“Never look down on a person… unless you are helping them up.” Author Unknown
A longing for freedom from the oppression of his home country and a desire to seek God, Donghyun Kim made a heartbreaking decision that would change his life forever. Kim grew up in North Korea and as a young adult his desire to leave the tyrannical, nanny-state grew stronger. The inclination to be free from the chains of the North Korean government became hard to ignore one day as he watched several families being dragged from their homes and beaten. So, in the guise of a business trip Kim left his home, his wife, and, with the help of an escape broker, escaped to South Korea.
After some time, Kim was able to contact his wife and ask her to follow him to North Korea’s peaceful neighbors. He knew that this would not be an easy thing. She would have to cross a frozen river, climb over barbed wire, and spend months hiding from the North Korean government. The one request that Kim asked of Song was that she pray for a safe journey.
Never having been religious before, even the concept of God was new to them. Song was confused but did as her husband requested. Both Kim and Song prayed for a safe journey and that they would soon be reunited in South Korea. On foot, by bus, and over the water, Song eventually made it to her husband and freedom. Grateful to be together again, the two North Korean natives began to rebuild their lives in South Korea. Kim’s desire to know God led him to take a leap of faith and take a risk to be free, knowing that if he failed the price was his life or the lives of his loved ones.
In time, Song’s desire and faith in God led them to America. They now live in the land of the free, free themselves and grateful to be together–building a life and family in the United States.
Although amazing and powerful, Kim and Song’s journey isn’t new, there are many people every day who are escaping terror, tyranny, and heartache. Escaping for their lives, desiring freedom from whatever nightmare is behind them. The courage that it takes to leave your home and loved ones, and travel to a new land seeking refuge is nothing short of miraculous, admirable, heroic, and any other adjectives that could describe such a harrowing journey.
A lot of times when a refugee finally makes it to a safe haven, whatever land or location that might be; when they have finally crossed those borders, climbed those fences, or faced those risks to be free of their torment, they often need the hands of kind strangers to help them rebuild the lives they left behind.
Lifting Hands International is trying to do just that. They are a non-profit organization dedicated to helping refugees with resources and supplies–doing what they can to relieve some of the weight of fleeing to a new land. Founder and director of LHI, Hayley Smith works tirelessly day after day, creating a safe place to land for those who need it the most. Their work started with Ms. Smith while she was working with the recent refugee crisis in Greece. After seeing the immense lack of supplies and support, she went home and decided that more had to be done. She donated what she could collect in two months and sent a container of those supplies to Lebanon. But she knew that she could do more, so she began the organization Lifting Hands International and with generously donated money they have established themselves in several different locations and provided much needed items to refugees in crisis.
Lifting Hands International currently works with emergency aid in Greece and France. They have donated a second container to Lebanon, they paid for further containers to be shipped to Greece from collection teams in the UK, and in a refugee camp in Greece they have full-time volunteers dedicated to helping those refugees in crisis. According to their Facebook “about” page, the organization “purchase and distribute milk-producing goats for vulnerable Syrian refugee families in Jordan.” They “have a team of dedicated volunteers who provide services and meaningful activities to Yazidi refugees living in a camp in Serres, Greece.” They also “collect, sort, and ship aid from [their] warehouse in Utah to refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan.” And as if that wasn’t enough, they also “furnish incoming refugee apartments in the Phoenix Valley using community donations.”
Their mission statement says it all; “We provide humanitarian aid to refugees, both home and abroad. No politics, simply humanitarian.” This organization, these volunteers, and Hayley Smith are making a difference in these refugees’ lives by doing something we can all do – reaching out their hands. We too can make a difference by reaching out our hands. It is really the least we can do to help those who have sacrificed everything to be free.
Kim’s Story: “2018 Freedom Award Recipients.” Freedom Festival Magazine June 2018: 18. Print.
A poem, written during the depression by Dale Wimbrow, quickly gained popularity and is still recited today. It was one of my grandpa’s favorites; and being an Irishman at heart, he loved to sing and recite poetry. Reading it today makes my heart leap, knowing that my inner bonnie lass feels the same.
Do you recall stories of your grandparents? I remember mine talking about being able to get a loan from a bank based on your name and a handshake. It is incredible, the amount of security that could come from one simple word. INTEGRITY. Life was about looking at the man in the glass and being proud of what you saw.
Frederick Douglass put it this way, “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” Abraham Lincoln said, “ I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”
Such stirring words from men who helped shape this country into what it is today! Integrity is something that has to be molded, and continually practiced. It is not something that comes easily to most people, but those who do have integrity are revered. Names like Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and more recently Malala Yousafzai stand in our minds and hearts for their strong stand to show integrity.
An anecdote about Gandhi’s integrity involves a mother who brought her young boy to meet the great man. She asked Gandhi to tell the boy never to eat sugar because of its effects on his health and teeth. Gandhi refused, instead asking the mother to bring the boy again 30 days later. When she returned, Gandhi did as she wished, telling the boy to stay away from sugar. The mother wondered why Gandhi had not just done that on the first visit, and Gandhi replied that he had still been eating sugar at their first visit and did not feel comfortable telling others to abstain from something that he enjoyed.
Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, or moral uprightness. It is a personal choice to hold one’s self to consistent standards. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. Integrity can stand in opposition to hypocrisy, in that judging with the standards of integrity involves regarding internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding within themselves apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs. The word integrity evolved from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete. In this context, integrity is the inner sense of “wholeness” deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others “have integrity” to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.’ (Wikipedia)
Psychology today published an article about seven traits that they found in people which characterized an increase in integrity.
The ability to apologize to someone below your status.
Parents who can see that they were wrong, and apologize to their children. As a parent myself, I am SO far from perfect. Any manual that came on child rearing must have been thrown out before I got to the bookstore, because I certainly make plenty of mistakes. My children have heard it all from me, but I am not above telling them that I was wrong. I often feel like I should hand out a ticket, with an assigned apology number. “I was lacking chocolate today, and I acted like a….. Well I am going to say “BAD MOM” here, because saying I was acting like a child would be insulting to my kids who are often more mature than I seem to be. If we act out, and we punish unjustly or snap at kids, we have gone too far. Being able to apologize to a child, or anyone who is under your authority shows integrity.
2. Bosses highlighting their staffs’ accomplishments and downplaying their own.
A boss with integrity doesn’t need the limelight. They recognize their role as a leader, and there is no need for power plays. Managers and bosses often come across as sadistic, narcissistic, or even sociopathic, but the boss with integrity brings out the best in others. A boss, in my mind, plays a role similar to the parent in the first scenario. One in this position already knows their worth, and that they have advantages others don’t get. Therefore, the boss with integrity will play up other’s accomplishments! Not only does this make the boss look good, for highlighting the work of others, it is also benefiting him or her, because workers will give more to the company for said recognition! My boss is really great at this, as each month we get together twice and he spends five to ten minutes recapping the good that is happening in the building. We learn about each other’s successes, and I know I personally look forward to him singling me out and talking about the work I am doing.
3. Romantic partners who boycott name-calling or other vicious behaviors.
I know what we are all thinking! Are these people for real?! You can not go on social media today without seeing examples of people who LACK INTEGRITY. This category however, I think is admirable. My own spouse is very conscientious about not getting into situations where others could be hurt. Just to give him a little pat on the back, I think it should be known that he is pretty level headed, whereas I am hot under the collar most days. He is my sounding board, and I will write an email, or get ready to post- and then I will hand over my device or the laptop and say, “Here. Delete this for me.” He usually reads them, gets a good chuckle, and then tells me that they just aren’t worth it. Doesn’t he know that I am fuming?! Yes, but he helps me see clearly. So, if you are the one who boycotts, my hat is off to you!
There will always be those who fight, but those who have learned to not be unfair, and who stop short of name calling will always have a better relationship. Being able to show a higher level of humanity and kindness are traits that those with integrity have.
4. Drivers who (almost) never use the horn or drive aggressively.
This made me almost snort/laugh. You know exactly why. I live in a fairly conservative state, with a large population of people who are very religious. Unfortunately, we are one of the worst in the country when it comes to aggressive driving, so it is ironic that Psychology today listed this as an aspect of people who have integrity. I suppose that how you drive says a lot about you. Perhaps when we all go in for our annual meeting with our religious leader, and he asks us if we are honest in our dealings with our fellow man- the follow up question should be, “and how is your driving record?” I personally love to speed. My children tell me quite often, “Mom, if you were any closer to the car in front of you, you could back seat drive.” I once had to be to school at 6 in the morning for a rehearsal with my students. Upon entering the room, I heard one young lady say that she had someone riding her “butt” the whole way there. I piped up proudly, “That was me!” I would like to add though, in case any of you are thinking that I am a terrible person; I USE my blinkers! Let’s all remember that driving in a cooperative manner that is mindful of your fellow commuters is actually a sign of integrity. Let’s all try to practice it more when we’re behind the wheel (I am Katie Stevens, and I approve of this message).
5. People in positions of power apologizing for keeping their captive audience waiting.
I have a great doctor. He is a busy guy, and just like most medical offices, it usually takes longer than you think necessary to be seen. The thing that made him come to my mind when I saw number five, was that he is always quick to say that he is sorry for keeping me waiting. I appreciate that he recognizes my time is worth something too! All too often when a person feels like they are more important than other people, they don’t make a conscious effort to apologize to others. Hey! That goes back to number one! Parents are in a position of power, and as parents we have peers and members of society who are above us. If we were all part of the food chain, it would be easy to see that there is always a bigger fish in the ocean.
When was the last time that a physician came into the examination room and acknowledged how long you’d been made to wait? I’ve never heard a doctor say, “I’m sorry for keeping you waiting,” or, “Thanks for waiting; I’m sure you’re probably busy.” In situations where there is a major power imbalance, make no mistake: The one with power who apologizes to the one with less power is showing bona fide integrity.
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6. Anyone giving another person the benefit of the doubt when the circumstances are unclear.
