The Perfect Gift: Does mindfulness matter?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Perfect Gift

Hands forming a heart shapeDo you wait until the last minute to decide what to buy for holiday gifts? Or, have you been thinking about it for months, carefully compiling your list of just the right gifts for just the right people?

The second approach requires mindfulness. I don’t mean the traditional Buddhist practice (though that might help). Rather, I’m referring to being thoughtful about gift giving.

“Being mindful about gift giving,” writes psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell, “means paying attention to the whys behind the gift, looking anew at how we give, and questioning preconceived or traditional ideas of giving. Being mindful requires us to reconsider what we think we know about giving and adapt in ways that match our family’s values.”

Price-Mitchell says we develop “giving identities” during childhood and adolescence. So, being mindful about gift giving as an adult means reflection and introspection about gift giving when we were young.

It also means being conscious to the giving identities we intentionally or unintentionally create in our children.

“Parents can help children and adolescents become more mindful about gift giving simply by encouraging them to think, voice their thoughts, and then act on them,” says Price-Mitchell. “Parents have ample opportunities to ask open-ended questions that engage children in conversations about giving.”

Are you a mindful gift giver?
What did gift giving mean when you were growing up?
What giving identities to you instill in your children?

Your viewpoint is important!

You can leave a comment below. Or, you can talk with friends by using the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons and asking friends to read this series with you. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them to spark discussion in your class or small group.

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The Perfect Gift: Is it MONEY?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Perfect Gift

A Fistful of Cash

The hunt is on! With Black Thursday and Friday behind us, the holiday shopping season is in full swing. Are you looking for the perfect gift for each person on your list? What’s the perfect gift to give—or to receive?

Could it be cash?

We like to think of gift giving as an act of altruism, a freely given expression of affection and love toward another. But gift giving can be complicated. In every society, gift giving follows certain informal rules; we intuitively know these rules even if we can’t always articulate them.

These rules become starkly apparent when we give the wrong gift—or get the wrong gift.

Let’s start today with money, the ultimate arbiter of value. For some, money is the perfect gift. It takes all the guesswork out of the equation. No need to intuit what the other person really wants. It’s very simple: The receiver uses the money to purchase exactly what he or she wants. What can be more satisfying than that?

But giving or getting money isn’t always so satisfying. Gifts of money make economic sense in a cold rational way; but gifts are not rational in the economic sense. Gifts are more about our values and emotions. And gifts of money, like all gifts, follow a certain social code.

Did your grandparents ever give you a holiday gift of money? This use of money as a gift is socially acceptable. It’s OK for a grandparent to give gifts of money to a grandchild. But the other way around—a grandchild giving a gift of money to a grandparent—is a violation of the social code. This is true even if the grandparent could really use the money, and the grandchild is affluent.

How about a holiday gift of money—to your spouse or significant other? The social code here varies from couple to couple. Generally, a gift of money does not convey the love and thoughtfulness that a gift should convey, but I know couples where money is the perfect gift.

How about giving a gift of money—to your boss? This is clearly a violation of the social code. Giving a purchased gift, however, often is not.

Is “money” the perfect gift?

Would you be happy giving or getting a gift of money for the holidays?

What is your definition of “The Perfect Gift”?

Your viewpoint is important!

You can leave a comment below. Or, you can talk with friends by using the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons and asking friends to read this series with you. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them to spark discussion in your class or small group.

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Global Pay It Forward: Will Unsung Hero surpass Gangnam Style?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Pay It Forward Day

Unsung Hero viral videoDoing good deeds without expectation of return is a universal principle. Stories of paying it forward abound, and millions more are expected this week as we approach International Pay It Forward Day this Thursday.

Do you know the story of the Unsung Hero?

Unsung Hero was released on YouTube earlier this month and it’s been viewed 11 million times already. That’s more than Gangnam Style achieved in its first month. The Korean pop-music video eventually topped 2 billion views, making it the Number 1 most watched YouTube video in history. If Unsung Hero continues to get views at its current rate, it will eclipse Gangnam Style.

I invite you to view the 3 minute video and tell us what you think. Be forewarned: It’s a tearjerker. Not because it’s sad, but because it’s so positive and heartwarming.

