The Generosity Family Project: Do Good and Feel Good

Ryan Quinn Posted by Ryan Quinn, Associate Professor of Management, University of Louisville.

Ryan is an Associate Professor of Management in the College of Business at the University of Louisville. He researches, teaches, trains, and consults on topics related to leadership and change management.


By Ryan W.

By Ryan W. Quinn

I posted a review of Adam Grant’s new book, Give and Take, a few weeks ago on this blog. The timing of this book’s release was fortuitous for me on a personal level.

It was good timing. Just when the book came out, my wife approached me to let me know that we needed to help our children become more generous (read: “less self-centered”).

Now, I don’t think that our children are all that different from most children their ages. But generosity is a value I hold in high esteem, so I agreed. We gathered the children for a family meeting to discuss what we could do to learn to be more generous.

It was very nice of Adam to publish a book right at this same time on the very topic we were working on. I’m sure he did it just for us!

Becoming Generous

The majority of Adam’s book does not discuss how to become generous. It is not his central purpose. The purpose of Adam’s book is to change people’s mindsets about where “givers” (generous people) end up on the ladder of success. He accomplishes this purpose masterfully.

I am interested in this purpose (I think it is especially important when one works with people like business managers and MBA students every day). But I am far more interested in questions like “How can a person become more generous?” Or even more accurately, “How can I become more generous in those moments where I least feel like being generous?”

I am interested in the first question because I value generosity even if it doesn’t lead to success (although I am glad that it does). I am interested in the second question because I am not a fan of labeling people according to their dominant styles: I think this undermines change and promotes internally closed mindsets.

Fortunately, Adam provides us with some answers to these questions as well. The difference between “chunking” and “sprinkling,” for instance. In one study, researchers had people spend time during their work engaging in generous acts of service. Some participants spread their service throughout the week (sprinklers). Others concentrated their service into one day a week (chunkers). It turns out that the chunkers were much happier than the sprinklers. This gave them the energy and motivation they needed to keep being generous, whereas the sprinklers were more likely to burn out.

The First Family Generosity Project

We discussed this idea with our kids. For Andrew, our 7-year-old, it really caught on. He had a little trouble with the language, though. He kept telling his mother that she was a “juggler.” We eventually found out that he meant she was a chunker, because she spends her whole day serving the family. (Somehow, it seems appropriate to call her a juggler as well.)

The kids agreed to each devote two days a week to focus on being generous. We asked them to take a few minutes, on the night before their “chunking day,” to write down four things they would do to be generous the next day. I encouraged this because of how important it is to be specific when trying to change our behavior, as we describe in Lift. (Unfortunately, many of us have been inconsistent about this, but we can renew our efforts. I will write more about this later. I think I may put a reminder into my electronic planner every night to remind me to remind the kids to do it.)

The First Success

We have had at least one victory so far. Andrew is the one child who has actually kept track of his generous acts. His favorite action is to unload the parts of the dishwasher that his brother and sister are responsible for. But there are some days where he done more than 12 generous actions a day.

As much as I love the way that Andrew has taken ownership of this goal, what warmed my heart even more was when I was talking to him one day about what makes him happy. His answer? Doing generous things around the house. Maybe, just maybe, there is a hint here of real elevation in his life and in the life of our family.

I will offer other thoughts on Adam’s book, reports on our family efforts, and other insights into generosity in future blog entries. For now, if it interests you, try chunking some generosity into your week. It makes Andrew happy, and it may make you happy too.