Gang for Giving, a.k.a. The Sweet Squad

There are book clubs, there are study groups, there are dragon boating teams. Then there are good deed clubs. One of these is based in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. Oh, sure, these people may call themselves the Keeping Fit Exercise group instead of the Benevolence Brigade or something like that. And, yes, they may do a few knee bends and side crunches when they get together.

But I am pretty sure that’s just a cover. Because when the members of this club aren’t burning calories, they’re devoted to performing acts of kindness. They surprise their neighbours in need with free groceries and gas money. They give up their own birthday presents, diverting the money instead to helping others. They hand out generous gift cards. They’ve been meeting for seven years, and in that time they’ve quietly made a difference to a lot of people in their community.

Maybe no longer quite so quietly. Recently, 80-year-old Lois Campbell was the delighted (albeit gobsmacked) recipient of one of the group’s gift cards. She was determined to find a proper way to express her appreciation. We suspect it was Lois who alerted the media. She also invited the entire Keeping Fit Exercise group to her house for a festive time that included homemade treats and hand-knitted mittens for every single member.

Fresh-baked desserts and warm hands… I can’t think of a better way to say thank you. “I love them all, I’m going to call them all my family now,” Lois says in a news story.


Words to Live By

Joy to the world. Happy birthday. Good times. Scientists at the University of Vermont recently went to great effort to catalogue one hundred billion words in 10 different languages. (Some of us spend our time collecting stamps or coins.) For their study, they used a wide variety of word sources, including song lyrics, books, movie subtitles and even Tweets.

Every single word from the billions gathered was individually sorted on a scale of 1-9. Positive-sounding words like “laughter” were assigned a high score, and negative words like “terrorist” were at the bottom. Neutral words like “the” and “truck” got a score in the middle.

After the scores were averaged, the researchers came up with this uplifting conclusion: Every language is skewed to the positive. Or, as eloquently summarized by the mathematician who co-led the study: “[We] use more happy words than sad words.”

Fun fact: This theory was actually put forth in 1969 by University of Illinois psychologists, who called it the Pollyanna Hypothesis, but didn’t have much proof to back their proposal.

The University of Vermont researchers found their results to be universal across all 10 languages (although Spanish sources turned out to be the most positive, and Chinese the least. I’m not jumping to any conclusions, so you shouldn’t either).

It’s nice to know that no matter what language we speak, and whether we’re writing books, composing songs or tweeting about the utterly mundane, humans tend to look on the bright side of life.

Note: The above blog post contains a minimum of 77% happy words… and is fat- and sugar-free.

Another Kindness Campaign (So Much More Fun Than Politics)

When I’m searching for goodness, I don’t find it requires a whole lot of effort. It’s not as challenging as, say, searching for a pot of gold, or a cure for cancer. There’s goodness on my street, on the bus, at the grocery store (if only I could say the same about the pot of gold!). In fact, any time I wanted, I could close my eyes, walk down the sidewalk and crash into goodness within about fifteen seconds – if I didn’t collide with a telephone pole first.

Be that as it may, “Search for Goodness” is the name of this country’s newest nationwide kindness campaign. The company behind Shreddies cereal just launched it this week to identify and promote Canada’s most heartwarming stories of goodness.

Last year, sisters Emma and Julia Mogus of Oakville, Ontario, captured Canadians’ hearts – and the top goodness award – with their book donations to isolated northern communities. The year before that, Greg Epp of Saskatoon was recognized for his dedicated work maintaining a skating rink in his neighbourhood.

Emma, Julia and Greg may be wonderful people. They probably are. But we all know they’re not the only Canadians making a difference in our communities.

Starting now, you can nominate one of the other ones.

The Search for Goodness campaign winner will get a chance to inspire the nation in a TV spot. (And there may be more surprises… a year’s supply of breakfast cereal? We don’t know, but stay tuned!)

Nominations are open until May 10. After that, you can go back to the website every day to vote for the story that made you bawl the most happy tears, or compelled you to hug your dog, or otherwise moved you in no uncertain terms.

Visit the campaign website here.

Most of all, I love serial acts of kindness (get it?).

Most of all, I love serial acts of kindness (get it?).

