We got a lot of really wonderful Christmas gifts from family, ate delicious food, and played Apples to Apples until late at night with my in-laws – A holiday tradition that is always funny when the many non-native English speakers join in. (“What do you mean Untrustworthy Americans?!?”)
But (and I hate to be a downer here) as Christmas moves farther and farther away and deep winter creeps into our bones – the gifts we got start to become integrated so deeply in our lives we forget we once didn’t have them. We will move on to the next thrill, the next challenge.
They don’t tell you this in the advertisements. I understand, even believe, the premise that if I loved my family I would get them something wonderful – something to spark their creativity and nurture their intelligence. (This commercial for the Nexus 7 is one example I’m referring to.)
Who knows? The book I picked up might bring my friend to a particular insight, which then changes some small way she lives. The finger paints and trucks my son enjoys will increase his understanding of color, design, and fine motor skills – and this is a great good thing.
But, the gift you get will also lose it’s luster and pizzazz. Unfortunately… far too quickly. Especially In this hyper saturated world oriented toward novelty, quick fashion, or the latest experience.
Which is one reason why gifts can’t always lead to long lasting happiness.
But giving can.
I’m not talking about all my wonderful relative and friends, who, in their generosity showered us with the great Christmas we experienced.
I’m talking about volunteering and donating – two forms of giving that can (and should) be practiced regularly throughout the year.
Both of these are types of pro-social behavior – behavior that is concerned about the welfare, wellbeing, and rights of other people. As documented in this article, when we use our money to care for others, rather than ourselves, we make ourselves happy as an unintended consequence.
Like exercising – prosocial behavior should be done regularly to reap the benefits. One of the surprising things I learned this year about volunteering is that if you are waiting to have more money you can donate – you may end up never getting around to doing it. I read this in sociologist Christian Smith’s book “Lost In Transition” about emerging adults, and since writing this blog post in response, to the book, I’ve been thinking long and hard about my own civic participation and volunteering. Many people think that they need to give a lot of money – so they put off giving until that magical day when they suddenly “have enough.” In another paradox, it turns out people who give away money feel like they have more.
Furthermore, giving and volunteering don’t have to be arduous. You probably are able to easily perform these two acts without dedicating your life to becoming a doctor for Doctors without Borders. (Also nice, of course.)
Perhaps you gave a gift this Christmas that reflected these things already – you bought some bees, sent a shoebox to a needy child full of Christmas gifts, or gave coins to that tireless bellringer from the Salvation Army
I would challenge you (as I’ve challenged my husband and myself) to participate in planned giving over the course of the next year. That is, rather than in a spirit of holiday generosity and good cheer – commit to giving during the duller months of the year, or the times when we genuinely would rather focus on enjoying the beach (August, come quickly!)
Here are a list of good ideas to help you get started giving to others regularly – starting with the simple and cheap and moving up to the time-intensive and more expensive.
Easy Peasy Giving –
Read to a little fellow – your own or someone elses.
Pick up trash at your local park or busy street. It’s not your job, and it’s dirty – but someone’s gotta do it.
Pay the toll for the person behind you when you cross bridges.
Wipe off the windshield of the car parked near you on the street this winter
Spend some Time –
Cook a Meal: By joining an already existing community that provides meals, or setting up your own. Parents United of Salem provides meals to new mothers. Many religious congregations provide meals to members who are sick, recovering from surgery or overwhelmed with life.
Donate Blood – This can be done every two months and you are often rewarded with coupons for thank you gifts, like Dunkin Donuts Coffee.
Be a big brother or big sister
Volunteer to Sort Clothing at your local thrift shop. They always need help.
A little Expensive –
Lend money to someone worldwide trying to do something worthwhile – Schooling for Women! Home businesses in Afghanistan!
Sponsor a child (My favorite: Kupenda for the Children)
Automatically contribute to a charity of your choice each month (Yes, you can set up Automatic Tranfers for this type of thing) – Keep in mind that if you choose to donate to an organization that works in a third world country, one who’s poorest citizens live on less than 2 dollars a day, even if you can only give $10 a month, that would be the equivalent of 2 months living expenses over the course of the year. (Think about it!)
Keep the Holiday spirit going all year long, we have so much to be thankful for.