I can still feel the butterflies I got as a little girl walking up to the giant Christmas tree inside of the Seattle Center. It was a giving tree, where hundreds of tags hung from the boughs. Each tag contained the wish list of a child in need. My father would lift me up to get a better look at the tags that hung above my head. When I found one that spoke to me, I collected it from the tree, and the following days would be dedicated to granting this child’s wishes. We returned the following weekend and left the gifts of trucks or dolls, sweaters and bows, tucked beneath the community tree.
Decades later, I find that I can’t remember most of the gifts I received over many Christmases, but I will not soon forget the feeling of peace that washed over me knowing another child would get to experience the joy of opening gifts on Christmas morning.
If you’re looking for a unique way to add a little cheer to the end of your year, here are seven ideas to get you started!
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1. Giving tree tags
In shopping malls, churches, and grocery stores across the United States, you might notice Christmas trees donning special tags listing the name, age, and wish list of someone in need. Buying a present for someone in need is an activity families can do together and is a great introduction for children to charity and giving back. You can team up with friends and complete a giving tree wish list, too.
2. Pay for someone’s coffee
Buying a hot cup of joe for the person behind you in line is a great way to do some good without interrupting your daily routine. Plus, the move often triggers a chain reaction … before you know it, everyone in line is paying for others’ drinks, posting about it on social media, and spreading early morning joy.
3. Connect with the sick, shut-in, deployed, or incarcerated
As we all go about our busy lives — made busier by the holiday season — we may fail to notice those among us who have nowhere to go and no one to talk to. This season, consider the sick, incarcerated, and people who can’t leave their homes, and the loneliness and isolation they may feel during a time of year when so many gather with friends and family. Connect with people by writing handwritten letters to those you know who are unable to spend time with their loved ones for one reason or another.
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4. Acknowledge stellar customer service
Tensions might run high while you’re rushing around shopping this season. That’s why, as I hit the brick-and-mortar establishments or talk with a representative online, I do my best to acknowledge every time I come across someone who has the patience of a saint amidst all of the chaos. If my waiter, sales associate, or rideshare driver is awesome, why shouldn’t everyone know about it? If you really want to make a difference for those in the service industry, take a moment to actually fill out the comments section, write a review, or notify their boss to brag on what an awesome job they did in assisting you. If you can’t reach anyone, get the person’s name and give them and the company a social media shoutout.
So many people make more eye contact with their phones than they do with real, live human beings. I used to be one of those people. But then I asked myself: “What would happen if I became more intentional about connecting with the people in my everyday life?” Instead of gluing your eyes to your phone as to avoid interacting with your neighbors on your walk to work, look into the eyes of a passerby, and give them a smile.
6. Post the positives
Do your social media platforms feel like a Wild, Wild West of opinions and trolling where there’s little good news to be found? As the saying goes, if you can’t find good news, make your own! Okay, maybe I just made that saying up. But you get the point. We could all use a little more positivity on our feeds. Commit to posting nothing but positive vibes for a week, 30 days — or the rest of your life! The decision is yours, but the outcome is likely that your friends, family, and random people you don’t remember adding to your friend list will appreciate your glimmers of hope. Also, you’ll probably be less stressed if you’re not furiously typing in all CAPS about the latest headlines.
7. Tell the people you love “I love you.”
I love you. Three little words that carry such weight for so many people. Think about the last time you told someone you cared for — a significant other, a parent, a sibling, a friend — that you loved them, and truly meant it. Nothing can replace a sincere, heartfelt, unsolicited “I love you” to the people who are important in your life. I tell my parents I love them every day, several times per day, and I’m getting better about including my friends. I realize that I’m not promised another chance to say “I love you.” So say it, during the holidays and all year round.
Originally published on November 12, 2018.