Modern life is more taxing and fast-paced than ever, and we suffer from stress on an ongoing basis. When we’re stressed, we’re more likely to get defensive and blame others. But if each of us could learn to give people the benefit of the doubt across the board—whether it’s in an argument, about a job not completed, or in response to feedback that suggests that someone’s spoken badly about you—we would have less stress in our daily lives. One of the noblest behaviors you can engage in is to give someone the benefit of the doubt before rushing to judgment or negatively filling in the blanks yourself.
As a society, we hardly volunteer enough. Yet a handful of men and women make volunteering a built-in part of their weekly life, whether at a church, a food pantry, animal shelter, or other non-profit operation. It shows a certain level of integrity to volunteer for a one-day stint here or there, but the steadier integrity is shown by those who commit to ongoing volunteer positions that require a real sacrifice of time. Cheers to all the parents who coach their children’s teams, but let’s not forget those volunteers who provide a service to their larger community or to underprivileged strangers. I watch in amazement when relief groups come from all over the world after a hurricane, tsunami, flood, or other disaster. When I was seven years old, my hometown was caught in the path of a flood. I grew up in southeastern Idaho, and just miles from the Teton dam. On June 5, we were in Utah at a wedding when news came across the radio that the Teton dam had burst. We raced for home, unsure of whether or not we could get there, and if there would be a home left to get to. It was chaos! Army trucks rumbled by, and the National Guard was called out. Homes from Tetonia, St. Anthony and Rexburg were buried in mud and stinking water. It fanned out for miles along the Snake River Plain, killing eleven people, gobbling up livestock and cattle, and decimating cars and homes. Immediately the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sprang into action, with calling trees and home teachers being led by Bishops preparing people to enter the danger zone. Others were called upon to build up the banks of the Snake River in Idaho Falls, sandbagging for miles to ward off the oncoming waters. It was the worst man-made disaster in Idaho history. As one who benefitted from the efforts of all the volunteers, I can only say thank you for your service!
Speaking of sports, my family and I are avid golfers. We have been participating for generations, as it is one of the few sports that you can continue to play as you age. My grandpa played, and my parents took up the game in college. They introduced us at eight years of age. I think they figured if you are old enough to be considered “accountable” for your sins, you should start playing golf! I include this here, because golf is a game full of integrity. If having integrity, and a moral character is defined by what you do when no-one is looking, then golf is a great life lesson! (And I don’t mean because no one watches the game!) Golf is the only professional sport where participants call penalties on themselves! As a child we were carefully taught by our parents, neighbors, coaches, and by those we came in contact with out on the course that there is nothing more important than being accountable for everything we did. Each stroke, whiff, out-of-bounds, and ball movement was counted. The penalty for ignoring or “forgetting” was disqualifications. Talk about learning a life lesson!
Integrity is a moral stance. I listened today as a young man in my class proudly told the class about his grandma. He announced that his grandma told him, “Break as many laws as you want, just don’t get caught!” He seemed quite pleased at how cool she was. I piped up, “That has got to be the worst advice ever!” The root of integrity is found in “The Golden Rule.” We should do unto others, as we would have done to us!”
In the story of the Good Samaritan, a parable unfolds. A Jewish man is found lying along the side of a road. He has been beaten, robbed, and left for dead. The first to come upon this man was a fellow Jew, but he was too busy to stop. The next man to come across the poor fellow was a Priest. Surely a Priest would stop to help someone in need; but no- he did not have the time. Finally, a Samaritan stopped. The Samaritan’s and the Jews were not friends. They did not like each other. This man however, stopped and saw to the wounded man’s needs. He also took him to an inn, and paid for him to stay there. Finally, he told the innkeeper he would be back through in a week, and whatever further payment was needed, he would pay. I love this story. It tells me so much about integrity! The first two men showed moral turpitude akin to an enemy. The man who was actually looked down upon by others was the one to live the “Golden Rule” as previously mentioned. The moral of the parable was to realize that all men are our neighbors, but I think it also stands true for showing integrity to all. There is no one that is not deserving of being shown a better way.
Having a foundational value like integrity in your life, you can be sure that the way you are viewed by your peers, and the value that is placed on your word will increase dramatically.
As a child, my mom was a stickler for this. I remember going to a store, and learning a quick lesson about what happens to those who don’t have integrity. My little brother decided he wanted a piece of gum. It was in a bin, like loose penny candy used to be. As we walked by, he put a piece in his pocket and it wasn’t discovered until we got home. My mom put him back in the car, and drove back into town for that one cent Dubble Bubble. She went immediately to the store manager, and told him that my brother had something he wanted to tell him. With huge crocodile tears, my little brother confessed to taking the piece of gum. He told the manager how sorry he was, and that it would never happen again. I think mom told him that he might have to spend a night in the county lock-up, but the lesson was learned. Not one of the Stanger children ever tried to klep anything again.
There is one organization that comes to my mind when I think about what we teach our youth. As a sister to two boys, I got to see first hand the valuable life lessons that they learned while involved in the Boy Scouts of America. From the time a boy turns twelve years old they are required to learn (and hopefully live) the Scout Oath. This oath states:
On my honor I will do my best,
To do my duty to God and my country
And to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
Mentally awake, and morally straight.