But Love Has Lots of Other Stuff Going for It

Love has no labels? Oh, I don’t know. I regularly employ a wide variety of labels for my loved ones, including “honey,” “sweetie-pie,” “cutie” and “are-you-on-your-iPhone-again?”

But in this adorable video from the non-profit Advertising Council in the U.S., they use a social experiment to make a strong point about love and labels. Sets of lovebirds, best friends and other bonded pairs are hidden behind a large panel. Onscreen, an X-ray animation shows their skeletons prancing around in delight, then leaning towards each other for big boney embraces.

When the pairs finally burst out from behind the screen for the big reveal, onlookers are apparently surprised that the couples aren’t who, or what, they expected. Some pairs are same-sex couples. Others have disabilities, are chronologically challenged, or are religiously disparate. Prominent slogans read: “Love has no gender,” “Love has no age,” and so on. Miranda Lambert sings. Life is glorious.

Inspired? You can visit the LoveHasNoLabels website to take a quick quiz about your own biases (or lack thereof), and pick up some handy tips for loving without labels.

For a more in-depth scrutiny of your subconscious, scoot over to Harvard University’s Project Implicit, where a series of exhaustive tests will uncover the insidious prejudices you never knew you had.

It’s all in the name of striving to become kinder, of course. Because it doesn’t matter what the question is… love is always the answer.

Make no bones about it, this is true love. (P.S. Please accept my apologies for the terrible pun I just subjected you to.)

Make no bones about it, this is true love. (P.S. Please accept my apologies for the terrible pun to which you’ve just been subjected.)

Picture Perfect

One Tuesday afternoon last month, Laura Tucker enjoyed a routine outing with her best friend, Brandy. They walked and played on a snow-covered Toronto beach, enjoyed the crisp, fresh air and watched the sunset. They chatted with a stranger, who was out walking with his best friend.

Nothing seemed extraordinary at the time. But for Laura and Brandy, it would prove to be their very last romp together.

The next day, Brandy was sick. The diagnosis was grim. And by Friday, Laura made the painful decision to let her go. Brandy, a 15-year-old border collie mix, was euthanized.

While struggling with her grief, Laura recalled that the stranger they’d met on Tuesday had been taking photos. She had relatively few pictures of her own to remember Brandy by – her dog had been jealous of the camera, and didn’t often pose for portraits willingly – so now Laura desperately hoped that the stranger might have captured Brandy in one or two of his pictures.

The problem was, she didn’t know the man’s name or how to reach him. She posted an appeal on Facebook.

It was shared over 700 times. Of course it was.

And of the hundreds of people who were touched by the note and decided to repost it, one happened to have a shutterbug son called Ryan Phillips. Ryan, as it turned out, was the man from the beach. “I got a little buzz when I realized it was me,” he told a reporter for The Toronto Star.

Ryan quickly contacted Laura: Yes, he certainly did have a selection of pictures he could send her. In Laura’s favourite snapshot, she and Brandy are just silhouettes in the glow of a winter’s sunset. But it’s a beautiful memento of the last time she saw her dog at play.

The photographs won’t erase Laura’s loss. But they’re a huge comfort. “You have no idea how much this means to me,” she wrote on Facebook as she thanked all those who had circulated her appeal. “My grief is being lifted by the kindness of strangers.”

As for Phillips, he was glad he could help. “If you can share a little light and a little love, it can really mean a lot to people,” he said in the article.

Laura (on the left) plans to frame and hang this picture in her office. She’ll always feel sad when she sees it, she says, but it will also remind her of all the strangers who cared enough to help.

Laura (on the left) plans to frame and hang this picture in her office. She’ll always feel sad when she sees it, she says, but it will also remind her of all the strangers who cared enough to help.

A Close Shave

When our kids get into accidents, it feels as though our hearts have been ripped from our bodies, turned inside out, stuffed full of nails and used in a game of tackle football.

Actually, it feels a lot worse than that.

So you can imagine the agony my Canadian-Dutch friend Ella experienced last month, as she waited for her son to get through emergency brain surgery in Groningen, Netherlands.

