by Elizabeth Venart
Generosity is a big part of the holiday season. Movies often highlight the theme with humor and poignancy. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is a curmudgeon who never cared for anyone but himself, yet, by the end of the film, he is transformed into an openhearted, generous, and kind man. Miracle on 34th Street concludes with Macy’s Santa “Kris Kringle” delivering a desired new home to the cynical young girl, causing her to believe in magic after all. It’s a Wonderful Life shows an entire community of people coming together to help save the beloved main character, a giving man who, in his desperation, had doubted the value of his own life.
Invitations to be generous in December are numerous. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are celebrations with distinctly different origins and traditions – yet all include the exchange of gifts. Toys for Tots collection sites are scattered along our commutes to and from work. Men dressed as Santa greet shoppers as they enter stores, ringing bells and asking for money for the Salvation Army. Adopt-a-Family programs like the one organized by the Kelly Ann Dolan Memorial Fund (http://www.kadmf.org/holidayprogram.cfm) invite us to buy clothes, presents, and other needed items for struggling families in our community. Nonprofit organizations count on people being willing to do a little more for others this time of year. And, consistently, we prove them right.
What prompts us to be more generous now? Is it simply the season? Does the month of December (like the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future) have the power to make us a little softer, a little kinder, and a little more willing to give? Probably not. Perhaps, instead, we have within us a natural desire to be giving and, between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, we simply receive and answer more invitations to be generous.
Our natural generosity is evident in the outpouring of support that comes following any local, national, or international tragedy. It can also be seen in the behavior of young children, expressing joy as they help bake cookies, make presents, and share gifts with those they love. The drive to be kind is an intrinsic part of being human. While sometimes it may be thwarted or distorted by painful early experiences, the vast majority of us continue to be kind. Giving is natural, and being generous feels good.
This season, as you consider how you wish to express your generosity, you may want to reflect on the kind of giving – and receiving – that feels most joyful and satisfying to you. Consider being mindful and intentional with your giving, not simply from the perspective of “what would I like to give” but equally evaluating, “What are the ways I can be giving that will also be uplifting and nourishing for me?”
Giving mindfully doesn’t involve spending more than we have or overextending ourselves and ending up depleted or sick. Mindful generosity asks us to acknowledge giving and receiving as an exchange – and to be intentional with where and how we direct our energy. Often, the best gifts are gifts of time, thoughtfulness, and companionship. Consider baking a loaf of cranberry bread for a neighbor, making soup for a sick friend, extending an invitation to dinner, making a book of free babysitting coupons for a friend who is a single parent, or connecting by phone with a long-distance family member.
As you contemplate the many ways to be generous this year, consider also giving to someone very deserving: You. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Lower your expectations to “find the perfect gift” and consider instead carving out time for yourself to simply be. Take a walk in nature. Spend time with people who make you laugh. Sleep in. Go to bed early. Listen to your favorite music. Re-read a beloved book. Spend time enjoying the dark, sitting in candlelight and sipping a cup of hot tea.
The joy and magic of the holiday season comes into focus more clearly when we listen to and honor our own needs, cultivate a spirit of generosity with ourselves and others, and slow down to fully experience the present moment. Today and throughout the year ahead, I wish all of us true presence, mindful generosity, happiness, and deep, abiding peace.
Elizabeth Venart, M.Ed., LPC, is the Founder and Director of The Resiliency Center and a Licensed Professional Counselor who offers individual, couples, and group counseling. Her focus is on enhancing resiliency, cultivating compassion, and supporting people in healing through comprehensive, trauma-informed care. Elizabeth provides clinical supervision and EMDR consultation to therapists seeking to deepen their understanding of the complexity of human struggles and to respond in meaningful, effective ways. To learn more, visit her website at www.elizabethvenart.com.