The holiday season is commercially advertised for many things: food, connection, shopping, joy, togetherness, excitement, and relaxation. In the month of November alone, we witness multiple celebrations across religious practices, such as Diwali, Dhan Teras, Chhath Puja, Advent, and Thanksgiving.
The most widely recognized November holiday in American culture is Thanksgiving, which has evolved into a cultural tradition that involves enormous meals and its effect on those with eating disorders, college football, and “comfy pants.”
However, the linguistic makeup of the holiday is what sticks for many: “thanks” and “giving.”
The Hindu/Sikh tradition of the Diwali Indian Festival of lights symbolizes a spiritual victory in finding light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance. When we examine what is celebrated in the holiday season across cultures, we can find that there is a commonality to be had in finding light amongst dark circumstances, especially in a year like 2020 where we are impacted by global distress.
Although much has been taken from people across the globe, including security, hopefulness, and health, we can find some peace in the act of giving to others. We can witness how giving of ourselves (our time, our energy, our presence) to others ultimately gives to us in return.
How Giving Helps Our Mental State
Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that acts of service such as volunteerism, providing emotional support, or even charitable monetary donations have significant benefits on our physical health, such as lower blood pressure, decreased stress levels, and improved longevity.
In terms of our mental state, the act of giving is also associated with increased self-esteem, decreased symptoms of depression, and general life satisfaction. The researcher found that helping others activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, interpersonal connection, and trust. When we give back to our communities, it not only increases levels of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, it provides us with an opportunity to invest in a greater purpose for our life’s meaning, and strengthens our relationship with gratitude.
Because we are inherently social beings, when we volunteer for an organization, we find ourselves in the presence of others who also believe in the power of togetherness and change. At THIRA Health, we often talk with patients about ways in which they reach outside of themselves to find passions, drivers, and motivators for self-change.
Many times, when we give, we instinctually feel empowered to give back to ourselves.
Giving in 2020
There are so many ways we can engage in acts of giving: for some, it’s small tokens such as listening to your partner’s love language and giving them affection in the way they best receive it; for others, it’s spending time on a weekend helping with efforts to clean up a local under-funded school or playground. For our staff here at THIRA Health, it is believing in the mission of our program enough to deal with the challenges of providing direct patient care in the midst of a pandemic.
As we look around, it’s easy to see examples of front-line workers and behind-the-scenes operators doing what needs to be done to serve others despite the fears and uncertainties during COVID-19 pandemic. It’s easy to undervalue the incredible service of our staff in this effort to go above and beyond to do what’s right for the patients we serve; however, it is through dealing with these impasses, together, that we have found the ability to navigate these difficult times and provide a place of healing and hope for those who come to us for treatment.
Time, Energy, & Presence
Giving our time, energy, and presence to others are precious gifts, and can be made more special when it is intentional. Whether it is saying you will attend a friend’s big presentation, chairing a meeting for a local non-profit chapter, or staying late at work to listen to a stressed coworker, your time, energy, and presence is a valuable currency. When we give these elements to others, it says that they matter.
Find Your Cause
It’s important to your personal giving process that you find something that ignites your passions; in other words, first, find your cause. Reflect for a moment and ask yourself, “What is the kind of change I want to see in my neighborhood? My city? My profession? My local community? The world at large?”
Take note of how you feel when you consider what changing this issue will mean to you and others. As a next step, find a local non-profit that is currently working to solve this problem and ask how you can help.
If community or non-profit work isn’t what you had in mind, here are some other ways we can give to others every day.
- Sign up for various email lists and e-newsletters order to inform yourself about current efforts related to your cause
- Share what interests you most on social media platforms
- Read about issues of injustice or inequity within your community, and reach out to community organizers if you feel a desire to help, even if it’s a small monetary donation
- Watch a documentary on a topic of social change, and share it with others
- Plan a one-hour Zoom call with a friend or family member you haven’t heard from in a while; share your interests and causes
- Donate $1-5 to a national cause, or set up a Facebook donation button for your birthday
- Give a colleague feedback on a presentation or paper they have prepared
- Text a friend that you have been thinking about him or her
- Email a local politician about a piece of legislation you care about
- Write a handwritten letter to someone you really appreciate or admire