What a wonderful oath that these young men and women make! Is it any wonder that earning the office of an Eagle Scout is so commendable and holds so much esteem? So many of our leaders today can look to their youth and see the influence of the Boy Scouts of America. If you followed a law which encouraged you to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent- (whew, that is a LOT of good qualities) I think it would be safe to say that we would all be better people.
There is no doubt that life is a ride of ups and downs. From lost jobs or new friends to broken down cars and winning championships, the curve balls life throws at us can really catch us off guard. So how can we be more resilient to sudden changes or long periods of discouraging times?
In a 1998 study done by McCraty and colleagues, it was found that individuals with an attitude of gratitude experienced lower levels of stress. This suggests that there is no more opportune time to choose to be grateful than while we are experiencing tough times. Additionally, research shows that expressing gratitude can strengthen and build social circles. Though an initial expression of gratitude may not be directly reciprocated, the thanked individual may go on to reach out to a third party, continuing to expand social connections and develop a network of good. This growing network can help individuals advance in life and better cope with uncertain circumstances, again implying that it is best to be grateful during times of trouble.
What are the best ways to develop an attitude of gratitude? Though it can be difficult to stay positive while experiencing a rough patch, everyone can benefit from being grateful. A few easy ways to incorporate gratitude into your life include keeping a gratitude journal, volunteering, visiting loved ones and writing thank you notes.
It seems as simple as Julie Andrews counting off a list of her favorite things but keeping a consistent gratitude journal can have profound effects on your life. A study done by the University of Minnesota and the University of Florida found that participants who wrote down a list of positive events at the end of their day (and why those incidents made them happy) experienced a greater sense of calm and lower stress levels. Keeping a gratitude journal can also help to keep your mind focused on the positive things in your life instead of everything that is going wrong.
As James M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan has said, “those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” Though it may seem counterintuitive to take the time to help others when you yourself are in need of help, many research studies show that it might just be the medicine that you need. Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has concluded from his research that “volunteering is the single most reliable way to momentarily increase your well-being.” As you help others you can better appreciate the positive things in your life. You also feel that you can provide value and that your time and talents used while helping others was worthwhile.
Visiting Loved Ones
There’s nothing like a good chat with an old friend or a visit from a friendly relative to lift your spirits. Not only will these visits brighten your day, but they are also an opportunity for you to practice being grateful. Take these moments with your loved ones to thank them for something they have done for you, whether it was last week or last year. You can also take this opportunity to listen to any struggles your loved one may be experiencing and offer some advice, assistance, or simply a listening ear. As you express your gratitude and help your loved one, you will be able to strengthen your relationship with them and open the gate for more opportunities for you to serve them and for them to serve you.
Thank You Notes and Letters
Having a similar effect as writing in a gratitude journal, taking the time to sit down and write a letter of appreciation is another great way to bring some positivity into your life. An experiment performed by Soul Pancake found that this simple exercise of writing a thank you note increased an individual’s happiness from 2 to 4%. These letters don’t have to be long or elaborate. Even something as simple as a message scrawled on a sticky note will do the trick.
As you strive to include an attitude of gratitude in your life, you will be better equipped to handle any setbacks or disappointments that may come your way. Whether it’s keeping a daily journal, volunteering, visiting loved ones or writing thank you notes, you’ll find a little ray of sunshine from practicing gratitude daily. Sincere gratitude is the key to lower stress and a happier life!
“The best use of life is love. The best expression of love is time. The best time to love is now.” – Rick Warren
Giving of ourselves to help and assist others creates a feeling of abundance in addition to a sense of satisfaction within our own lives. Giving to those who are going through a difficult time or are less fortunate forces you to step back and take a broader look at your own life. This can sometimes cause you to reevaluate and adjust your focus in your own life.
I have seen and experienced this in my own life on several occasions—both in my own community and internationally. Every experience has left me with feelings of joy, gratitude and wanting to do more.
A few years ago, I participated in helping organize an Eagle Scout Project that collected winter clothing for a battered women’s shelter. At first, I was a bit apprehensive about getting involved and helping this organization due to a previous experience with them that was negative, I decided I needed to think about others besides myself and help make this project a success.
The day finally arrived, where it was time to collect, sort and donate all the donated winter clothing. I stayed behind to help organize the donations according to size and categories (coats, sweaters, jackets, etc.). As the night went on we were amazed by the abundance of items donated, more than we ever anticipated. While we did get a good laugh out of the hideousness of some of the items donated, we quickly understood and gained a deeper appreciation for the kindness and generosity showed to those less fortunate.
I often look back on this experience with fond memories as I am filled with a sense of accomplishment and love for those whom we were able to help that night. While I will never know the gravity or fully comprehend that simple act of service, I know my life was forever changed because of the simple act of love.
I am in a position where I am able to pay it forward and assist those who aren’t in an equally as fortunate position as I. As a result, I feel as though it is my responsibility to give to those in need when and where I can, as it not only benefits those in need directly, but my life also benefits from it. The more that I find myself paying it forward to those in my own community and those around the world, the more I crave it.
