Jan 10, 2024

What I Learned At Five About Generosity

When I was in the first grade (5 years old)…

In our classroom, my teacher had this system called ‘Good News Notes’.

Each student had a little manila envelope stuck to the wall, with their name on it.

Jordan. Ashley. Curtis. Jacqueline. Daniel. Philip.

These envelopes… lined up side by side… enveloped half of the room.

These Good News Notes were peer-generated… so whenever you did something nice or thoughtful or kind or special, another person in your class would write it down on a little square of blue paper, and pop it into your envelope.

At the end of the week (Friday afternoon), we would all check our envelopes and see if anyone had recognized us that week.

Honestly, getting a Good News Note (or several!) was the closest thing to drugs that my little brain knew at the time. It was the highest of highs.

‘Someone sees me! Someone values me! Someone appreciates me!’

An interesting thing that I always noticed about Good News Notes is that they were not evenly distributed.

In fact, with my 5 year old processing skills, I deduced that there were two factors that most heavily influenced whether or not you would pull out an avalanche of Good News Notes on Friday afternoon.

The first was simply you being a good person. Being kind. Being thoughtful. Going out of your way to help someone. Sharing your snack with a friend.

But the second one was less obvious.

Because there were people who were phenomenally kind and thoughtful, but they would only get one, maybe two at the end of the week.

If you can’t tell, I really love tracking patterns. I always have.

So the first factor was being a good person and being kind to your classmates…

But the second factor… was being someone who regularly put a lot of Good News Notes in other peoples envelopes.

And not from a place of manipulation. It wasn’t about stacking the odds in your favour so that people felt obligated to recognize you back. If anything, that underlying intention probably would have backfired even further and had that person get zero Good News Notes.

But doing so simply from a place of generosity. Giving for the sake of giving.

They were good people, and they were lavish with their own praise and quick to acknowledge others.

Inherently, the other students wanted to shower this person back with their own energy.

I learned to recognize the efforts of others… and to show up generously just for the hell of it.

After recognizing this pattern, I doubled down on my own Good News Note writing.

Any time one of my classmates did something kind or noteworthy, I would make sure to slip a note into their folder.

Over time, I noticed a significant uptick in the volume of notes that were being put into my folder, but that was secondary.

For me, simply being in the regular habit of expressing praise and recognition was already its own reward.

How I Carried Good News Notes Into Adulthood

As I entered adulthood, I noticed that the opportunity to continue distributing the equivalent of ‘Good News Notes’ was everywhere.

And not only were they everywhere, they were severely under-utilized by the general public.

Two examples come to mind.

First story…

There was a bank manager (named Ryan) who I had a positive interaction with when I was about 20 or 21 years old.

Not only did he flawlessly do everything I needed done in our professional interaction, he was also warm and inviting, and told me that he and his family had just moved to the area for him to take this position (in a way that wasn’t overshare-y at all… just simply being a person).

At the end of our conversation, I asked him if there was a place to submit positive feedback about him, like a feedback box. He said that there wasn’t, but that he appreciated me asking nonetheless.

Well, that answer wasn’t satisfying enough for me.

So I went online, found the bank’s general website, located the ‘Contact Us’ form, and wrote the most glowing review I possibly could have, making sure to list his first and last name and the location he worked at. I hit the ‘Send’ button, and went on with my day.

But the story doesn’t end there.

A few weeks later, my dad came back from that same bank, and told me that the manager (recognizing our shared last name) had asked about me. He then told my dad that my glowing Good News Note feedback form had made its way to upper management and that he had been given a raise as a direct result of it.

Second story…

I was grocery shopping at the Superstore in Vancouver (a mega-store like Costco or Sam’s Club) and picking up some deli meat.

Shannon (behind the counter) was probably in her mid-50’s, and was basically sunshine in human form.

She was so kind, and so present. Interacting with her was a breeze.

Before we parted ways, I saw that there was a ‘How did we do?’, tear-a-piece-of-paper-off-the-stack setup to the immediate left of the deli counter. Right there, in plain sight.

I said, ‘Shannon, you’re awesome! How many of these feedback forms do you get submitted about you every week?’

She replied, ‘Funny enough, I’ve actually never gotten one!’

At this point I literally thought she was joking. There was just no way that that was the case. But then I realized she might be new to this job.

‘How long have you been working here?’

‘This April will be the start of my 16th year.’

I was stunned.

This woman… this beacon of light… who could not have been more of a pleasure to cross paths with… had never once received a Superstore equivalent of a Good News Note.

I immediately tore one off the wall and wrote a rapturous review of Shannon.

Before I put it into the box, I held it up in the air and said, ”Shannon! That changes today. You’re amazing. And congratulations on 15 years.’

I shit you not… even while standing at least ten feet away from her… I saw Shannon tear up.

It so touched her heart to be recognized by a stranger, for the first time in 15 years, that she welled up with tears… while standing with neoprene gloves on in the deli section. At her daily post, for a decade and a half.

Here’s why this matters.

It doesn’t take a lot of time or energy to acknowledge people.

To recognize a job well done.

To take a single moment to let somebody know, hey, you matter. Hey, you are appreciated. I see you.

If there’s one thing you take away from this article, it’s this…

The next time you see someone being awesome, and you feel like you don’t have the time to let them know…

It’s less fun to be a closed fist, when you could live a life that more closely resembles a flowing, generative river.

Dedicated to your success,


Ps. If you benefited from this article, you’ll likely also love checking out the following:

7 Things I Will Tell My Children About Love And Life

All Of Your Suffering Was Worth It

The One Thing To Remember When You’re Dealing With Any Person, Ever



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