interesting study by Jordan Grafman, PhD, director of Brain injury Research at Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. He found that giving literally lights up the same pleasure centers in the brain that are engaged during sexual activity. He also found that giving gave far more pleasure than receiving. Hmmm. How can it be?
The meaning is clear, our brains are designed to reward us for giving. Happiness is a byproduct of generosity. So, the answer to the question posed in the headline of this blog post is “Yes!.”
Generous people ARE happier.
The University of Notre Dame attacked the subject a little differently. After five years of research by Christian Smith, PhD and Hilary Davidson, important lines between generosity and happy, healthy living were clear. They analyzed the findings of interviews with more than 2,000 people and found that generous people reported increased health, happiness, avoidance of depression and a greater purpose in life.
Their findings: When we give to others, our own life is enhanced. So next time a stranger calls to you and says “Are you hungry?” Just look closely, I’ll bet they’re smiling!
A few years ago Steve Young was visiting his son in New York City and saw a sign in the window of a dry cleaning store—the business he was in back home in Portland, Oregon. The sign was offering free cleaning for anyone who was unemployed and needed clean clothes for a job interview. When he returned to Portland he put up his own sign. That was in March 2010.
Here was a business owner, struck by the idea of helping someone get a job, who decided he could help those in his own town. If he considered the risk to his own bottom line, it didn't stop him. Nor did the fact that there would be those who would take advantage of the offer (i.e. those who were actually employed seeking free cleaning services.)
Since the recession began back in 2008, joblessness has reached epic proportions in the U.S. and in many countries abroad. According to a recent CNN report, About 2.1 million Americans have been unable to get a job for over half a year, and many much much longer. The government calls these people the "long-term unemployed." This number is roughly double the number of long-term unemployed than in normal times. So helping to get these people back to work, back to a job that allows them to put food on the table for their families, pay rent and avoid homelessness, is a giant deal. Cleaning someone’s clothes might actually be the difference between tucking children to bed in the back seat of a car or tucking them into their beds at night.
So back to the dry cleaners offering free cleaning for the unemployed: From my research, I have found that this act of kindness has been picked up all over the world. No one knows who came up with the original effort, but the magic is that others who owned cleaning establishments picked up the idea and brought it to their own businesses, wherever they were located.
Since the large, prominently displayed signs went up — you can read their letters from a block away — a large number of jobseekers have taken the dry cleaners up on the offer.
People bring in suits. They bring in ties. They bring in skirts and slacks and shirts. A couple of women even brought in bathing suits.
Kathey Butters, the manager of Plaza Cleaners, one of Steve Young’s shops said, yes, they have even cleaned bathing suits, no questions asked. “Who are we to say?” Butters asked, chuckling. “It doesn’t matter what they bring in. My staff knows it’s not just another black skirt. They feel good when they’re in it,” she said. “If they could feel good in that clean, freshly pressed skirt or suit, they might sit taller or present themselves better. That little push might help.”
And that little push has helped. Over the years, people have come back to say "thank you" and say they got the job. “It isn’t us though. It isn’t Plaza. It’s our paying customers that make this possible. If we didn’t have our regular customers, we couldn’t clean at no charge. That’s who deserves thanks,” said Butters.
That’s what generosity is. As John Wesley said: Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. If you think these small acts aren’t world-changing, consider the move from being jobless to being employed for these people. Amazing.
As I watch my grandchildren peering constantly into their iPods, I wonder what this epidemic of mind-numbing electronics will translate into as they grow into men and women.
Even though they hear about the needs of the world, do those facts mean anything in competition with electronic games like "Angry Birds" and "Hair Salon"?
Do they know that poverty forces one in seven children to go to work every day? That's 158 million kids with jobs that often also deal with a lifetime of illiteracy.
Even in America, 47 million citizens receive food stamps. In contrast, my grandchildren are pretty bummed when we run out of Skinny Pop.
In their defense, they are only 11 and eight and pretty generous too, but still, like most U.S. kids, they have been raised in an atmosphere of benefit and love. They have no first-hand experience of need and neglect, no knowledge of grinding hunger. The truth is most of us don't.
We have information, but not experience. Those are two very different things. How many people do you know who have ever missed a meal because there was no food, no money to buy food, and no prospect of food? What's the count? One? Zero?
Maybe this week we could play our own version of Angry Birds. Maybe we could attack institutional hunger by taking a little cash out of the grocery money and sending it to one of the great charities that feed people. (You can click on the Resources page above to find them!) These folks are the feet on the ground who do the work of caring for those in need, and when they count how many truly starving people they know, its in the hundreds and thousands.
Angry Birds unite against hunger. Now there's a game we could feel good about.
Rehab is a 41-year-old Muslim woman, displaced from her bombed out home by the turmoil in Syria. She lives with her family in our city and is happy to be here. I found her walking along the street one hot day, dressed entirely in black.
