A Different Slant on Giving

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As I start heading into the holiday season, with a few extra pounds from the last one, I think about how I can make this season more fun and meaningful.

How many of us get through the holidays and think “glad that’s over!” I make a conscious decision each year that I am not going to let the holidays stress me out. Easier said than done, especially if you have over-committed to social outings and family gatherings.  Even if you have over committed yourself, remember you have a choice to change your mind, do less, and let things be what they are.

Once you have sorted out your social commitments, it is time to make gift giving easier.  I started a tradition with my friends a few years back for most holidays – including birthdays – to give rather than receive.

One idea of gifting this season is by giving back to your community either through a financial gift or a gift of time. A few years back I remember a friend giving a gift of purchasing a cow in India to help a family support themselves. Very original.

Think about what has meaning to the other person or to both of you.

We are all conscious of this amazing area we live in and the importance of our environment, so you could give the gift of picking up trash at your local beach once a month for a year, or volunteering your time at the local senior center, or committing to train for a 5k to raise money for a charity that has meaning to that person.

The second way of gifting without purchasing is through an experience. Sharing an experience will be remembered longer than something that is purchased. It could be as simple as a walk along the beach together with time to talk and lunch or a picnic, or something more planned and elaborate. Remember, it is about creating a memory–something that you believe the other person would enjoy and has meaning. We all like to feel taken care of and this is a great way to make someone feel special, and isn’t that the idea of buying gifts anyway? Show someone that you care.

One of the most memorable gifts I’ve received was a letter from one of my friends sharing what my friendship meant to her and reminiscing some of our shared experiences. When I was moving last month I got rid of a lot of “stuff” but kept the special letters and photos that I have from my life because those experiences are what makes life, not stuff.  What better gift than one that makes your relationships stronger and deeper.

Of course there is always the idea of creating a coupon book. My daughter did this for me one year and I loved it, making sure I used every single one, from the 10 minute foot rub (although there was some resistance on her part in actually completing that one) to watching a movie that I wanted to see.

Some of these ideas might take some time to organize and think through but the results of investing in a better relationship and a better community are well worth it.

Emerson’s quote, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself,” speaks eloquently to the fact that helping others helps you. You see when you give to others in this way; you also grow as a person yourself.

Studies actually show that when you give to others you lower your blood pressure, decrease your own stress, improve your immune system, and improve your self-esteem.  People who give of themselves both financially and with their time tend to be happier. A recent study was done in Great Britain where participants were instructed to perform a daily act of kindness for 10 days. These participants reported having a higher level of happiness than prior to starting this study. Who knew that giving had so many benefits.

Why does it have this affect? If we go back to the idea that we are built to connect, when we do something for someone else it increases all the feel good chemicals in the brain.  Just something to think about this holiday season.

Enjoy, and share some kindness.

Shelley Zavala can be reached at [email protected]

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