We are seven days out from Christmas. I was beating myself up and feeling so guilty for not doing more to help this month. Remember that service advent calendar I was going to create with daily doable ways to serve or be kind? Fail. I did have a big conversation with the kids to get their ideas on what they think they could do to help others, and their main suggestion was to “make cookies for the firefighters.” And guys, we almost did. So that’s where I’m at. We missed the wrapping event from Planet Hope that I had planned. We didn’t do a Feel Good Makeover this year (but we do have one in the works for January, which I’m so excited about). BUT. instead of sitting in my guilt, I’m officially reminding myself that it’s not too late. It never is (because helping is really a year-round thing). So with your help from this post, we’ve created a list of different ways we can all still give back, serve or just generally be kind. Some are so easy and take no time. Some are virtually free. Some are perfect for kids. All will make the world (and you) feel good.
Real quick: We all know how we should help others and lord knows the socioeconomic disparity is worse than ever so yes, people who can help should be giving back more, full stop. It cultivates empathy. It gets us out of our bubbles. It opens our eyes to the actual world.
But there is more to it; there are reasons in addition to being a decent human and helping others, some side effects or benefits that I often remind myself of. Here goes…
Doing it now, with my kids, helps them understand early on why it’s important to give back and even starts forming a long-term habit. My parents raised us doing a lot of service. It was part of our lives consistently thus creating a habit or urge in me, almost like a sense of duty. It’s like teaching them a sport or a foreign language, if you learn when you are young, you will always have that muscle memory. It just comes easier. It’s truly the best form of conditioning you can do. Knowing this first-hand is a massive motivation, I don’t want my inability to prioritize time for this to ultimately rob my kids of this good habit (our future world needs them to).
Helping people makes you feel really really good. It’s like a burst of serotonin, not only in the moment but every time you look at a photo or memento from that day. Feeling sad? You won’t after seeing how you lit up someone else’s day—it’s almost impossible. It’s a real antidote. Sometimes, late at night when I’m feeling sorry for myself for whatever stupid reason, I watch Sylvia’s makeover or last year’s Feel Good flash makeover and I feel better about myself. It makes ME happy. I have GOT to do more. Listen, making yourself feel good isn’t the reason you should do it, but it is a bi-product of helping others.
There is a trickle-down effect: hopefully, someone who receives the help will pay it forward and help someone else however they can, knowing what it is like to be on that side of things. So it’s not just a one-time helping, it can affect more people than you know.
It’s been scientifically proven to create and improve healthy self-esteem, self-worth and confidence. It’s literally in every parenting book I read on how to cultivate a healthy self-esteem in your kids. An added bonus of helping others is that it actually helps YOU feel like you have a purpose, that you are needed, that you make a difference in this world regardless of your status in other ways. Helping others fills you up and makes you feel proud of yourself, and you bring that to the rest of your day to day life, including your relationships and your career. And everyone on this planet should feel that they can make a difference in this world to someone, even if it’s just one person.
I struggle with my privilege, which is likely the most privileged thing you can say. There is this sense of “why do I get to have this life?” that pops into my head frequently. So instead of going around apologizing for my success, I’ve tried to put a lot of my time and resources (and influence) into feel-good projects like redoing the family shelter, the rummage sale or our Feel Good flash makeover. The more successful my business is, the more I have the ability to dedicate resources (like furniture, or my team’s time) to things like these. It helps me feel proud of my success rather than embarrassed by it.
So yes, I want to help others, and deeply believe it’s the only way to create a better world. Hopefully, framing it like that can help motivate someone out there who can relate in some way. That’s more of a larger personal thing for me, something that I’m working on, but these ideas don’t require you quit your job and work for a non-profit just yet, they are SO EASY.
5 Fun, Simple Things Anyone Can Do to Make Someone Else’s Day:
Overtip a server. This would have made my DAY when I was a server or bartender and it’s something I seriously love to do when I connect to the right person. If you can afford to leave a 50% tip, I promise it’s all they’ll talk or think about that day/week. Just make sure to write “Merry Christmas” or something like that so they realize this isn’t a mistake and it’s an intentional act of kindness (not for your sake, but literally so they know they can actually submit the sum).
Bring a treat to flight attendants on a plane. Erik from my team taught us to do this and GOODNESS is it the easiest thing to do to make someone smile (and yes, he gets a free drink now and then. But that might have more to do with the fact that he is the NICEST person in the world than anything else).
Make cookies for firefighters or police officers. Mostly kids just want to go to the firehouse but once they see those smiles, they’ll feel the impact of their kindness.
Bake (or buy) and leave cookies/snacks for UPS person and mail carrier. We are going to leave out a basket of treats with a big MERRY CHRISTMAS and THANK YOU sign on it and we’ll see how the kids do with that temptation.
A Few Things That Take a Bit Of Time/Effort or Resources:
Drop off Christmas cookies (and even sing carols, they LOVE that) at a local nursing home. I worked as a waitress in high school for the dinner service at a nursing home and I just have such a soft spot to those who have lived through so much more and are nearing the end of their lives. When carolers came, they were just DELIGHTED.
Buy and donate non-perishables to food banks. Our preschool and our public elementary school are both doing this, and with one trip to the grocery store, we can help. This is simple but takes a Google search to find one near you. I’ve even heard of being able to place online grocery store orders to food banks, so if you’re slammed this holiday season, you don’t even have to take a trip out of your way.
Sponsor a family and encourage kids to pick out what they think the children would like. We are doing one through a friend of mine who organizes this every year with her children’s school that has a lot of families that need help. I’m excited to have the kids help pick out toys for the 3-year-old and help wrap the rest of the gifts for the siblings and parents.
Sponsor gifts/essentials for a family/child. Unless you know a family personally, this typically has to be more locally done and likely organized by a non-profit or church. We are working with Baby2Baby to buy gifts and essentials for a 12-year-old boy. My friend brought this to me so we split it as the ask was $500 and it was a heavy lift for her. I tried to find a way to do this on their site, but couldn’t. Baby2Baby provides drop off locations and lists of what they need so you can involve your kids and not just donate money (which is obviously appreciated, as well). You can shop their wishlist here.
Shop and donate kids toys for toy drive. Again, has to be kinda organized. Our local church organized this and on Saturday morning, we are taking the kids to drop off at the police station, which they are VERY excited about. Shopping with the kids is not easy as obviously they just want everything for themselves, but I think it’s an important part of the process. You can also just open a toy catalog, have them circle some ideas and order online, then they can help wrap.
So yeah, that’s just a sliver of the things that can be done. I’d love to hear anything you’ve done this year or in years past that you think made an impact on you or others.