I used to think I couldn’t make a difference through my small actions, but I have quickly learned through my small actions, great impacts can be made. This is an attribute I have and will continue to emulate throughout the rest of my life, and it all started with a simple clothing drive one winter night.
The week between Christmas and New Years is usually spent eating food that will add to your waistline, lounging in your pajamas, and planning New Year’s resolutions that you will probably never keep. But for my family, the week between Christmas and New Years of 2015 was a rocky start to a bad two years. My husband John went in for what we thought was just a routine performance review at his job, but instead he was fired.
With no significant savings, no plan, and two kids under two, the next two years was not a walk in the park. At least not a nice park. It was like Central park–unusual, terrifying, and full of thieves and vagrants. Our bank account was closed, our family van was repossessed, and we soon faced impending litigation. John found a job in September, only to be fired (again) before Christmas. In the summer of 2017, John found another job and we waited pessimistically for the inevitable, but thankfully this job stuck. Now, with a third baby on the way we were desperate to replace the van we’d lost. To do so would not be difficult, it would be impossible. We needed a miracle.
There’s a funny thing about miracles; they’re not always big, parting of the sea kind of miracles. It’s because of this that most people think miracles don’t exist. But miracles do exist, most miracles are just small and usually go unnoticed by anyone else except to whom they are happening. Miracles also usually come when you least expect them, and for us, that was Christmas Eve.
That night the stockings were hung, still with care but with removable hooks on the wall because we live in an apartment and there is no chimney. I in my yoga pants and John in his Hurley baseball cap had just settled down for a long winter’s nap–but we’re parents, so a short winter’s nap–when there arose a knock on the door.
A knock is a different sound entirely from Santa coming down the chimney but just as surprising as any unexpected guest. We opened the door to see, not Santa, but people who could easily be described as bringers of gifts. Their names were Ryan Schooley, Jessica Ferrin, and Tom Moak–angels from Chubby’s. They came bearing gifts; food, toys for my kids, and most inspired, a van.
Ryan spoke to my husband, “John I have been where you are now–down on your luck and praying for a miracle. But now, I am able to buy my family a new van. So I want to pay it forward and give you our old van. The only thing I ask is that when you are on your feet again, you do the same for somebody else.” We accepted the van and the promise with tears in our eyes. Now, you see, what transpired that night, after all we had been through, could only be described as a miracle.
This is a true story as told by Luke Brandley, Co-Founder of A Good Cause Global, LLC.
The summer of 2017 was a world-wind of tragedy, narrowly escaping death, and massive medical expenses that were extremely daunting.
One late evening in July, my healthy and beautiful wife was sitting on our couch when she unexpectedly had a seizure in her right arm. Immediately, after the seizure she lost all movement in her legs – she became paralyzed from the waist down. This was very terrifying. Her legs were paralyzed for nearly two months. The doctors discovered that she had a Chiari Malformation that exceeded 15 millimeters protruding from her brain. The Chiari was pressed hard against the spinal cord and blocking it from receiving enough fluid; therefore, interrupting her brain from properly communicating with her legs. At length it was determined that she would have to have brain surgery.
Unfortunately, it got much worse before it got better. In the first attempted surgery she almost died. Thank goodness that the second attempt at surgery was a huge success. Months later, miraculously and thankfully, she is now walking again. I call her my miracle girl.
While my wife and I were at the hospital – I stayed with her nearly 24/7 – our neighbors fed our 9 children, built a ramp for my wife’s new wheelchair, my mother-in-law came and stayed at our house to care for our children, and I believe my wife was prayed for by hundreds of loving people from at least four continents. I could not believe the tremendous outpouring of generosity and thoughtfulness by so many. A dear friend brought me dinner, up at the hospital, numerous times. People came to visit us and brought love and gifts, and drove my kids around to their activities and sporting events. I was truly in awe and overwhelmed by the goodness of others.
Yes, we were going through an enormous trial; however, at the same time I was sincerely thankful (and forever will be) for all the tender mercies and genuine miracles that were happening all around me by the unbelievable kindness and generosity rendered by so many people in behalf of my family and I.
It is true that “when it rains, it pours”. While my wife was in rehab at the hospital, our son complained about his heart beating too fast. Well, come to find out, his heart actually exceeded the heart monitor he was required to wear (over 250 beats per minute) so, he was brought to the same ER that my wife had been rushed to only a few weeks earlier. He too had to have surgery – heart surgery. Beyond adequate words to express my earnest feelings of inexplicable gratitude, his heart surgery was also a success.
This entire ordeal taught me that life is so very fragile, each moment on planet earth is a gift, and that there are so many seriously amazing people that endow others with small acts of kindness that truly make all the difference.
When many people come together to support a good cause, it makes a ginormous impact. I knew from these tender moments that, going forward, my life would never be the same and that I wanted to do for others the same sort of kind deeds that so many did for my family and I.
These experiences, and many more like them, have been the fuel behind creating aGoodCause.com.