In the video, the unnamed hero is just an ordinary guy. He helps an elderly street vendor with her heavy cart, gives money to a mother and daughter who beg on the streets, feeds a street mongrel, and more. Why does he do it? What does he get out of it? Take a look and tell us your opinion.

Oh, one more thing. The video is an official video of Thai Life Insurance. The firm has a history of making such videos.

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What’s your reaction to “Unsung Hero”?

Does it matter that it’s made by a for-profit corporation?

Would you “pay it forward” by sending today’s post (with the video link) to someone in your network? Use the links in the upper right to share via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, for your email.

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International Pay It Forward Day: Acts of kindness by the millions?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Pay It Forward Day
Pay It Forward Foundation logo

CLICK on the Pay It Forward Foundation logo to visit the group’s website for updates on the launch of this year’s big day.

Global Pay It Forward Day is this Thursday. Over 500,000 people in 60 countries have signed on to participate. On Thursday, each will do 1-to-3 random acts of kindness “with no expectations other than the recipient in turn does a favor for someone else.” If each participant does an average of 2 good deeds—that’s 1 million random acts of kindness in a single day.

If each recipient of a good deed pays it forward just once, we now have 2 million random acts of kindness in a day. The organizers of “International Pay It Forward Day” are hoping for even more than that.

Do you believe it will happen?

The Pay It Forward movement is worldwide. Kindness is a universal virtue. But America is the only nation that ranks kindness as its #1 character strength, according to research by the VIA Institute that I discuss in United America. Paying it forward also taps one of America’s 10 core values: justice and fairness. Paying it forward is a form of fairness and balance in human relations.

Why do people pay it forward? Why help someone who hasn’t helped you? It’s “human nature,” you might say. But so is selfishness. Paying it forward doesn’t make sense when people are selfish, taking favors but never paying them back or forward.

Evolutionary biologists have an explanation: strategic reputation building. The reason we are willing to help those who haven’t helped us is because others are watching. Others won’t help us if they perceive us to be stingy. They will help us if we appear to be kind and generous. But we’re not really kind and generous, according to this theory. Rather, we act that way in anticipation of future benefits.

I’ve never liked that answer. Alternative explanation is one that I’ve seen time and time again when I use the Reciprocity Ring™ group activity: positive emotions. You help me and I feel the positive emotion of gratitude, which motivates me to then help someone else. We pay it forward because we are grateful for help we received.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Is there any proof? There is. My colleague Nat Bulkley and I conducted a massive study to test both the positive emotions and reputation explanations. We found that both matter, but positive emotions have a stronger and longer lasting effect than reputation. Our article was just accepted for publication in the scholarly journal Organization Science. (If you’d like to read the paper, you can get it on my personal web site.)

Do you have a Pay It Forward story to tell?

Do you believe 1 million random acts of kindness with take place this Thursday?

Will you commit to be a participant?

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Volunteering: Would you do it in your pajamas?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Volunteering

Many Americans volunteer their time, knowledge, and resources to aid others. We usually think of volunteering as work done “out there”—in the community, schools, hospitals, prisons, churches, and other places.

But have you ever thought of doing volunteer work at home in your pajamas?

As we’ll see today, there’s a movement afoot that lets you do just that. Volunteering is our focus this week, and we’ve considered how helping others can extend your life and make you happier. We’ve discussed religious volunteers in prison, and the wide variation in rates of volunteering across the 50 states.

Help from Home website

INTRIGUED BY ‘HELP FROM HOME’? Click on this image from the group’s website to learn more.

Volunteering is a time-honored activity, but today technology lets us volunteer in new ways. It’s called “micro-volunteering.” Micro-volunteering, defined by Wikipedia, is “a task done by a volunteer, or a team of volunteers, without payment, either online via an internet-connected device, including smartphones, or offline in small increments of time, usually to benefit a nonprofit organization, charitable organization, or non-governmental organization.”

Help From Home is an example. Their tagline is “Change the World in Just Your Pyjamas.” This site allows you to volunteer “in bite sized chunks, from your own home, on demand and on your own terms.” Their opportunities include a host of “do good actions,” “green actions,” and “advocacy actions.”

Another example is the online volunteering service hosted by the United Nations. Development organizations around the world post volunteering opportunities and individuals select opportunities where they can help. If both parties agree, then the online volunteer provides the needed service, such as translation, writing, design, research, IT development, and more.