I didn’t know where she was going, but knew she needed a ride and when I picked her up she seemed very grateful. Smiling broadly, she bobbed her head up and down in a friendly sort of way. We proceeded with hand gestures and nods and eventually I got her home. She knows the word "thank you" for sure, and thanked me again and again. Then she gave me a phone number in spite of the fact that we have absolutely no way to converse...I think she just wanted to make a connection.
I was so touched by her circumstances, I wrote about her in a blog that week. Since then I have been back to her house with a couple of Arabic-to-English dictionaries and flowers and have taken her to a big international grocery store 17 miles from her home so she could buy the foods she is used to cooking.
So when I went to pick her up another day for a trip to the grocery, she looked puzzled. She called an interpreter and spoke Arabic hurriedly into the phone. The woman told me Rehab didn’t know why I was there. HMMM.
Well, that made sense. I thought she understood, but really had no way to be sure. The interpreter went on…”she doesn’t need to go to the grocery,” she said. “She wants you to teach her to drive.”
Really? I thought. Teaching someone to drive is not a very difficult task. If the student is careful and doesn’t stomp directly on any of the peddles, it can be achieved without loss of life. But, arm a Syrian woman who has never driven an automobile with an eight-seater behemoth of a van, (seriously, it has to be 20' long) being taught by an English-speaking teacher and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
She proudly produced a learner’s permit. Who knew that Indiana had permit tests in Arabic? Not I. Some gentleman had taken her out for four one-hour sessions and she was beyond ready to go again—like a 15 1/2 year-old who excitedly jangles the keys in front of her parent saying, “Can we go? Can we? Can I drive? OK? Can I drive? Huh? Can I?” In fact, Rehab needs 50 hours of driving experience to take her driver’s test and get a license and she is—putting it mildly—very excited about it.
Off we went. I took her to a large high school with big parking lots, assuming that the students would all be home in the summer. What a laugh! There were kids everywhere, running on and off the tennis courts into the road, emptying from busses and lining up to get back on busses.
And, in the midst of all this was Rehab, piloting her big tan van around and around the school, pulling into and out of parking spaces. (And colliding constantly with the imaginary cars that were parked in the adjacent spots.)
I want to stop right here and let you soak in the impossibility of this scene. Rehab barely knows what ‘STOP!” means, much less, “swing out to the left and pull straight into the parking space so you don’t hit the other cars.” There was much nodding and drawing on paper of cars on the road and what would happen if she did this or that.
I think I’m pretty tough, but an hour and a half of this was exhausting. Then she said, “Rehab home?” (as she grasped the steering wheel and pretended to turn it toward the street.) “No, Rehab,” I said with a firm smile, shaking my head vigorously. “You are not ready to drive on the road,” which clearly meant nothing to her. So I took the keys, opened the passenger side door and stalked around the front of the van to to make it very clear we were going to exchange places and I was going to drive home.
Rehab is a wonderful woman, full of love, a great cook and some day she'll make a proud and responsible American citizen. She is, however, a terrible driver and I’m not quite ready to die for the Syrian Refugee Driver Training cause. But I will be back, and I will be back and back again until I get her ready to face the impenetrable gaze of an Indiana Driver’s License Examiner. And, by that time, we will both have learned a lot.
In the wake of wild fires that have displaced almost 90,000 people from Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, Melody Rowell and Ian Bates of National Geographic came to photograph and tell the stories of some of the evacuees. What they found in the midst of chaos was hope and generosity.
As the fire raged all around, if residents had not already left town, a knock at the door from police was the last call. People were given 10 minutes to gather up what they could and get out of town. They would then spend hours in traffic, and most were unsure about where they were going. They also didn't know if their homes would still be standing when they returned. One thing is sure, the town that so many have called home for so long, will not be the same when they are allowed to come back.
The photo above is Luke Thwaits. He is a commercial electrician, and he watched from across the street as the fire burned down the shop where he lived and kept all his tools.
Although he had lost all his belongings and the costly tools of his trade, he gathered up what meant the most to him--his 5 dogs and got out of danger. He drove around with them for days trying to figure out where to stay [that would take him and his beloved pets]. Eventually, he says, something caught his eye in the oil workers camp of Wandering River.
“I just happened to see a crowd of lights in the dark, and it was the fire station. Right when I got there they happened to be unloading the trucks of water and food. Emotionally I was really good until I started seeing all these people helping each other. This random guy looked at me and was like, ’You’re all black [from ash]; you really need a shower.’ He gave me a towel and said, ‘Go have a shower.’ I got out of my car and got to have a shower at the fire station, and I was just bawling. I couldn’t believe everyone helping one another,” he says.
