Do you find yourself wrapping gifts each holiday season that you know are unneeded—and maybe even unwanted? (Oh hi, novelty socks and a DVD copy of By the Sea.) There is a better way. Giving these research-backed, out-of-the-box gifts offers health perks for givers, receivers and the environment. Thanks, science!
The gift: Your words
The research: According to a 2017 report, gratitude is associated with long-term success in relationships and reduced reports of physical symptoms, plus an increased likelihood of optimism and exercise. (Basically, a grateful attitude could lead to great abs and a marriage to rival Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s!)
To practice gratitude, call to mind someone you’re especially grateful for. Write a letter to them, noting a few specific things they’ve done for you, why you’re grateful to them and how their help impacted your life. Explain what your life is like now and how often you think of what they’ve done for you.
Pay them a visit and read the letter out loud to them, allowing both of you time to express your feelings afterward.
The gift: Your detective skills
The research: One 2013 study revealed subjects were happier when told how their gift would make a difference in the recipient’s life, compared with those who didn’t hear these details.
So, before giving your usual charitable donations, research the concrete ways your gifts will help someone.
The gift: Your help
The research: A 2017 study comparing volunteers to non-volunteers found that the volunteers were as healthy as non-volunteers who were five years younger. Call it the elixir of altruism.
To find out who could use some help this holiday season, look for some volunteering opportunities in your local paper (in print or online). Using this method, I found an opportunity to help at a shelter for street-level sex workers in my city, where I continued to volunteer for the remainder of the year.
The gift: Your company
The research: In a study published in the journal Positive Psychology as a Mechanism for Social Change, participants felt happiest when given a gift card to take a friend out to coffee, compared to handing over the card to their friend or using the card on themselves while out with a friend. These results point to the leveled-up benefits of giving while also connecting.
Put this study into practice by taking a family member or friend shopping or springing for goodies at a food festival or coffee shop/restaurant you visit together. Like we’ve said throughout this issue of alive: vegan food is better together!
The gift: Your local loyalty
The research: It’s well documented that locally made goods take less fuel to transport and often need only minimal packaging, supporting the environment and your community.
Choose one-of-a-kind, locally made presents at mom-and-pop shops, specialty vegan foods at your local natural health retailer, winter squash from the backyard—or even homemade holiday goodies you’ve prepared.*
* … like chocolate peanut butter cups. Look at you. You’re a homemade gift hero!
The gift: Your time
The research: A 2013 study revealed that participants found greater happiness by giving three “gifts of time” in one week (meeting with three friends for time above and beyond their normal activities) compared to the placebo group.
We all know someone who’s run off their feet or could use some TLC. Plan to do something for them (including running their errands, cleaning their car or organizing a room in their house) or an outing with them. If possible, try to leave your smartphone at home so you can truly give the activity as much time and attention as it takes.
Cardinal rule: Remember all creatures
Extend your generosity to animals by helping your kids fill up a bird feeder, set out a salt lick, leave peanut butter bread for squirrels or bake homemade treats for the neighborhood doggos.