Today I received an interesting email…from my electric company. Apparently, there is a program in my area where you can add $1, $5, or $10 to your bill each month and that money will be donated to a program that provides assistance for neighbors who may be having trouble paying there bills. Our finances may be back on track right now, but I am fully aware that we are only one disaster away from derailing. So, yes, I signed up to donate. It got me thinking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
October-December are three of my favorite months. I love the feeling you get seeing everything decorated each month. Halloween is exciting because of all the kids in costumes and whole neighborhoods getting in on the fun. Here in my neighborhood, we have neighbors who set up popcorn stands, spooky music, and some even sit out on chairs around the cul-de-sac passing out treats. Even the teens still trick-or-treat– in costume! Then in November, it starts to get colder, but it is so pretty. You can smell the wood smoke in the air which further creates a cozy atmosphere. Pretty soon after the turkey has been digested, it is time for all the holiday lights. There is a farm down here that sets up a free light display for people to drive through too. Our plans this year include attending a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert and a trip to see the holiday lights at the zoo. It is truly a magical time of year!
So what does that have to do with thanks and gratitude? Because like the example with my electric company, people are also more giving during this time of year. They give to the Salvation Army Santas outside the Walmart, donate canned goods to the Boy Scouts, leave snacks or gift cards for their mail carrier, etc. But why do we only do it during this time of year? Do people only go hungry in the winter? Last summer, one of my colleagues realized that she had a lot of kids hanging out in the library all day because there was no school, parents were at work, and the library has lots of stuff to do (books, programs, Internet, air condition!). She also realized that these kids had no food while they were there. There was a summer lunch program at the local public school, but there was a gap between when school ended and the summer lunch program started the next month. So she had coworkers and friends donate snacks that she would pass out each day during the summer. Then this past summer, her library system partnered with the school system to provided boxed lunches, funded through a grant, during that in-between time when the school wasn’t running their regular summer lunch program. A church group also passed out bottles of water to cars at one of our busier intersections. Both of these were during the summer…yet many people don’t think of these types of things outside of the season where giving and selflessness comes more naturally.
Research shows that we are happier when we give to others. It doesn’t have to be money or things either. The research actually shows that people who volunteer show increased benefits to their mental health. You may have heard of random acts of kindness, but the key here is that they shouldn’t be truly random. They should be intentional acts of kindness. If you want to find out more, check out the work by Shawn Achor or Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD. So this holiday season, don’t stop with the acts of kindness when the clock strikes midnight on that last day of the year. Keep it up and not only will you make others happier, you might make yourself happier as well.