“I was here for a few days, and I was scrambling around [trying to take care of all] the dogs. I left for a few days to talk to farmers, looking for a spot the dogs could stay at. [The oil workers] told me to come back, and they said if I wanted this shed I could have it.” Thwaits says he now just wants to return home to Fort McMurray, where he moved in 2011 looking to settle down. “I don’t care if the oil [industry] goes down,” he says. “I just love this town.”
Rowell and Bates recorded many more stories of people who are just like us, but by an act of nature or war, they have been pushed out of their homes, losing every material thing they owned and facing an uncertain future. Like the refugees of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine, the need is personally and universally overwhelming. Luke Thwaits “was just bawling…,” he said. Overcome with emotion, he couldn’t believe the generosity of those giving aid to him and others who were so desperately in need. But he should believe it.
Human generosity should be so obvious and common in our daily lives—disaster or no disaster--that there is no surprise when someone reaches out a hand to help. We are the generous. Where the rubber meets the road, we are there. And the vast majority of us belong to this inclusive and happy club.
Show your generosity. Shine like those lights Luke could see at the fire station. Shine so that those who need it, can see our light even in the darkest of times.
I don’t know how she got here or how she manages without a word of English, but there she was walking along a busy road on a rainy day swathed in a long black dress with a scarf covering her head.
I passed her going the other way and wondered how far she had to go. There were no sidewalks, so she teetered along the white line on a narrow, but busy city street.
I checked to see if anyone was going to run into me before I swung Finn (that’s the name of my car) around in a commercial parking entrance and pulled up to her.
Lowering the window, I asked her, “Do you want a ride?”
She smiled. She may have no understanding of most English words, but she knew she was getting an offer of transportation and shook her head up and down as she opened the passenger door.
I cleared my shopping bags off her seat, throwing them in the back and started up in the direction she had been walking.
“Where are we going?” I said, and she smiled and nodded. "OK," I was thinking, "this is going to be tougher than I thought…."
“Straight?” I asked as I pointed down the road. “Street,” she answered, nodding. I continued to try to talk to her (and no, I didn’t raise my voice, thinking that might help her to understand).
Finally, when I asked her where she was from, she understood. “Syria,” she said softly. So now I knew or I think I know why she has that hanging-on-by-her-fingernails look. “Where are your children?”…I made rocking the baby motions. “School,” she said. I said, “they’ll do very well here.” This time I was smiling and nodding and she smiled, showing a need for dental work that she is too poor right now to get.
Against a back drop of the execution of more than 150 women in one town for refusing to “marry” ISIS militants, she is lucky. But how lucky would any of us feel having been ripped from our homes and inserted into a community that cannot communicate with us, that suspects us, and to whom we are strangers in every possible way.
With hand signaled directions I managed to get her to her apartment—more than a mile from where I had picked her up.
As we sat for a moment in front of her apartment, I could actually feel the softness and sorrow in her heart, and I noticed she has beautiful eyes. (BTW, the picture above is not Rehab, but boy, does it look like her.)
Anyway, before she got out of my car, she said "cafe?" I must have looked puzzled, because she began to mime picking up an invisible china cup from the "saucer" of her outstretched palm. She was asking me in for coffee.
I had to decline, I was headed to an appointment. She was thanking me profusely. "Thank you Madam, thank you," she said over and over. I told her my name was Nancy and she told me her's was Rehn. We exchanged phone numbers and I left. Now, regretting that I didn't take the time to just be with her, even if it did mean another twenty minutes of sign language.
When I picked her up, I admit, I had very little idea where we were headed and I don’t really know where Rehab and I go from here. But one thing is certain, we'll see each other again.
Homelessness is everywhere, but in warm areas of the country, the numbers of homeless people are generally bigger and caring for them poses a year-round challenge.
New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley is such a place, and in 2011 a camp for local homeless people was provided on city land. Dubbed Camp Hope, all it was was a place to pitch fifty or so tents. In the years that have followed, platforms have been built so the tents didn’t sit right on the ground and a nearby strip mall has been re-developed to provide social services, including a medical clinic and a soup kitchen where social workers connect with camp residents to help them with government aid.
To Mesilla Valley's credit, most of these services involve the work and effort of various local charitable agencies. But, the lack of real toilets and showers has always been a problem. In a place where dessert dust and dirt is a constant challenge, bathing out of a small bowl inside a tent is not very effective.
Enter Matt Holt, a professor at New Mexico State and his sister Julie Wilson, CEO of a business development group in Ft. Worth, TX., who started a movement called Project Dignity to improve the sanitary facilities at the camp. The effort has raised $65,000 from individuals, businesses, and the local Lions Club and Good Samaritan Society. They plan to build a facility--with a lot of donated labor and goods--that will include showers and toilets, along with a covered patio area and outdoor kitchen that can be used for cooking.
