I’m not a particular fan (or not) of Rob Lowe, but several people had recommended his memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, so I decided to read it.

It was very interesting for many reasons, and I was particularly struck by a story Lowe told, recalling a visit to the White House during his time on the show The West Wing:

On my last visit to the Clinton White House, I’m standing on the South Lawn with [my wife] Sheryl and the boys talking to the president before he hops onto Marine One. My youngest son, Johnowen, is holding his stuffed frog, Gwee Gwee, which he never lets out of his sight, under any circumstances. It has been his security blanket since he was an infant. But now, he takes it out of his mouth and hands his old, tattered frog to the president.

“Well, look at this!” says the president. “Is this for me?” he asks.

Johnowen nods shyly. “For you,” he says in a small voice.

Sheryl and I look at each other in shock.

“Wow, Johnowen!” exclaims Matthew.

“Well, thank you, young man. I bet you didn’t know, but I collect frogs. Have since I was a boy like you…I’ll keep him nice and safe. You can come visit him at the Clinton Library someday.”

I love this story, because it’s a great example of how sometimes we can be generous by taking.

It would have been so easy for President Clinton to think, “I shouldn’t deprive a little boy of his special toy. I should gently decline his gift, so he can keep it.”

But he didn’t. He took it. 

Now, what was in Johnowen’s mind? Did he understand who the “president” is, why did he want to make a gift of his beloved frog Gwee Gwee?

It’s impossible to know. But he wanted to offer something, and like the little drummer boy, he gave the only precious thing he had.

It reminds me of a much darker and more profound example of this principle, which I describe here — you can hear me get choked up as I tell it. Every time I think of this story, I’m moved to tears.

Sometimes, we can be generous, by taking. @gretchenrubin (Click to Tweet!)

How about you? Have you ever been generous by taking — or felt the generosity of someone receiving your gift?

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than BeforeOn her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Ali Brassel.