Dan Learns what Hannah Lives

At 91 my mother, bless her heart, reads the New York Times every Sunday.  She gives one friend the sports page, another the Sunday Review.  Before she can pass on the Sunday Review this July 8, 2012, I notice the lead article is “Don’t Indulge.  Be Happy.”  It sounds just like something I’d like to read to Hannah.  Fact is, it sounds like Hannah.

Our family joke is that the best present to give Hannah is money.  Then she can buy things for other people.  Hannah is constantly on the lookout at thrift stores, any stores, and end of the season sales at York Beach for possible presents for birthdays, anniversaries, and “no reason at all.”  In addition to writing cards and letters to friends each morning, more often than not Hannah is a wrapping present or two as well.  Her favorite holidays are birthdays.  It’s a person’s special day all to herself.  (N. B., Hannah’s birthday is February 6th)

The article’s lead sentence is “How much money do you need to be happy?   Think about it.  What’s your number?”   At one time, I thought that it would $50K more than what I have now.  The fact is, their answer is $75K per year.  It seems the beneficial effects of money taper off entirely (that’s their adverb) after $75K.

The article goes on to say that “What we do with our money plays a far more important role than how much we make.”  The research claims that “typical spending tendencies – buying more, and buying for ourselves – are ineffective at turning money into happiness.”  That seems so Un-American!  Their conclusion is that you are better served to be happy by buying less and buying for others.

The authors’, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, research validates that happiness increases when not using the money on yourself.   They describe a situation where a volunteer hands you an envelope.  When you open the envelope you find a $20 bill and a slip of paper that tells you to spend the money on yourself by the end of the day.  What if the slip of paper said spend the money on someone else?  It turns out from their research that the second option makes people far happier.

So I write letters to our kids, Molly, Robyn, and Will, plus Molly’s husband Tip, explaining that I am sending them $20 to spend on someone else in the coming week.  (Deadlines are the mothers of productivity.)  I hear from them all.

Molly Rawding (nee Rothermel)

Molly  –  Yesterday when we went out for bagels, I clipped a note to $10 and gave it the cashier. The note said, “A fun surprise! This is for the order of the next pregnant woman.” After the cashier read, it, he smiled. (Molly was very pregnant at the time.)

$5 was clipped to another note in my wallet that I plan to put on a stranger’s car in a parking lot. The note says, “Enjoy!  Do something fun for yourself!”

 The remaining $5 I will spend on some treats/candy for the delivery room and post-partum nurses at the hospital where we will be having our baby.  (Their baby, Owen Daniel Rawding came into the world on July 23, 2012.)

Tip –

For starters it was hard to decide whom to shower this gift upon.  Should it be someone random and let faith guide its way into someone that will appreciate it and/or someone that needs it?   Should I pick someone that I appreciate and think deserves to get this small token of appreciation?  Well I decided to go with the second. I thought about the number of people throughout my week that help make my day better with their actions and attitude.  

Two people come to mind.  The first is one of the concierges at our apartment complex who always greets us with a wonderful smile, has a great attitude, and knows her stuff.  The second is one of the shuttle bus drivers who shuttles people to and from our complex to the nearest metro stop.  Whether it’s 6am or late in the afternoon, he always greets you with a big hello and how are you?   And he seems to be really genuine.  He does this with everyone that hops on or off the shuttle.  

Thinking of who I should give this to¸ I decided to email the property manager.  I thought the she could help me with ideas of what kind of gift card I could give each of them; and also let her know what outstanding employees she had working for her.  We corresponded for a few days and she seemed very happy to hear about the great job they were doing.  I hope she told them. She also gave the idea of a gift card to Starbucks for the concierge and one to Amazon for the shuttle bus driver. 

I wanted to give it to them anonymously.  For the concierge I could just leave a thank you letter with one of the other concierges.  I had to give it to the shuttle bus driver when I saw him.   It is so nice to be recognized.  I hope that they enjoyed it as much as I did giving it to them.