Have you heard of micro-volunteering?  

Does micro-volunteering appeal to you?  

Would you volunteer more often if you could do it in your pajamas?  

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Volunteering: Which state leads the volunteer rankings?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Volunteering
CLICK THE MAP to visit the Volunteering America website and learn a lot more about volunteerism in all the 50 states.

CLICK THE MAP to visit the Volunteering America website and learn a lot more about volunteerism in all the 50 states.

Almost 65 million Americans volunteered in 2012, contributing 7.9 billion hours of service valued at $175 billion. But these figures are not evenly distributed across the nation.

Which state leads the volunteer rankings?
Which one comes in dead last?

The Corporation for National & Community Service collects data each year about volunteering across America. Their latest report covers volunteering in 2012; figures for volunteering in 2013 will be out soon (though I don’t expect to see big differences between 2012 and 2013).

Which state tops the rankings? It’s the Beehive State, better known as Utah.

Almost 44% of Utahans volunteer, taking the #1 spot in the rankings. Utah also has the highest volunteer retention rate, the highest Baby Boomer volunteer rate, the highest young adult volunteer rate, the highest college student volunteer rate, the highest veterans volunteer rate, the highest parents volunteer rate, and the highest Millennial and Gen X volunteer rates. The only measures that don’t earn them the top spot are their older adult volunteer rate (these Utahans are #3) and teenage volunteer rates (#7).

Which state comes in last place? Overall, it’s Louisiana, with about 20% of Louisianans volunteering in 2012. The volunteer rates for young adults, Millennials, and teenagers are the lowest in the nation.

South Carolina places last for volunteer retention rates, while Nevada takes last place for rates of volunteerism for older adults, Gen X, and parents. New Jersey takes last place for older adult volunteers. West Virginia takes the bottom spot for veterans who volunteer.

Want to know where your state—or town or city—rank? Click the map to visit Volunteering America’s website.

Are you surprised to know that Utah leads the nation in volunteering?

What do you make of where your state ranks?

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Extreme Generosity: Does “generosity” mean something deeper?

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Extreme Generosity
Tom Gallagher, at left, selling special newspapers for the Old Newsboys' Goodfellows Fund of Detroit.

Tom Gallagher, at left, selling special newspapers for the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellows Fund of Detroit.

On Monday, I quoted the simple definition of “generosity” used by Notre Dame researchers. But, the researchers also describe, in great detail, the evolution of this term. Centuries ago, the word referred to a gallant notion among the nobility that they should give some gifts. The researchers point out that “generosity” at its best aims at strengthening social and moral bonds throughout a community.

This brings us to OurValues contributing columnist Terry Gallagher, who most recently wrote a series called “The Gift” that went viral to thousands of readers around the world. Terry is a gift-giver himself. Every year, he is active in a century-old Detroit-area program called the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellow Fund. Each year, community leaders sell a special edition of a local newspaper and give the collected funds to provide Christmas presents for poor children. The Goodfellows also solicit donations through their circles of friends.

Terry doesn’t even use the word “generosity” to describe his own efforts with the group. Terry’s father, Tom, was a Goodfellow before him and Terry inherited his father’s private list of friends (donors, in this case) who he still contacts each year. Terry says he “works the list” for donations to honor his father, to support the Detroit community and because he wants to keep alive the relationships with these donors.

“My experience with the Goodfellows is not really spurred by a generous impulse,” Terry says. “In part, I do it to push off some of the off-putting parts of Christmas, in my mind, that is, all the commercial stuff. With this, if someone wants to give me a gift, I can tell them what I really want is for them to kick in for the Goodfellows. I’ve already got enough stuff.

“Now, my father’s been dead since 1997, but I still have a few dozen of his supporters on my list, and they know that I follow the same tradition: handwritten addresses, in green ink, SASE enclosed, a funny little card, holiday stamps. And as his cronies have died, I’ve worked to replace them.

“I told his regulars that the old man died but they still were on The List,” Terry says. “Got a lot of tear-stained checks in the mail.”

Hearing Terry’s explanation of his custom, it sure sounds like an earlier definition of generosity that the Notre Dame researchers apparently are trying to revive: Giving to strengthen the bonds within a community.

What do you think?

Do you like the word “generosity”?

What does it mean to you?

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