March 23, 2014

Impulsive Generosity

What if every time you had a generous impulse you followed it?

For many of us, generous impulses come up relatively frequently (“They said not to bring anything, but I’ll pick up a bottle of wine,” “I wonder if my mom’s still sick, I’ll call to see how she’s doing” “I could pick up the tab for both of us”). However, our generous thoughts are often immediately followed by reasons to not follow through, such as “I don’t have time” or “I can’t afford it” and sometimes by stingy reasons like “Well, what has she done for me lately?”

Last week I went to a talk by American Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein. One of his topics was the impact of generosity on personal happiness and quality of life. He told us that about a year ago, he decided on a new policy: every time he had a generous impulse followed by a non-generous reaction, he would simply watch the non-generous         thought--without judging the thought or himself--and then return to the original impulse and follow through. He said that, without question, this practice had substantially increased the joy and happiness in his life (and probably, the joy and happiness of others).

What would it be like to try this? 

In the past month, I had several generous impulses that I didn't follow through: “I should bring a baptism gift for my niece” followed by “She's two months old, she won't know the difference” and “I should offer to babysit for my friend's birthday so he can go out with his wife" followed by “If they need babysitter, they'll ask me.” When I look back at these instances, my reasons for not following through seem silly, untrue, or workable, and I regret my decision. 

In contrast, I can think of several instances when I did follow through on generous impulses: “I'll email my colleague to see how her PhD defence went" and "I could get my friend a copy of that book we were talking about” and it felt great. The urge to not follow through still came up ("I'm busy right now" "He'll probably order it online himself") but I did it anyway.

Think of the last time you had a generous impulse and followed through. How did it feel? What was the impact on the recipient of your generosity--and on you?

March 05, 2014

Unconditional Positive Regard

Unconditional positive regard is a term coined by influential American psychologist Carl Rogers. If you have unconditional positive regard (UPR) for someone, you support and accept that person regardless of his or her behaviour. It means that even when you don't respect or approve of what someone says or does, you maintain an overall attitude of acceptance and positive regard for him or her.

Rogers named UPR as one of three necessary and sufficient conditions for successful psychotherapy, along with therapist genuineness and accurate empathy. He believed that therapists who demonstrated UPR for their clients created a positive therapy environment conducive to client growth and development. According to Rogers, the demonstration of UPR allows clients to freely express thoughts, feelings, and actions without fear of offending or alienating the therapist. Therapists may still question clients' behaviour, but without condemning the client as a person.

What about outside therapy, though?

Unconditional positive regard can exist in parent-child or other family relationships, in close friendships, and in romantic relationships or marriages. It can't be assumed to be present but, if we're lucky, we have UPR in at least one of our relationships. Social psychologist David G. Myers referred to UPR in relationships as "an attitude of grace, an attitude that values us even when knowing our failings." He added "It is a profound relief to drop our pretenses, confess our worse feelings, and discover that we are still accepted... we are free to be spontaneous without fearing the loss of the others' esteem."

My experience is that that's exactly what it feels like. I can think of a handful of people who seem to have UPR for me, and the word relief accurately describes how it feels to spend time with them. I've told these UPR-extending individuals what I believe to be the most shameful and appalling truths about myself, and it didn't seem to change how they feel about me. I don't worry about my pride around them and even when I'm my worst self, it doesn't threaten the relationship.

I can also think of a handful of people for whom I have UPR. It's hard to imagine something they could say or do that would make me turn away from them permanently, or make me not try to understand their motivation. I love and/or respect them even when I dislike them.

Unconditional positive regard is lovely when it happens, but I think it's the exception rather than the rule. That is, I'd venture that most of our friends, and even many of our family members, could lose our esteem. There are usually only a select few loved ones for whom we really feel unconditional positive regard. It may be spontaneous or may develop over time.  

For whom do you have unconditional positive regard? Who has it for you? What does it      feel like?