The giving season—give yourself

Now that we have enjoyed the bounty of Thanksgiving on that most sacred and solemn holiday, we can now focus on another great holiday tradition – the giving season. Whether you celebrate Kwanza, Hanukah or Christmas this is the time of year when we give of ourselves to family, friends, co-workers and neighbors to make their holiday a joyful time, a happy time– especially for those who may not feel so joyful and happy.

Psychologist Robert Omstein, in his book Healthy Pleasures, refers those who give to others as being on a “helper’s high.” We do it because it feels good to do good for others. And when we help others our own dilemmas suddenly seem smaller and less significant. It’s a great stress reducer.

Minnesotans know the value of altruistic service to others because Minnesota has historically been a leader in volunteerism. In 2013, Minnesota ranked third nationally for volunteering. In numbers that is 1.48 million volunteers who gave 171.3 million hours of worthwhile service to others. But those figures only count formal volunteering, informal volunteering is just as impressive, 70 percent of Minnesotans make dinners for their neighbors, mow lawns for a disabled friend or chauffer their elderly mothers to doctor appointments. Actress Whoopie Goldberg must have had Minnesota in mind when she said, “If every American donated five hours a week, it would equal 20 million full-time volunteers.”

There are many ways we can give acts of kindness. The smallest gestures are the most appreciated because they are like gifts, unexpected and unsolicited. Here are some of my top 10 suggestions of spreading joy and happiness.

  • Get out your markers, paper, glue, glitter and have your children make cards for children ill at a local hospital that you and your children deliver. The children will be delighted by the special cards and your children will feel the pleasure of giving kindness to other children.
  • Organize a food drive on your block then deliver the goods to a local food shelf.
  • Call all your friends who quilt and have a quilting party and make lap quilts for veterans, and then bring them to the VA Hospital or Minnesota Veterans Home. The veterans will feel warm and cozy by your thoughtfulness.
  • Help your children go through their toys and select those they no longer play with or those they have outgrown, and then donate the toys to ARC Value Village. Not only will your children now have room for their new toys, but you are teaching them the value of giving selflessly to others.
  • For that hard to buy relative, make 12 thoughtful coupons that they can redeem each month. Because you took the time to create them, they will appreciate your efforts all the more.
  • Knit colorful mittens for children, and then bring them to your local elementary school for children who lose their mittens during the winter. You won’t see the children’s reaction but the teacher will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
  • Volunteer at a local animal shelter like the Humane Society. Animals give us unconditional love, so it’s time we give some back to those little guys.
  • Buy parking ramp tickets at hospitals such as North Memorial then give them to the ICU Unit and ask the nursing staff to distribute them to families of critically ill patients. Having a loved one in ICU is extremely difficult for families, and the cost of parking is just another burden for them to bear, so your thoughtfulness will help lighten that burden.
  • Adopt a senior citizen. Contact a nursing home and ask if there are residents who do not have visitors, then ask if you can visit them. Bring cards and your good company.
  • Light up your neighborhood by making luminaries from brown paper bags that are adorned with the colorful designs that your children made with markers, drop in a battery operated candle, and then go to each home and deliver them to your grateful neighbors.

Maybe you have some great ideas of your own, but what is important is that you find a way to give back. Give the gift of yourself to others that will shine brightly like a radiant light of hope and good will during the giving season.