Robyn (center) with friends Regina (left) and Amelia (right)

Robyn –  Last Thursday when I was at my farmer’s market, there were three Girl Scouts walking up and down the farmer’s market trying to sell lemonade, but no one was buying.  They were trying to raise money for a local military family that had just lost five of seven family members in a car crash.  So what I did with the $20 is gave it to them and told them to give every one of the vendors a cup of lemonade.  After that was done, when the girls were going around again, people were donating even more. 

Will giving a toast at Molly and Tip’s wedding 7.3.11

Will – It really made me think since I wanted to put the $20 toward something more than just a donation/charitable cause but rather catching someone doing something good that they didn’t seek recognition for or just a good deed in general toward another person.

On a hot, humid summer Wednesday, I was in a bit of a rush to get to reffing four consecutive games at Beverly High School (Massachusetts).  I usually stop at a Cumberland Farms gas station in Middleton for fuel (two big Gatorades & protein bar) to get me through the evening stretch of games.  About 15 minutes down the road from Merrimack I realized I left my wallet in my office.  Too late to turn around if I was to make it on time for Game #1, my only thought was to recite my Visa CC number to manually pay for my usual pre-game(s) nourishment.  

The 2nd shift attendant (a 40-something woman) was unable to do this but did not hesitate to offer to pay for the $4.88 combo meal (two Gatorades and a Power Bar) herself out of her pocket after I explained that I was heading somewhere I would be unable to eat until 9:30-10 that night.  I reminded her that I stopped in every Wednesday on my way to ref basketball and would be back the following week to pay her back, but she was not interested in being reimbursed.  She insisted, and even asked, if that was all I needed.  I humbly thanked her very much and was on my way to Beverly for a 5:45 summer league game tip.  I nearly finished Gatorade #1 and half of the Power Bar before hopping on my motorcycle towards Beverly High School.

Not until a few days later did it dawn on me that this was a perfect opportunity to pay forward the $20.  I knew I wanted to try and make someone’s day with it (the $20) and didn’t know quite what that would be yet.

On Sunday afternoon while sitting on the beach in Hampton with Bria and her family, I knew just what to do with the money.  I knew I would be passing Cumberland Farms in Middleton on Tuesday (for a meeting in Danvers) and hoped that I’d catch the cashier from last week.  Sure enough this afternoon around 4:15 I stopped in for some gas at Cumberland Farms and ran into my savior, the cashier.  She was on her way out the door, but I introduced myself as the previously thirsty/hungry wallet-less motorcyclist from last week that she so generously sponsored.  

She seemed to recognize me, smiled and said, “What now, do you need more money?!” I chuckled and said, “I’d like to pay you back for helping me out last week when I had forgotten my wallet.”  I handed her a $5.  Then I said, “I’d also like to give you this (handing her the $20) because you really didn’t think twice about helping me out and I just thought it was cool.  Someone actually gave this to me so and I thought you should have it for being so generous.”  

She smiled even bigger now and said, “awww, that’s so cool!”  She went on to tell me (in a thick Boston accent) that she actually had forgotten her wallet that day and was “starving for some food.”  She showed her excitement in jumping up and down and looked as if she wanted to hug me.  She didn’t, but I could definitely tell that it (at least partially) made her day and ironically may have fed her for the evening shift.  

I walked back to my car and was on my way to Danvers.  It was most definitely a cool feeling to be able to find someone who would not only value the $20 but someone who did a good deed to help someone else out and not expect any recognition/reimbursement or any other re- word.  I am glad I used the majority of the week to ponder what to do with the $20 and think it found a good home.  I know for sure that Cumberland Farms of Middleton has a life-long customer in me because of their 2nd shift cashier.

Thanks for this dad.

If this experience speaks to you, try it out yourself and/or give some money to a family member/friend to give away; then email me what happened and what the experience meant for you.  It will be published anonymously or with your name (my preference) in a future blog.


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