Michelle is one of the greatest examples of what it means to be a loving and selfless individual that I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet. I often crossed paths with her while she was providing some act of service for another individual: bringing a hot meal to a new mom, visiting a lonely neighbor in need, or helping to drive a handicapped woman to the airport. All this was done while carting around her two-year-old and even still while she was pregnant with her second child.
Though life wasn’t always a walk in the park for Michelle, she always managed to wear a smile and bring sunshine into the lives of those around her. Her cheery disposition and positive attitude made it easy to become instant friends with her. She always offered a happy “hello” and had the best advice when you needed it. I remember one specific conversation Michelle and I had about why it was important to reach out to others and make friends.
I expressed some frustrations about how fluid my life was at that time. It felt that anytime I met someone new and started to develop a relationship with them, they would graduate from school or get a new job and move someplace else. “I would like to have more friends, but it’s almost pointless for me to try and meet new people,” I said to Michelle, “because in a matter of months they’ll move and I won’t see them ever again.”
“Well,” Michelle began, “Reaching out to others and making friends is a lot like planting flowers. Some flowers only last a season before they’re gone. But the time you spent tending to those flowers, pulling the weeds, and helping the flowers grow wasn’t wasted because you got to enjoy their beauty while they were in bloom, even if it was only for a little while.”
“And think about the positive influence you can have on their life as well. If you take the time to listen to others and better understand their needs, you will be better equipped to provide some type of service for them during the short time that you knew them.”
It is tough when the flowers in our lives fade away, but that doesn’t mean we should never plant them. Michelle taught me that not only does getting to know others brighten our own lives, but it opens the door for us to be able to serve and help them when they need it. As we make an effort to get to know those around us, whether it’s our neighbors, the waiter at our favorite restaurant or a fellow coworker, we increase our social circle and our opportunities to serve others.
This week, take a little extra time to try and get to know those around you better. Here are three simple ways you can try to plant flowers and grow your relationships.
Ask the grocery store clerk how their day went.
Odds are that you shop at the same grocery store at the same time every week. If that’s the case, you probably run into the same grocery store clerk quite often. This week while picking up your carton of milk and a bag of chips, ask the cashier about their day and try to remember their name. That way the next time your paths cross you can call them by name and start a conversation easier.
Write a “Thank you” note to an acquaintance at work.
It can be surprisingly easy to go through the motions at the office and not really get to meet the people working around you. This week take a few moments to write a quick thank-you note to someone you would like to get to know better. Not only will it brighten their day, but it will also help to grow your relationship with that individual.
Bake your neighbor some cookies.
Everybody loves cookies, and sharing some with your neighbor is a great way to start a conversation with them. Bringing over a hot plate of chocolate chip cookies will give you a few minutes to ask about their family and how everything is going in their lives. You can even use this visit as an opportunity to offer to help with anything they may need, like raking their leaves or carpooling for school.
Reaching out to those around you doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming, but the relationships you develop will help to brighten your life like a newly blooming tulip or a vase of beautiful red roses.
“The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.”
-attributed to William Penn
Some time ago, I went through some stuff. It wasn’t fun or happy or positive in any way. I was also incredibly depressed. It seemed like all I could do was think about all the horrible things that this stuff generated. I couldn’t see anything positive about my life, and I was slowly losing hope. Frankly, it sucked rocks. (It’s okay, you guys. I’m doing much better now*.)
Aside from being an English nerd (seriously, Epic-Level-English-Nerd here), I also tend to learn as much as possible about a thing. So, I turned to my trusty laptop (you can still surf the web while laying in bed), and googled phrases such as: ‘how to feel better,’ ‘I hate depression,’ ‘please make depression stop,’ and, my personal favorite: ‘eff you depression.’
In the millions of search results that splayed across my screen, I came across a study claiming that expressing gratitude each day makes for a happier life. [hyperlink: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/images/application_uploads/Bartlett-Gratitude+ProsocialBehavior.pdf]
I know. I scoffed too.
Thus, began my deep dive into gratitude. I resolved that each day my husband and I would sit down and write three things for which we are grateful. It didn’t matter what they were, but there had to be three things each day. It seemed like such a silly thing. How does writing down three things, which didn’t even take five minutes, make my life happier?
Husband: . . .
Me: Come on. It’s just three things. I’m grateful for you, and for the kids, and for the dogs.
Husband: . . .
Husband: . . .
Husband: eye roll
Me: I’m grateful for fresh air, and our porch, and water.
Husband: (reluctantly) I’m grateful for you and the dogs and animals
Me: I’m grateful for tea, and colors, and plants
Husband: [cannot be found]
Each day I sat down and wrote three things. Sometimes they were items of pride, such as when one of the kids accomplished a difficult task. Sometimes they were items very personal, such as being grateful for the fact that my brain continues to work even if it’s depressed.
After about three weeks, I noticed a change. I was starting to look for the positives in life rather than the negatives. Instead of complaining about a sink full of dirty dishes, I was now being grateful that we had a sink and dishes. Instead of being angry at all the laundry piling up, I was grateful that we had nice clothes to wear and the ability to wash our clothes in our own home.
