There's something about the holiday season that seems to bathe the world in a warm, welcoming glow. At dusk, the homes and yards in our neighborhoods begin to flicker with colorful lights, and through their windows we catch glimpses of shimmering tinsel. Grocery store shelves are filling with cookies, cakes and candy, and just about everywhere you go, people are wishing good tidings. The aromas of incense, spice and fresh-cut fir and pine mingle with the jingle of bells to delight our senses and spread good cheer. Just like a ringing bell in the movie It's a Wonderful Life signals an angel getting its wings, the physical accoutrements remind us of the seasons deeper meaning. Swept up in the shopping frenzy, it's easy to forget that the holidays hold a secret to happiness giving to others. Giving encompasses so much more than buying gifts; it's about sharing your time and energy with others which you can do in simple ways every day.
Giving Feeds the Soul
You know that warm, feel-good emotion you get when you volunteer, donate to charity or help fund a cause with nothing expected in return? Researchers say that the brain responds to these activities with a pleasure or reward response similar to that exhibited while engaging in other pleasurable activities, such as eating chocolate. Fostering a homeless pet, cooking dinner for a friend who is recuperating from surgery, caring for an elderly parent, reading to underprivileged kids in an after-school program giving to others gives us pleasure. Since seeking pleasure increases happiness and helps us live more fulfilling lives, it's easy to understand the spirit of giving as an innate human quality that promotes better survival.
Giving Speaks to Who We Are
It's actually an American tradition to help a neighbor, support a friend and give succor to a stranger. The poem by Emma Lazarus, emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty, reinforces the patriotic foundation of that tradition with these lines:
Think of the compelling, heartwarming stories that go viral on social media stories of our fellow citizens caring enough to sacrifice their own needs for the sake of someone's mental, emotional or physical betterment. These remind us that humanity is interdependent and that we are responsible for helping one another.
Giving Can be a Family Value
Children model their behavior after parents and adults, so it behooves us to demonstrate the power we have to be an incredible force for good and nurture the giving nature of young people.
Set aside some time and pick a place to volunteer as a family. Even the smallest action can make a difference to a child.
Virtually every school, church and workplace offers a way for families to help as a team. Your favorite charity, non-profit fund or community organizations will likely welcome donations or personal involvement.
There's no need for formality; raking a senior citizens leaves, playing cards with residents of a nursing home, or donating clothing to a battered women's shelter can show your children that giving is a year-round activity. You can also spark children's interest in helping others by setting aside a portion of their allowance to give to a needy cause of their choice.
Many Ways to Give In Gwinnett
It's great to give financially but there are many ways you and your family can give. A gift of goods, services, time and talent are often the most appreciated.
The Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia is a great resource. The Community Foundation helps individuals and organizations give more simply and effectively, and works with both donors and nonprofits to strengthen the community through charitable giving.
Within Gwinnett County there are many needy organizations. For instance, Family Promise of Gwinnett needs home furnishings and other household items; the Habitat ReStore accepts building supplies, appliances, furniture and other items; and the Lawrenceville Co-op needs food donations and personal items. Gwinnett's Relay For Life celebration, to raise money for cancer research, is the world's largest in terms of participants (5,700+) and money raised ($1.7 million). Gwinnett's Great Days of Service is another community-wide event that rallies residents and businesses to support a large number of charities and non-profits.
There's now even a global day dedicated to giving back. Giving Tuesday, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is a time for charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world to come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.
And don't underestimate the power of one: You as an individual can make a big difference. Any hour you give will be its own reward.
Hospitals, rehabilitation centers, community homes for the disabled, homeless shelters, may all welcome someone who can offer companionship to a lonely individual.
If you or someone you know needs help:
The Gwinnett Help Line
United Way Gwinnett
Also published on Medium.