When my sisters and I used to spend time together, someone always went home with a new hair color. These days we’re more apt to be gathered around a computer, as we were on Thanksgiving showing Becky how to upload her photo on her new Facebook page.

I am appreciative and thankful that my siblings are curious adults who teach me all sorts of things. The day before Thanksgiving, my sister Margaret and I made a trip to Lowe’s, a place I find mildly intimidating. Going with Margaret is a different experience, however, since it’s more like visiting a museum. We had gone to buy some mundane safety treads for my bathtub. I left with a new light fixture for my kitchen which Margaret assured me I could install myself. “If you get stuck,” she said, “call and I’ll walk you through it.” We’ll see.

Because one of the things I am especially thankful for is the free enterprise system, it’s not surprising that I came across all sorts of stories that added to my joy during this holiday week. On my drive from Las Vegas to California, I always listen to an audiobook and I picked a good one, even though I knew nothing about it. Good Business by Mihaly Csikzentmahalyi takes a look at how visionary entrepreneurs create an environment that allows for flow, that optimal state of creativity that the author brought to our attention back in 1991 through his bestselling book Flow. He shares many ideas that an entrepreneur running a tiny business will find useful. And the quotes from Anita Roddick are profound.

Margaret, who had been a volunteer for the Obama campaign, told me a terrific story about Scott Jacobs, a 22-year-old local artist was was evicted from his house on Election Day. He took a half-finished painting of Obama that he’d been working on and set up his easel in front of Ben & Jerry’s, who were giving away free ice cream to anyone who had proof they’d voted. Jacobs attracted a lot of attention–and suddenly his life got much better before the day was over. You can read this great story at the Ventura County Star.

Entrepreneurial artists were already on my mind thanks to a piece in the NY Times called Transforming Art Into a More Lucrative Career Choice. Check it out.

Guy Kawasaki, another personal favorite, has an article called The Art of Bootstrapping that is worth a look. Actually, it’s worth printing out and rereading on a regular basis.

Finally, the latest issue of Newsweek has a Turning Point article by Carlos Mencia called Laughing in the Face of Change. It begins, “Right now, a lot of people are losing their jobs. They’re saying ‘Oh, my God, what am I gonna do?’ I’m here to tell you, this is your chance. Paint. Put out a rap album. Design a car. Do whatever you’ve always wanted to do….Why am I so confident about this? Because I had one of those turning points in my life: long before Comedy Central came calling, I used to be headed for a degree in engineering.” Read the rest of the story. It’s great.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield like to joke that they became friends because they were the two slowest, fattest kids in their seventh grade gym class. That friendship continued on through high school and was interrupted only by their individual attempts at going to college. Ben dropped out first and became a potter; Jerry ended his college career when he failed to gain admission to medical school. With bleak prospects on both sides, the two got together and decided to start a business.

Since they were both enthusiastic eaters, they decided on a food enterprise. They considered bagels, then pizza, but settled on ice cream thinking it would be something they could make themselves. They also decided to relocate to a college town and ended up in Burlington, Vermont—a place that seemed unlikely to generate much interest in ice cream during its long, hard winters. They rented an abandoned, unheated gas station and began whipping up their frozen treats. 

The first few years were difficult. Besides learning the business, Ben and Jerry had to deal with regular breakdowns of their used ice cream-making equipment. But it was also a time when they honed their folksy, humorous approach to doing business. Unwittingly, they became a classic example of a bootstrapped business.

Paul Hawken, an enthusiastic advocate of bootstrapping, explains why this is the path to building a strong enterprise: “Bootstrap businesses will act like a malnourished child. With low overhead, frugal means and fragile budgets, you can’t buy your way out of problems. You have to learn your way out. The creativity and tenacity you have to develop will make it hard for you to be put out of business.”

These self-proclaimed hippie capitalists believed that good vibes made for good business. They recall, “Right from the beginning, even though the business wasn’t making any money, we were always thinking up new excuses to give away ice cream. When we opened we had our Grand Opening Special: buy one, get one free. Then we started giving away cones at random to people waiting in the ice cream line. Then we had free cones for all mothers on Mother’s Day. Visibly expectant mothers got two. To promote winter sales, we held the Penny Off per Celsius Degree Below Zero Winter Extravaganza, thereby turning a liability (being located in a very cold winter town) into an asset.” 

As the little business grew, the founders delighted in giving their ice cream whimsical names like Chunky Monkey, Chubby Hubby and Phish Food. Their Web site says, “Some folks think there’s a huge difference between fun-related stuff and work-related stuff. Whatever you’ve been led to believe, we’d love to show you all the fun stuff we actually get paid to create. Which, when you think about it, is what Ben & Jerry’s is all about.” 

As if inventing Cherry Garcia wasn’t a big enough contribution to life on this planet, they tithed 7 1/2 percent of their pretax profits to the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, which then distributed it to not-for-profit organizations and charities, making it one of the most generous corporate donation programs around. 

At benjerry.com you’ll find more of their ideas about the role of responsible business and, even, a useful article called 50 Ways to Promote Peace. Visit their site and you’ll come away thinking that the ice cream was just their attention-getting device.

You need to integrate the needs of your heart, your mind, and your soul in order to achieve happiness and contentment. Those needs cannot be met through money. ~ Ben Cohen