When I was much younger, I wrote a very dark and cynical song that began:
It’s getting near to Christmas, and the city has a million lies to sell;
Glory to Mammon in the highest, peacelessness on Earth and joy in Hell…
And while I wouldn’t write the same song today, I’m still not in love with the commercial Christmas, which reminds you (oh-so-constantly) that in the season of giving, in order to give, first you have to BUY STUFF BUY BUY STUFF STUFF STUFF.
Or do you?
In fact, there are a great many ways to give that don’t involve money. Nothing wrong with giving money, by the way, or spending money on gifts – I’ve got my wife something nice – but let’s not limit ourselves to the commercial gesture.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “random acts of kindness”. I’m never sure, myself, how a random act of kindness is different from politeness – you know, letting people in on the road, holding a door open for them. Perhaps it’s only a matter of degree.
Not everyone will appreciate your random acts of kindness (or politeness), by the way. I remember a storm in a teacup from my university days, when one of the more radical feminists accused a guy of sexual harrassment because he held a door open for her.
Speaking as someone who holds doors open for people regardless of gender, age or other distinguishing characteristics, I thought at the time, and still think, that this was ridiculous. But just be aware: people won’t necessarily thank you for what is intended as kindness, or see it as such.
That’s no reason to stop, though.
And speaking of politeness – “thanks” goes a long way. (So does “sorry”.)
You know the advice about writing a letter to someone you’re angry with and not sending it? Write a letter to someone you’re grateful to, and take it to them.
This is part of the “gratitude visit”, which Martin Seligman and colleagues found in 2005 to be one of the interventions that reliably increased people’s happiness over the long term. It involves writing, and then personally delivering, a letter of gratitude to someone who’s been kind to you but has never been properly thanked. (Fuller instructions are here.)
I talked about this in How to be Happy, but volunteering is good for you as well as for society. Going beyond a random act of kindness, volunteering is one of the most positive ways you can give something of yourself to other people.
We often define ourselves in part by what we do, and usually we think about what we do for money. But what we do without being paid for it probably says a lot more about who we are.
Give loops all the way around again to Connect, where we started this series. By giving something to another person, we make a positive connection with them. All the more so if we don’t expect the gift to be reciprocated.
What will you do in the month of December that is a gift without cost or price?
It could be a series of small things, an act of kindness to a stranger every day, for example.
It could be something you do once, like volunteering to help with a city mission Christmas meal for those who have fewer resources than you do. Or something you do for some time, like volunteering to be part of an organisation that helps people in a way you think is important.
It could be for someone you know and love, perhaps someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while, like the gratitude visit.
Whatever it is, think about how it helps you connect with someone else and give them something of yourself. And reflect on your experience afterwards, to get the full benefit.
What’s going on with me
You might or might not have noticed that this post came out a bit late. That’s because my wife is in hospital recovering from an infection, and I’ve been focussed on supporting her. You might be hearing from me a bit erratically over the next little while, because it’s a situation that’s going to take months, rather than weeks, to resolve.
Supporting her is going to be the main gift I’m giving this year. But I will keep on posting as and when I’m able. I’m thinking of doing some video posts to change it up a little, too. Stay tuned!
Do you want to be amazing? Become an Amazing Member and get immediate access to member-only resources like the How to be Happy ebook.
(I naturally won't pass your email address on to anyone else.)