Honestly, you guys, it worked. Just by focusing on positive things each day, I was able to see my life differently, which also allowed me to live a happier life.
What is gratitude? Gratitude is appreciating someone or something that benefits our lives. Gratitude is known as a virtue by most religious traditions around the world is touted as a source of happiness and satisfaction in the popular press. Emmons and McCullough sought to answer if “an attitude of gratitude” is worth pursuing.
Spoiler Alert: The next section is a summary of the studies found in the academic paper Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough, originally found in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/6Emmons-BlessingsBurdens.pdf).
Subjective well-being literature (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tripartite_model_of_subjective_well-being) studies the components of well-being which include assessments of life satisfaction by one’s life as well as emotions and moods (i.e., joy, frustration, excitement, and gratitude). Previous work has been published showing that gratitude, while highly related to positive emotions like optimism, joy, and harmony, is semantically different. To scientifically study gratitude, psychologists needed to prove that gratitude is separate from more general concepts such as “happiness.” Fortunately, this previous work shows that positive feelings and gratitude overlaps, the ideas and beliefs associated with gratitude is unique. (From The Grateful Disposition: A Conceptual and Empirical Topography by Michael E. McCullough and Robert A. Emmons [https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/images/application_uploads/McCullough-GratefulDisposition.pdf].)
Now that the authors have proven gratitude as distinct from other positive emotions, Emmons and McCullough sought to prove that gratitude is not only related to well-being but that it caused well-being. To prove causality, gratitude needs to be manipulated – becoming an independent variable in the scientific study.
[A quick scientific study primer: In an experiment, there are two main components. One is the independent variable, which is the thing the researchers are studying. In this case, it is gratitude. Then there is the dependent variable, which is the result of the manipulation of the independent variable. This is what changes when the researchers control and manipulate the independent variable. In this case, it is what happens when we change the relationship to gratitude in the study.
A variable in research simply refers to a person, place, thing, or phenomenon that you are trying to measure in some way. The best way to understand the difference between an independent and dependent variable is by understanding the meaning of the words themselves. Consider this sentence: “The [independent variable] causes a change in [dependent variable] and it is not possible that [dependent variable] could cause a change in [independent variable].” By inserting the names of the variables in the sentence in the way that makes the most sense, this helps you identify each type of variable. In this study: “Gratitude causes a change in happiness. It is not possible that happiness could change gratitude.”
This is confusing for most university-level undergraduate students so don’t worry if you’re not on top of independent and dependent variables. When in doubt, remember the dependent variable depends on the changes made to the independent variable. We know what the changes are to the independentvariable because we are making those changes. But we don’t know how the dependent variable will react. Therefore the dependent variable is the result we are studying. /end lesson]
Emmons and McCullough studied the causal effects of gratitude by creating a series of studies in which participants were randomly divided into separate groups (or conditions). The first group was asked to list things in their lives for which they are grateful. The second group was asked to list “hassles” (things that were bothersome or annoying). The third group did something unrelated or nothing at all. The third group became our control group, by which the other groups were measured (nothing in the third group was manipulated).
For the first study, 192 participants were asked to complete a report each week. The content of the report was determined by which group the participants were randomly assigned. The first group (the gratitude condition) was given the following instructions:
There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the past week and write down on the lines below up to five things in your life that you are grateful or thankful for.
The second group (the hassle condition) was given these instructions:
Hassles are irritants – things that annoy or bother you. They occur in various domains of life, including relationships, work, school, housing, finances, health, and so forth. Think back over today and, on the lines below, list up to five hassles that occurred in your life.
The third group (the control group) had these instructions:
What were some of the events or circumstances that affected you in the past week? Think back over the past week and write down on the lines below the five events that had an impact on you.
[Note: The first group was asked to assess things for which they are grateful. The second group was asked to list things that were hassles. The third group was asked to list circumstances, but not told to list positive or negative events – just events.)
Participants were also asked to include ratings of mood, physical symptoms, reactions to social support, estimated time spent exercising, and two global life appraisal questions. In a rating grid, participants were asked to rate the extent to which they experienced each feeling. The 30 affect terms were as follows: interested, distressed, excited, alert, irritable, sad, stressed, ashamed, happy, grateful, tired, upset, strong, nervous, guilty, joyful, determined, thankful, calm, attentive, forgiving, hostile, energetic, hopeful, enthusiastic, active, afraid, proud, appreciative, and angry.
The researchers hoped to show that participants who received the gratitude manipulation would experience more positive and less negative emotions over the course of the study, thereby concluding that gratitude had caused these changes in their experience.
After taking the results of the first study, Emmons and McCullough designed the second study, which created a more intense intervention with a stronger manipulation.
Study 2 consisted of 157 participants. The instructions for the gratitude and hassles groups were identical to those used in Study 1. The third group was asked to use a downward social comparison (downward social comparison is when we compare ourselves to others who are worse off than ourselves. Such downward comparisons are often centered on making ourselves feel better about our abilities.). This group was created to appear to be positive on the surface but in reality, might lead to different outcomes than the gratitude focus. Instructions were as follows:
It is human nature to compare ourselves to others. We may be better off than others in some ways, and less fortunate than other people in other ways. Think about ways in which you are better off than others, things that you have that they don’t, and write these down in the spaces below.