What would it mean to any of us to live without our bathrooms and kitchens? How can the value of a generous effort like this be measured?
So two people with comfortable lives, busy jobs and more than enough to do looked around and saw a place they could improve the existence of strangers living without basic necessities.
Some of these strangers are homeless veterans, others have had lives of tremendous difficulty. But for everyone at Camp Hope, these facilities are going to dramatically improve the current quality of life--all thanks to a brother and sister who cared enough to do a great and generous thing.
Let's all look around and see what we can do in our own communities and when you do, let me know. I'd love to write about you!
MONEY FEAR is a real thing. The fear that we don't have enough, won't have enough in the future, or can't do what we have to or want to do due to feelings of lack. Ross Levin, an attorney in Minneapolis recently wrote about money fear and the transformative power of generosity--something he's learned a lot about by shepherding his clients through the mental anguish that money fear promotes.
Here’s his story: “After a nasty divorce, one of my clients ended-up in a much different financial situation. Socially, she could no longer afford to do the things to which she had grown accustomed. Her network changed as her old friends continued their lifestyles. As she tried to cling to her old life, she became more anxious and unhappy.
“We took her through a list of things that she wanted to keep in her life as well as the reasons why--soon realizing that some people in her life were more like possessions than real friends. They didn’t fulfill her.
“Compiling a list without the reasons is not a useful exercise. Through defining what we want to keep in our lives, we can see whether we are doing so because of our true values or because of fear about our image or fear of change.
“Another couple I've worked with keeps pushing their financial limits beyond what they can reasonably afford. Their house is too big, their trips too extravagant, their cars too luxurious. They feel like impostors. This also wreaks havoc in their marriage, and yet they are still unwilling to adjust their lifestyle, and live in self-imposed chaos."
“Interestingly," he says, "an effective, yet counterintuitive strategy for money fear is generosity. We grasp and cling because we don’t feel like we have enough or that we are enough." Levin says although we feel like we are trying to control our often uncontrollable worlds through over-spending and other draining activities, we could take the paradoxical path of being generous to lead us out of our own world and into that of others.
Says Levin, "clients who are generous with their time or their resources have found it regenerative.
“When we give our time and money to causes and people in which we believe, we are subtly moving [mentally] from scarcity to abundance." We are then giving because we believe we can, that we have enough, he says. And, that is a transformative belief!
I like Mr. Levin’s list-making idea about what we spend our money on. I especially like the part about really focussing on why we feel that we have to spend money in a certain way. But more than anything else, Mr. Levin brings real-life experience to the magic of the effect of generosity in our lives. As always, I urge you to try it and if you are regularly generous, to expand your giving. It will expand your whole life!
When you write a book about the subject of giving it tends to open some doors and close others.
Most of us are so conditioned to save and always be careful with our money, that we are conflicted (to say the least) when someone starts sticking us in the ribs, talking about “paying it forward.” Doors close. It’s such a private affair. Nobody’s business. Even churches, which exist on the generosity of parishioners, tell them to “go home and pray about” what they should donate.
The sign says PRIVATE, NO ENTRANCE. Personal. None of your business. None of mine.
But then, what do we—who are not Bill Gates—who, like you, have mortgages and car payments, what do we do about the fact that giving is so great? I mean, how do we keep a secret like that from all the people who might really want to get involved in something so amazing as changing the world?
I don’t know about you, but to me it’s pretty impossible. So what DO we do? We stick our toe in the door and whisper “just give a little tiny bit.” “Just give a little bit.” “just give.”
And this is how: To begin a generous life, you may want to start small. Give a little when you feel like it might be a good thing to do. Do it because the kid looks so out of luck. Do it because the smile you get is worth a million. Do it because someone asks for a donation and it seems like a good place to plant a seed.
The thing is, no one wants you to spend the kids’ college fund money. No one wants you to give up the ranch. But some have given up everything and they can teach us a lot. Amy Carmichael left her home and family in Ireland near the end of the 1800s and traveled to India where she opened an orphanage. She worked as a missionary there for 55 years without ever returning home. One of her famous quotes was “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”
By 1913 Carmichael’s orphanage cared for 130 young girls who had been taken as Hindu temple servants. As a temple servant, these girls were forced to financially support the priests by taking “sexual assignments” or what we call prostitution. When the children were asked what it was about the orphanage that saved them, they most often replied "It was love. Amma (Amy) loved us."
Who wants to live without that kind of love? Who doesn’t want to open that door? If you do, you’ll find the most generous, open, accepting people inside. People, like you, that give out of love and compassion, people who understand the value of every human being.
Open those doors. You don’t have to sell the sofa, just do what you can and feel how good it feels. Do it often and let the feeling spread down to your toes and up through your brain. While you’re feeling good, like Amy Carmichael, you might just change the world.
Here’s to Amy,