Mindful Moments

Stress-reducing tactics, exercises in mindfulness, and emotional health resources designed to boost well-being.

4 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful

Giving to others can help you be happier, too

Photo: Happy family playing in the snow in winter

Giving without getting: what’s in it for you? Turns out, there are a host of health benefits linked to altruism, or the act of helping others without expecting anything in return.

“For many of us, this time of year is associated with spiritual or cultural traditions that celebrate generosity and compassion,” says Dana Klisanin, PhD, a psychologist who researches altruism. “Behaving altruistically increases well-being, reduces stress, and improves our mental and emotional health.” Practicing kind, unselfish behaviors also strengthens relationships with family members, coworkers, and people within our communities, she says.

But giving to others isn’t a competition of who can donate the most soup cans or proceeds to charity. “We often believe that only large actions make a difference,” Klisanin says. “But through everyday acts of altruism, we can improve the lives of others and ultimately the world at large.”

In the spirit of the season, here are four ways to bring out your giving side.

1. Give something handmade
Whether it’s baked goods or a personalized photo album, a homemade gift adds a personal touch. “Some of the best gifts are those made by hand,” Klisanin says. A homemade gift is often easier to customize to fit a recipient’s personality or interests. Plus, it can be a way to give something meaningful while sticking to a budget.

2. Donate your time or skills
If you’re lucky, you’re able to celebrate this time of year with loved ones nearby. Unfortunately, everyone isn’t so lucky. Why not give some of your time and abilities to help those in need? Serve meals at a homeless shelter, visit residents at a nursing home, organize a coat drive, or volunteer at a local pet shelter. “All of our actions matter, even those that seem slight,” Klisanin says.

3. Support a cause online
Thanks to technology, you can even do good without leaving your home. “The Internet enables us to act on behalf of others and support good causes anytime day or night,” Klisanin says. You can shop on sites that contribute to charity, donate food or funds online, or sign petitions for causes that matter to you. To find reputable charities, check out charitynavigator.org. You can even start your own initiative through sites like impossible.com or createthegood.org, Klisanin says.

4. Show your love for family and friends
In our busy lives, it can be easy to take each other for granted. Now’s a perfect time to show and tell your loved ones that you value your relationship. It’s an expression of altruism, Klisanin says. A little shy? Take the time to reflect on your relationship. It’ll help you find unique ways to demonstrate your love for the people in your life, Klisanin says.