After the results of the second study, Emmons and McCullough designed a third study where the participants suffered from either congenital or adult-onset NMDs (Neuromuscular Disease Clinic). Participants were assigned to two groups: group one was the gratitude condition used in Studies 1 and 2 and a control condition in which participants rated general feelings such as affect, well-being, and global appraisals.
The results of these three experiments showed found that people who listed people, things, or actions for which they are grateful (blessings) reported being happier than those who listed hassles. Participants in the gratitude group were also happier than those who did an unrelated task or nothing – although the happiness effect was greatest in comparison with those who listed hassles. It is noted that the researchers didn’t know how long the effects lasted and/or whether or not the participants continued listing things for which they were grateful.
(Beyond the effects on happiness, preliminary results show that gratitude may also have an effect on the length and restfulness sleep and on the amount that one exercises. These effects need more study as these were not the main concerns of the researchers, but the results were promising.)
So, what do the results of these studies mean? Well, just as I discovered when I listed things for which I was grateful, these feelings of gratitude lead to increased feelings of positive emotions and happiness. Gratitude is clearly positive and affects one’s life is a positive way; an “attitude of gratitude” is an attitude worth embracing.
One of the purposes of these experiments was to show that a relatively short and simple manipulation, such as listing three things each day for which you are grateful, has a significant effect on happiness and well-being. Consciously focusing on blessings (i.e., things for which you are grateful), benefits you emotionally and inter-personally. Charles Dickens said: “Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
I know, you guys. I hear you. You simply cannot fit one more thing into your day. I get it. I challenge you to take five minutes once a day to write three things down. Five minutes, you guys. That’s all.
Try it for 21 days and then let us know how it worked for you. Please share your experience on Instagram or Facebook.
*Spoiler Alert: Aside from being grateful each and every day, I also worked with a psychologist and psychiatrist to help manage my depression. My strategies included medication, meditation, and mindfulness, among others. All these things were helpful for me. I highly encourage anyone who is feeling depressed or potentially suicidal to seek professional help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/) phone number (available 24/7) is 1-800-273-8255.
When we think about abundance, a number of different things may come to mind, the nameless heads of big corporations, the one percent, or even Scrooge McDuck diving into a big pool of gold coins with a rope tied around his waist. These examples all embody one definition of abundance, but as we all know, material abundance isn’t the only way to be rich.
In my life I’ve been blessed to know several people who became rich simply by doing good. They found good causes, devoted their hearts and their bodies to those good causes, and they became wealthy as their happiness deepened, their relationships became stronger, and their homes became more peaceful.
I can think of no better example of this than my husband’s aging grandmother. At 93-years-old my husband’s aging grandmother can no longer be trusted to turn the oven off, or keep herself clean, but caring for her is not a burden for her five kids and many grandchildren. They love doing it. She spent years befriending others, caring for family, and serving others. Now they are delighted to get their chance to care for her.
When I first joined the family, I was amazed by her constant smile and positive attitude. I was also touched watching the hours she spent sitting in her big chair, embroidering decorative dish towels for her family members. I asked everyone who knew her in her younger years, “Was she always this sweet? Or did mother nature make her really nice in her old age?” “This is just her,” was the response I got, followed by numerous stories of her kindness.
When new neighbors moved in and were generally avoided by others for being different, grandma made them cookies and invited them over for hot dog roasts. When a friend seemed sad, she went out of her way to invite her to social functions. When her kids were hurt, she patched them up. When others were happy, she celebrated with them, and when they weren’t, she prayed for them. Grandma has lived a benevolent life, and now, even though her good causes are limited to embroidering kitchen towels and smiling at grand-babies, she is full of abundance. Not because she can dive in a pool of gold coins, but because she is in possession of an abundance of love from others.
Becoming like grandma doesn’t start at 93; it starts today. Each of us can do a small part to make a tremendous difference for good. Support aGoodCause today!
“A man’s true wealth is the good he does in this world.” -Kahil Gibrán
Time Magazine wrote an article based on a study done at the University of Zurich in Switzerland where 50 people were told they would be receiving $100 over a few weeks. Half of those people were asked to spend it on someone they knew, and the other half was told to spend it on themselves. [http://time.com/4857777/generosity-happiness-brain/]
The researchers monitored three regions of the brain associated with social behavior, generosity, happiness, and decision-making. Turns out that the people who spent the money on someone else had more interaction between the parts of the brain associated with altruism and happiness and reported higher levels of happiness after the experiment was over.
There were more positive side effects that were correlated with donating, such as lowering blood pressure and increasing life expectancy. There are many more studies out there that say nearly the same thing: giving to others allows the giver to feel positive emotions, therefore becoming happier.
Other than feeling good about yourself, there are many other advantages of supporting a good cause.
Support aGoodCause today; you will always be grateful you did.