A Little Happier: Bill Clinton and Rob Lowe’s Son Give a Lesson in Happiness.

I don’t often read celebrity memoirs, but my sister Elizabeth and others told me that actor Rob Lowe’s Stories I Only Tell My Friends was terrific, so I decided to read it myself.

They’re right — it’s a great book. This episode, in particular, really stuck in my mind. Rob Lowe recounts:

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 from 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.”

How about you? Have you ever been in a situation where you realized that the generous thing to do was to take?

I must admit I’m a little obsessed with this theme. I collect examples. It’s a paradox that fascinates me.

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Happier listening!

  • Savannah

    Would you like to share with us some of the other examples of receiving you are collecting? 😀 Great story. I guess it’s hard to know when to give and take… when does it really matters?

  • Gillian

    This is a lovely story. A spontaneous gift from a young child is truly special and Clinton’s response for masterful. I’ll bet he’s a terrific grandpa.

    Receiving a gift or kindness gracefully is an important art. However, I would like (at the risk of coming across, again, as a grinch) to present the other side of the issue. I will do so with an example. Many years ago, a colleague suddenly offered me a scarf that she no longer used and that she thought would work beautifully with the outfit I had worn the previous day. I had been at that job only a short time and didn’t know this person well – she worked in a different department and we had only occasional contact. The scarf was a good match but I didn’t wear scarves and was happy with my outfit as it was. Her offer was kind, generous and friendly but it made me feel hugely uncomfortable. I declined the offer, with thanks, but felt ungrateful and uncomfortable doing so. Had I accepted the scarf, I would have felt obligated to wear it every time I wore the outfit – which would not have been me. Accepting the scarf might have been the generous thing to do but the cost would have been too high. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Fortunately, she took it well and it didn’t affect our future relationship.

    I have experienced other cases when I was the recipient of unwelcome generosity. When being generous and kind, we must also be thoughtful and consider the potential recipient of the generosity. I am very introverted and do not easily form close friendships. Even when I do, I don’t want a lot of gifts and favours, especially things I can’t use. A close friend knows a person’s tastes and attitudes and knows how to offer a gift in a way that allows for graceful refusal. A stranger doesn’t. The gift of the scarf was sincerely meant as a friendly gesture but it created only awkwardness and discomfort – so much so that I still remember it more than 30 years later.

  • Diane KC Hughes

    I just recently finished treatments for breast cancer – 2 surgeries and 6 rounds of chemo. I was always grateful for the meals and gifts that friends would drop off, but there were a few times that the fridge was full and we couldn’t keep up with consuming the food. I realized that the generous thing to do was to accept the kindnesses with gratitude and deal with the logistics in private. My friends only needed to know that their gestures were met with love and appreciation.

  • Paria

    My mother, who is a very loving person, loves to cook for people and often send us home with gifts of food. When I was younger, I often refused her offers because I didn’t want to eat fattening things — but I could always tell it hurt her feelings. I tried explaining to her that I love her cooking but try to watch my weight, etc., but that didn’t work either. (It’s worth mentioning that my mother is of the “classic ethnic mother” variety, where food is love and rejecting food is like a personal insult.)

    Nowadays, when my mom tries to give me food, I politely refuse what I can, but mostly just graciously accept. Then I either take it to my office to share, send it to work with my husband, or, occasionally, just throw it out and then tell her it was delicious. I realize this means that I’m often an Evil Donut Bringer, and that I’m sometimes wasting food, but, while I feel a little guilty about wasting food, it’s way better than making my mother sad! So yes, sometimes the kinder thing is just to take whatever is being offered.

    I can think of dozens more examples of this type of thing, but all of them have to do with my parents, who are a little overbearing but very sweet!

    • Carlotta Bosso


  • I think it’s incredibly important to accept gifts from children. There’s a great story in Jerrold Mundis’ “How To Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Debt Free Forever” about his son’s reaction to not accepting a gift that you should take a look at. I think Clinton did the right thing/

  • Carlotta Bosso

    every time I’m at my parents in law, I’m accepting. everything. Help, food, advice.
    First, I,most of the time , love it.
    Second it makes them feel appreciated and useful , and that’s something I really want them to feel, because it’s true!
    and no efforts from me!

  • Courtney Hunt

    I puzzled over this story when I read the book and also when I heard your podcast. However, I just had an experience that I think illustrates the point. My 7 year old son has a tummy bug–nothing serious, thankfully, just one of those childhood things. My father offered several times to go to the store to get anything I need to take care of my son. Not wanting to inconvenience my father or interrupt his busy work day, I declined at first and then thought of this story. My dad desperately wanted to help his grandson feel better and feel useful himself, in any way he could. After I thought of this story again, I accepted his offer to get bananas and bread and we were all a little happier.