Ten-year-old Reuben had been happily playing with his friends when he suddenly fell eight feet from a ladder, receiving a very hard knock to the head and bleeding around his brain. (Doctors said later that had his operation been delayed by just five minutes, he wouldn’t have survived.) It was a horror show – but one with an extremely happy ending. In the days after the surgery, as Reuben was gradually weaned from an array of tubes, bandages and monitors, it became clear that the little boy was recovering.

Naturally his parents were overjoyed and relieved at the outcome. But Reuben wasn’t so happy with his less-than-stylish new look. The left side of his face was bruised and swollen, an entire hemisphere of his head had been shaved, and an enormous incision, laced with dark stitches, curled around his scalp.

After he got home, Reuben opted to have the rest of his head shaved – what choice did he have, really? – but was still distressed over his reflection in the mirror. So, naturally, his mom stepped up. She told her son he could cut off her hair, too. All two-feet-plus of it.

It worked. “When I told him he could shave my hair off, his face lit up completely. One of his first moments of genuine happiness since his accident,” Ella told me. As Reuben operated the electric shaver on his mom’s head, he “was all smiles,” she said. “Afterwards, he sat by me for the longest time, resting his head on my shoulder.”

“I would do anything for my children and people I love,” this devoted mother reported. “Doing this for my son was the ultimate ‘I love you, support you and will do anything for you’ gesture I could think of to show Reuben.”

Ella is no stranger to radical haircuts – she has been growing and donating her hair, over and over, almost her whole adult life – but this was different. “This was the first time in over twenty years of cutting my hair that I didn’t donate it,” she noted. “This was just for my son.”

Today, Reuben is still recuperating. His mom is staying by his side, helping him with jigsaw puzzles, and baking chocolate cookies upon request.

I don’t know whether they’ve spent any of their together time online-shopping for matching scarves or hats (possibly toques, with a nod to Ella’s Canadian heritage) to cover up their buzz cuts. But it doesn’t matter.

We know their hearts already match perfectly.


Let’s Just Plow Through

Winter’s still on, so I’m sharing another snow story. Please bear with me (or invite me to Florida – either way).

So, what would you do if you were fed up with complaints about snowplows versus driveways? For those of you who don’t live northward enough to understand, here’s how it works in Canadian cities. A winter storm dumps a whole lot of snow on us. We shovel out our driveways. And then, because we pay our taxes, a snowplow drives around and clears our roads for us for free.

The problem? Well, the snow pushed by the plow has to go somewhere, so you often end up with a driveway-ful. Your cars get blocked in all over again. You’re forced to go outside for what some folks are dubbing the dreaded “second shovel.” And because by this point you’re exhausted, your temper is short… and you’re more likely to grumble about those annoying (did I mention free?) snowplows that have caused you a whole lot of aggro.

If your compulsion to complain happens to take you to the City of Regina’s Facebook page for a venting, be warned. There’s a guy called Neil McDonald who also lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, and he has very little patience for such bellyaching.

In fact, just last week, Neil tracked down one of the complainants – “Internet-creeped their address [and] drove halfway across town,” as he phrases it – and actually cleared the snow away from their car for them. He wrote that he did it “to prove that it wasn’t anything more than a minor inconvenience.” Of course, once he reported all this in a follow-up comment on Facebook, the whole thing quickly and predictably went viral.

You could call Neil a good Samaritan – just not to his face. In an interview for CBC, he insists that although people are calling him a “yeti messiah” and “Batman with a shovel,” he’s not like that at all. He’s flattered, but says he’s no “winter-loving, goodwill ambassador.” He’s just tired of all the griping about snowplows. Neil hates everything about winter, but believes we should be helping each other get through it, not fixating on minor inconveniences like a snowed-in car.

Just keep in mind it’s not about liking winter, ever. Neil is a champion on that point. “By me suggesting online that people just get out there and dig each other out after a snowfall, the last thing that I wanted to suggest is that we enjoy it,” he says. “Winter sucks without a doubt, but just do it.”

Neil, you have nothing to worry about from me. I will never stop despising winter, no matter how many wintry good deeds are done.

But I will always love those wintry good deeds.

The view from my front door. I can’t even talk about it.

The view from my front door. I can’t even talk about it.