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(Published: 2007-12-20)

I keep an “I” file. (“I” is for “Interesting.”) It’s where I put bits and pieces of inspiration that I come across in the course of my busy day that I’m not exactly sure what to do with at the time. My “I” file is stuffed with articles torn out of magazines, notes scribbled on scrap paper, as well as photographs and mementos collected from my travels.

Today, I repurposed my “I” file. I now call it my “Inspiration” file. I am constantly adding fresh thoughts to it as I come across things that inspire me. When I’m stuck, when I need a creative jab, it’s the first place I turn to for inspiration.

I was stuck yesterday trying to find the right way to start this newsletter. I had already decided the topic would be Giving. As I rummaged through my file, I found a dog-eared piece of paper about the size of a large postage stamp. I had cut it out of a catalog or magazine years ago. It was titled: Five Simple Rules for Happiness. Here they are:

1) Free your heart from hatred.
2) Free your mind from worries.
3) Live simply.
4) Give more.
5) Expect less.

This newsletter is about the last two rules on the list. I think I was drawn to them partly because of their similarity to Target’s brand promise: Expect More. Pay Less. Those four words sum up how Target reframed the discount world of retailing. I wondered if Give More/Expect Less could work similar magic on the holiday season. Could giving be reframed?

The subject of giving has been front and center these past few weeks. Marketers and the media have put many a creative spin on the topic. The Wall Street Journal carried a post-Thanksgiving ad imploring: “Let’s redefine Christmas by putting more Thanksgiving in it.” A recent issue of Conde Nast Traveler was dedicated to “The Age of Virtuous Travel,” and featured suggestions on giving back to the places we visit even as we enjoy and enlighten ourselves through travel. I loved both those ideas. Bill Clinton’s new book, “Giving” is topping the charts, every retailer in America has a “perfect gift list” and Starbucks is encouraging us to “pass the cheer.”

Last week, the NY Times had a small but interesting article about a new study that Bill Gates is funding called “The Joys and Dilemmas of Wealth” (is that a paradox?) The study focuses on understanding what drives donors. It seems they discovered three reasons why philanthropists choose to give away vast amounts ($25 to $100 million) to good causes. First, they want to make the world a better place. Second, they want results. (It turns out that most major philanthropists are entrepreneurs and they are used to getting things done.) Third, they want to leave a legacy and instill good values in their children.

Whatever and however we give, we give to help those less fortunate than ourselves, as well as to please and delight the people we love. When we think of the positive effects of giving, we tend to focus on the recipient, i.e. the benefits of the time volunteered, the results generated by the money given or the supplies donated, as well as the smiles and appreciation of those on the receiving end. What if we turned that around?

What if we gave more, expected less, but ultimately ended up giving more…to ourselves? In true Trend/Countertrend fashion, giving to others can be considered a selfish pursuit, but in a good way. British management guru Charles Handy calls it ‘Proper Selfishness’ in his book “The Hungry Spirit: Beyond Capitalism, A Quest For Purpose in the Modern World.” First published in 1998, Handy explores the paradox that the search to find ourselves is often best pursued through helping others.

There’s a lot of fresh research and evidence that now proves the link between doing good and living a longer, healthier, happier, life. In “Why Good Things Happen to Good People,” authors Stephen Post and Jill Neimark unveil new research showing that when we give of ourselves, especially if we start young, everything from life-satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly and positively affected throughout our lives. The astonishing connection between generosity and health is extremely convincing. The authors introduce ten ways to give, and not one requires writing a check. It is Giving, reframed.

In an interesting synchronicity, I attended a Yankolovich presentation this week on 2008 Trends. They identified a trend called “iPriority,” described as a “focus on self, with a twist.” The idea behind this self-focused trend is that only if we take good care of ourselves….our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, can we really be there for others.

Winston Churchill said: “We make a living by what we get. We make a LIFE by what we GIVE.” Make it a good life. Give more. Expect Less. You’ll end up with more than you ever imagined.

The Gift of Giving.

Giving, reframed.

Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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