Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Principled Commitment: An Adult Program on Building Strong Relationships

Activity 2: Reflecting On Generosity And Gratitude

Activity time: 45 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint
  • Easel
  • Markers
  • Low-stick masking tape
  • Newsprint sheet with prepared questions (see Preparation)
  • Writing paper (at least one sheet per person)
  • Pens or pencils
  • Tables or hard surfaces for writing
  • Optional: Music and music player (see Preparation)

Preparation for Activity

  • Write the following three questions on newsprint:
    • What have I received from this person?
    • What have I given to this person?
    • What troubles and difficulties have I caused this person?
  • Set up tables, or find books or other hard surfaces for writing.
  • If desired, select some quiet, relaxing music to play in the background during the writing portion of this activity.

Description of Activity

Ask participants to recall their thoughts when the opening meditation invited them to consider the gifts they bring to their relationship. Invite volunteers to call out one word that describes one of those gifts. Quickly list the responses on newsprint as they are offered. No discussion is necessary. When a variety of words have been listed, post the newsprint sheet on the wall.

Offer these or similar words to help participants focus on the meaning of generosity:

By reflecting on the gifts we have received, those we have given, and those we intend to give, we may make discoveries about our unique spiritual journey.

So often in relationships, we focus on getting rather than giving. We ask ourselves, "Is my partner serving my needs?" or "What has my partner done for the relationship lately?" And as the relationship progresses, we often begin to take our partner's gifts for granted. Cultivating both generosity and gratitude can help the relationship stay rich and vital.

Performing simple acts of kindness is a good start. But generosity can go much deeper. We can bestow all types of blessings on each other to enhance our intimate connection. Also, we can give generously as a way to make a ripple in the larger universe. Giving and sharing are spiritual acts that foster our growth in many ways.

Ask participants:

  • What is the relationship between generosity and gratitude?
  • In what ways can generosity and gratitude get out of balance between partners?
  • Is it typical for each partner to think that she/he is more generous than the other? If so, what are some ways in which this dynamic can be addressed?

Explain to participants:

One way of increasing gratitude and generosity in a relationship is called Naikan. This reflective practice originated in twentieth-century Japan. It has roots in Buddhism and Eastern psychology. The word Naikan means "looking inside." Its practice cultivates awareness of the self in relationship to others.

Display the newsprint sheet that you prepared in advance with these three questions:

  • What have I received from this person?
  • What have I given to this person?
  • What troubles and difficulties have I caused this person?

Explain that the practice of Naikan begins with these three simple questions. (They are articulated by Gregg Krech in the book Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection.) Ask participants:

  • What questions - so often asked - don't you see here? (Examples: "What troubles has this person caused me?" or "What do I want?")

Explain that many people, in their day-to-day thinking, tend to focus on the negative - what their partner is doing wrong or has failed to do. Naikan encourages us to shift our focus to the positive - the many gifts offered by our partner. For example, if someone is continually disappointed because his/her partner doesn't clean the bathroom, Naikan does not encourage reflection on this perceived deficit. Instead, it encourages reflection on all the partner has given: "Yesterday she planted a beautiful tree in our yard." "He made me breakfast this morning when I was in a rush." "She went to a birthday party with me last week only because I wanted to go."

Distribute writing paper and pens or pencils. Invite participants into a time of individual reflection on the three basic questions of Naikan. Encourage participants to write down specific examples from the last month or so. Explain that there will be an opportunity to share these responses with their partners later in the workshop and beyond.

Allow fifteen minutes for individual reflection. You may wish to play quiet, relaxing music in the background during this exercise.

After fifteen minutes, invite participants to pair up with their partners and spend another fifteen minutes sharing their responses. Explain that this is an opportunity for them to express gratitude to one another - to say "Thank you." Mention that it is okay if some lists are longer than others. It takes different people different amounts of time to think and write things down. And it is okay if in the past month one partner has indeed given more than the other - sometimes that happens in relationships. The best response to this is gratitude.

Suggest that partners focus on sharing their responses to the first two questions. If there is time, they may move on to the third question. Otherwise, this question can be saved for couples' consideration at home.

After fifteen minutes, re-gather the whole group. Ask:

  • What did it feel like to share these lists with your partner? Were you surprised or particularly touched by anything that showed up on the lists?
  • In the time of individual reflection, what did it feel like to notice things given and received?
  • Have you experienced built-up tensions getting in the way of generosity and gratitude? If so, what can help you reconnect with a generous and grateful spirit?
  • Does the gratitude experienced in this exercise inspire you to think or act differently? If so, how?