If you're like me, you've heard it at least a dozen times. "Give until it hurts." As if generosity was actually pain-inflicting or harmful. While I understand that the underlying meaning is that we should give until it is felt--to practice sacrificial giving, I think we oftentimes associate giving with a loss for the one extending the generosity--when, in fact, the opposite is actually true. According to an article in Psychology Today, "Generosity is no longer the selfless act we've long thought it to be." Studies are now actually proving that more frequently the greater benefactor of generosity is the person giving. Like eating a healthy diet, exercising, or simply having good genes, generosity has the ability to increase a person's life span. In 2003, a research study at the University of Michigan revealed that generosity led to improved mental and physical health as well as increased longevity. The study traced 2,700 people over a period of 10 years. Men who volunteered regularly had death rates 2.5 times lower than those who did not give of their time. Additionally, generosity appeared to reduce stress, support the immune system and improve one's sense of purpose. Being built up with compliments does not have a very significant impact on our self-worth, yet gratification from acting generously does. When we are in a "giving state," we are more "relaxed, attuned, and living in the moment," the article claims. I happen to agree. Furthermore, this generous state is often contagious. People who are generous often create a snowball effect that makes others want to "pay it forward."
During this often busy time of the year it is easy to throw ourselves into activities and focus on personal goals and resolutions for the next year. In doing so, we often overlook that by taking the time to pause, look outward, and notice the needs of others, we would be doing ourselves a great service, engaging in an activity that can dramatically improve our quality of life--generosity.
There are so many ways to give. We can give of our time, our talents (skills) and our treasures (money and material possessions). With the holiday season upon us, many of us are considering additional ways to practice generosity. In many Western Christian countries, as well as in Romania, December 6th marks the Feast of Saint Nicholas (December 5th in the Netherlands and December 19th in Eastern Christian countries). The Feast of Saint Nicholas is celebrated as a Christian festival with particular regard to Saint Nicholas' reputation as a bringer of gifts. One custom associated with Saint Nicholas Day is children leaving their shoes in the foyer on Saint Nicholas Eve in hopes that Saint Nicholas will visit and fill their shoes with coins and candies. The American Santa Claus, as well as the British Father Christmas, derive in part from Saint Nicholas. However, the gift giving associated with these figures is associated with Christmas Day rather than Saint Nicholas Day.
Whether your family participates in the Saint Nicholas tradition or not, this month is a wonderful time to practice generosity--acknowledging that it is certainly not limited to just one month of the year either. If you are in need of some ideas to get you started, below are some of our family's favorites.
Bake cookies and/or make candies to deliver to your neighbors (BONUS if you sing them a Holiday tune at delivery)
Shop for someone from the Giving Tree (located in the Mirror Reporter office)
Donate money for food, shelter, education, medicine, etc. through an international organization like World Vision
Sponsor a child in a developing country (we do this through Compassion International)
Leave treats or gift certificates for your mail carrier(s) and trash collector(s)
Spoil your child's teacher(s) and bus driver(s) with gifts
Pay for the person behind you in the drive-through
Volunteer at a community kitchen serving a meal
Donate to your local food bank
Loan money as an "angel investor" through Kiva Loans
Go "Elf-ing" (surprising people with random acts of kindness for the 12 Days of Christmas)
Shovel sidewalks for someone who struggles to do it herself/himself
Give groceries to a family in need
NOTE: We are taking nominations through December 15th for our Holiday Meal Giveaway. Simply Nourished will provide groceries for a complete holiday meal to an area family this holiday season. Email your nomination(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Share a meal in your home with someone who is lonely
Buy diapers for Caring Pregnancy Center
Provide personal care items to a local shelter
Ring the Salvation Army bell
Visit a shut in or residents at the nursing home
Take a prepared meal to a mom with young children
There are certainly countless additional ways to practice generosity in your own life. Our hope is that this holiday season would ignite in us all a passion to give--initiating a year-round practice, much like the other holistic health practices we spend time and money on. Let the giving begin!