In a tough year, traditions and holiday gift giving may seem more chore than pleasure. We know we’re supposed to find pleasure in helping others, but that isn’t always what we feel. Especially this year, many of us may feel like we’re running on empty with little left to give and do. But what if our choices could help shift the task from burden to joy?

Social psychologist, Elizabeth Dunn, studied the connection between generosity and joy. She found that giving doesn’t always make people happier. For instance, gifts disconnected from a specific recipient, like a credit card donation to a large charity, are less likely to promote happiness. Dunn found that gifts that involve connection with others and allow givers to see the impact of their efforts bring the most happiness.

“Let’s stop thinking about giving as just this moral obligation and start thinking of it as a source of pleasure,” Dunn says in her TED talk on the topic.

Doing good as we grow can be a tool in our ready-mind toolbox. On heavy days, whether measured by the calendar or by struggling hearts and minds, giving and doing for ourselves and others can spark joy. And many sparks of joy together can light the darkness.

What are ways that you, your family, and children you care for can give that will bring you pleasure?

Maybe it’s a year to give yourself permission to ditch the giving that brings drudgery and embrace a less-perfect, more joyful gift. Do you despise the mess and toil of baking? Buy store bought cookie kits with pre-made icing and decorate them with your children. Is wrapping the bane of your holiday season? Message a teen who could use some extra cash, and ask them to wrap gifts for you. 

You can also catch others by surprise and share some love and courage with them using this free edelweiss printable. Or, share your talents by teaching friends or family how to bake your favorite scones. Plant a tree for someone else or propagate your own plants and gift them to a friend or family member. Or, thanking someone who made a big difference in your life, such as this woman who reunites with her first grade teacher who taught her to speak English forty years ago. 

This holiday season can mark the perfect time to (re)connect to the things that are most important in our lives — a time to reset and focus. Our brains like to tell ourselves stories and the way we tell the story of our events and our experiences can influence how we feel about the event and ourselves. A most wonderful gift to give this year — highlighting all the strengths and successes you’ve had without denying the hard parts.

You might say,

“Wow, at the beginning of the year we shifted to learning (and/or working) even more at home and at first that was so hard for all of us, but look at us now. We’ve created a new schedule, learned how to share computer time, and we are making it work. I’m really proud of us as a family.”

How do you and your family find joy in giving? What gift-giving hinders your joy? Are there any tasks or traditions you could change this year to bring pleasure in your giving?

Happy giving!  

Kristin Signature