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Giving Back to Get in the Holiday Spirit

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The holiday season evokes the spirit of giving as people rally to serve warm meals, donate clothing and lend a helping hand to families in need. Many selflessly give their resources, time and talent during this busy time of year to serve others and make the holiday season a bit brighter for everyone.

There is quite a bit of evidence to support the claim that giving back makes us feel good and can also be beneficial to our health. Using research from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Center for Disease Control, the Corporation for National & Community Service found that U.S. states with higher volunteering rates corresponded with lower statewide mortality and heart disease rates. Likewise, health problems were also more prevalent in states where volunteer rates were lower.

In a separate study, “Boosting happiness, buttressing resilience: Results from cognitive and behavioral interventions," author Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. found that committing deliberate acts of kindness was associated with greater feelings of happiness and decreased feelings of depression and anxiety by study participants. Other established health benefits of charitable giving include lower blood pressure, lower stress levels and better physical and psychological well-being.

With stress and anxiety at an all-time high during the coronavirus pandemic, a small gift or a few hours spent helping others may yield a much greater return than in past years. Additionally, as traveling for the holidays is mostly discouraged to curb the spread of the virus, giving back can be a constructive and healthy substitute for missed time spent with family and loved ones.

Here are some simple and straightforward ways to get in the holiday spirit this year through an act of kindness or charitable giving:

Participate in Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. This annual event appropriately follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It enables all individuals to give in some capacity to their organization of choice.

Set up or participate in a holiday food drive. This activity costs very little but can go a long way towards easy the financial burden many families face buying food during the holiday season. Canned items and non-perishables are relatively inexpensive and can be used by food pantries to supply those in need throughout the year. Here are some suggestions for what to donate to your local food bank. 

Donate essential items to your local or regional homeless shelter. Many people opt to buy and donate cold-weather items like scarves, gloves, and hats during the winter. However, shelters are in constant need of things like socks, blankets, first-aid kits and personal hygiene items like floss, toothbrushes, deodorant and razors.

Adopt a family or child to support. Many businesses, community centers, gyms and religious organizations sponsor community drives during the holidays to supply toys and gifts to those in need.

Become a pen pal with a senior in a nursing home. So many people feel lonely during the holidays. Writing is a tool that we’ve overlooked for its ability to improve our emotional well-being. Research by James Pennebaker, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Texas-Austin, has connected the benefits of writing with the ability to heal emotional wounds. A quick Google search can help pair you with a nursing home or assisted or retired living community in your area where your letters will be especially well-received during this challenging year.

Make an end-of-the-year gift to an organization you believe in. Many non-profits have end-of-the-year giving goals that directly impact the programs and support they can provide in the following year. With so many organizations hurting because of the coronavirus pandemic and more people relying on public and non-profit programs than usual, your gift will go so much further this year.

However you choose to give back this year, pay attention to how it makes you feel. Oftentimes, the act of giving can be as much of a gift to the giver as it is to the recipient.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Nov. 26, 2014. 

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