When my kids were young and we had to wait somewhere (in a line, on a bench, at a restaurant, traveling), like most kids, they often got restless and bored. So I made up a game for them called, “Whats Their Story?” It got them to use their imaginations, it kept them entertained, and it also developed their writing skills. They even enjoyed it in their teens.

It starts with people-watching, something inevitable if youre anywhere in public. You select a stranger walking by, and create an entire backstory for them. I was amazed at the intricate lives our kids imagined for people passing by.

This guy is on his way to ask his boss for a raise. He knows he doesnt deserve one. But his wife and daughter are sick, and he needs the extra money. His parents disowned him for going to jail a few years ago, so he has no family to turn to. He wants to go straight, but if his boss turns him down, hes thinking about calling an old buddy of his and robbing a bank.

Shes meeting a man for lunch and already shes worried shes wearing too much makeup. She doesnt want to look as if shes trying too hard. Her shoes hurt but they go with her outfit. Still, what man really notices shoes? She should have worn flats.

Hes a veteran of the Korean War and his wife is a retired court reporter. He talks to keep from being plagued by memories whenever theres silence. But she isnt really listening; shes just mentally transcribing his words onto her steno machine.

Of course we know our contrived stories arent real, but they remind us that every person has a history, every person has concerns, sorrows, dreams. And the game can actually do much more than ward off boredomit can become a mindset that can make us more benevolent.

The trick is to use it whenever were tempted to think negatively about someone. We all have opportunities to take offense, whether a slight is intended or not. Terrible drivers abound. Thoughtless coworkers leave us a pile of work to do. Someone makes an insensitive remark at church. And if we choose to draw conclusions and assign blame, we find ourselves mired in self-pity or anger. Both of those emotions rob us of joy, thwart our spiritual growth, and even harm our health.

So try this game: Instead of a negative judgment, make a generous assumption.

Shes overwhelmed with family problems and simply forgot to invite me.

That driver just got served divorce papers.

Hes too embarrassed to apologize, but deeply regrets what he did.

Shes on the way to the hospital with a sick child.

He just learned he has four weeks to live.

Sometimes, if we really knew a persons heart, wed cut them more slack. Wed realize their behavior is the result of overwhelming concerns, poor upbringing, even mental challenges. Very few people set out to attack us in some way hurts are almost always unintentional.

And havent we also been in their shoes? How many times have you realized you did something that looks selfish, but you simply werent paying attention? Or you said a careless thing and had to apologize? We step on toes and accidentally injure others feelings all the time! Dont we hope they will overlook our blunders and forgive us? Unlike the Love Story phrase, “Love means never having to say youre sorry,” love means absolutely having to say youre sorryover and over!

So try this game. Assume the best. Accept an apology even before one is offered. Your step will be lighter, your mood happier. Instead of embracing a (frequently incorrect) negative judgment and feeling resentful, youll be giving people the benefit of the doubt and moving forward. Youll lower your stress and increase your contentment. Its a game where everyone wins.

You can find Hiltons books at jonihilton.com.

She is also “Your YouTube Mom” and shares short videos that teach easy household tips and life skills.

Be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com.