Monthly Archives: December 2014

Many Happy Returns

“I wondered if you could help please?” This is the message that a young English woman posted on 50 Good Deeds last week.

Vikki George recently turned 30 years old. Just two days ago, in fact. But although 30 is a milestone birthday, I’m guessing she’s not all that hung over. Her birthday celebration will have been pretty tame. That’s because instead of chugging beers in a bar somewhere, Vikki was opening greeting cards… in bed.

Vikki has had a severe form of chronic fatigue syndrome for 13 years. Most of the time, she feels unwell and stays in her bedroom. But Vikki, who lives an hour outside of London, is an innovator. This young woman who rarely leaves home has found a unique way to make a difference to others.

In the months leading up to her big birthday, Vikki has been working on a blog called My 30 Wishes. It’s a list of 30 wishes for her 30 years. Most of her so-called “wishes” are actually good deeds, like donating blood, giving away flowers or supporting disadvantaged children. And Vikki figures since she’s too ill to do these herself, perhaps other people will do them – sort of as her stand-ins. Hence the message posted to 50 Good Deeds, asking for help to spread the word.

Vikki’s been a busy birthday gal. She’s even started a charitable service, Post Pals, to collect mail for children with chronic illnesses. (She loved getting mail when she was feeling miserable, and wants to help put smiles on other kids’ faces.)

Happy birthday, Vikki! Thanks for passing on the love. And because we aim to be fair here, we’re giving a shout out to this Deck of Good Deeds Cards initiative, also posted recently on 50 Good Deeds (I’m such a sucker for “please spread the word” entreaties). This set of cards is preprinted with good deed ideas for kids to complete. As the creators declare on their Kickstarter page, “Will this deck solve every problem there is? No, but it’s a damn good start!” Folks, it’s all about keeping it in perspective – yet keeping it positive.

Be merry, be joyful, be with friends and family. It’s what these special times are all about. See you in 2015.

Be merry, be joyful, be with friends and family. It’s what these special times are all about. See you in 2015.

New Kid on the Block

He’s only five, but he makes a lasting impression.

Huxley Briggs (his name sounds tougher than he really is, I promise you) can build wooden blocks. He does this pretty much all by himself. His dad helps a bit, but Huxley can deftly handle a table saw and a sander, a chop saw and a thickness planer. I don’t even know what most of those are.

And since Huxley actually enjoys using all these fancy tools and working with wood, he devotes a lot of his time to it, and has set up a business. It’s called Huxley’s Block Company, based in Whitehorse, Yukon. It sells blocks.

Our little friend talked Betty Stoke Burns, proprietor of Angellina’s Toy Boutique, into stocking the items in her store. I don’t think he had to try very hard, given that Burns got weepy-emotional pretty much as soon as Huxley opened his mouth. (That’s what she admitted to a news reporter, here.)

Now, with every sale of blocks, Burns is donating the proceeds to the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization (she asked Huxley to pick the charity). As for Huxley, although he’s putting some of his own profits into personal savings, he’s also devoting some of it to a good cause as well. This particular charity is a little closer to home – Huxley’s buying knitting supplies for his big sister.

See what I mean? Lasting impression.

I’m still thinking about Huxley Briggs, resident blockmaker. Cute-cute-cute-cute-cute!

I’m still thinking about Huxley Briggs, resident blockmaker. Cute-cute-cute-cute-cute!

Misery Loves Company

Would you describe yourself as a glass-half-empty kind of person? We can’t all have sunny dispositions. If you’re a bit of a morose sort – less Happy the Dwarf, perhaps, and more Marvin the Depressed Robot – you may believe you don’t have what it takes to support a pal who’s feeling bummed out. After all, a peppier person would do a better job turning someone’s bad mood around and lifting their spirits – wouldn’t they?

Perhaps not, say researchers in Yale University’s Psychology Department. They gathered groups of positive people and sad sacks, and showed them videos of speakers telling very personal stories. The researchers found that the more upbeat listeners weren’t so good at identifying the speakers’ negative emotions, like sadness. Yet since the positive people felt so darn confident about themselves, they were actually convinced they were stellar at picking up these emotions.

So why did their empathy skills fall flat? The perky people (the researchers theorize) were probably so focused on their own soaring moods that they were a tad oblivious to the misery around them. Call it one of the drawbacks of being high on life.

The downcast folks, on the other hand, were more empathetic when it came to negative emotions, and better at noticing them.

That means that when you want a buddy to commiserate with you, you ought to call on Grumpy Gus. At least he’ll feel your pain.

It should be noted that, in the study, positive people were good at picking up on someone’s emotions if they were in a happy state. My theory: It’s fun to be around fun people if you’re feeling fun.

So if you happen to be somewhat of a sad sack, don’t despair. It turns out you may have a lot of empathy to offer a friend who’s feeling down.

You may not be the life of the party, but you could still be someone’s lifeline.

Please don’t hate me because I’m happy…

Please don’t hate me because I’m happy…

I Thought Every Day was Giving Day

First there was Black Friday. Then came Cyber Monday. If you’re not clean out of cash yet, today is Giving Tuesday.

Never heard of it? This charity-driven concept was only launched two years ago. It seems to be catching on. Ostensibly, it’s a day to kick off the so-called giving season. (And that’s giving as in a goat to a third-world village, not as in cashmere-lined gloves to your fitness instructor.)

Then there’s the kind of giving that’s priceless. I was moved by a recent news item about a heart donation. The family of a 21-year-old American man who had lost his life in a fire decided to give his heart to a sick Vietnam war veteran. (They also donated organs and tissues to 59 other patients. Staggering.)

The war vet in question, who’s no spring chicken, had already been turned down for a transplant by five hospitals. So I don’t imagine there are words for what this gift meant to him.

Who needs words? Eight months after the transplant, the recipient gave an unforgettable gift back to the donor family. He allowed them to listen to their loved one’s heart, fully alive and beating, inside his chest.

Furthermore, the transplant patient and donor family all said yes to the exchange being videotaped and broadcast, just so they could spread awareness about the critical importance of organ donation.

With all that giving, I can only guess how many more lives they have saved.

Grab the tissues and watch the video here.