Giving Thanks and Giving Back

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, many of us spend time thinking about what we’re thankful for and feeling gratitude. Often, this leads us to think about those who are less fortunate and what we can do to “give back.”

Giving back is an important next step to feeling and expressing gratitude. In fact, psychologists in the field of positive psychology, which studies the science of happiness, claim gratitude can positively contribute to our general level of happiness. And donating our time and/or resources to a charity can increase our chances of being happy.

So what holds us back from giving to charity? Sometimes it’s the feeling that what we can offer won’t make a difference–perhaps you’ve wondered how big an impact a $20 donation or a few hours of service can really make? And often it’s a feeling of being financially strapped or just too busy.

But really:

1. Anything you can do will make a difference. In this case, something is better than nothing. A small amount of time and/or money can make a difference. Just think, if everyone who thought their donation wouldn’t make a difference donated something, those donations would add up!

2. The feeling you’ll experience doing something good for someone else will far outweigh the cost of sacrificing a little bit of time and money.

Some people don’t give back because they don’t know where to begin. So here are a few tips:

1. Start by doing small kindnesses for people you come into contact with everyday. Be present and aware of those around you and you will find many opportunities to make a small gesture. If you see someone who needs a hand, whether it be helping to carry a neighbors groceries, or assisting a co-worker who needs help on a project, or opening the door for someone at the coffee shop, each kind gesture has a ripple effect that leads to other acts of kindness.

2. Consider what change you’d like to see in the world. Finding a cause that has personal meaning to you or your loved ones will help you find a charity that you can wholeheartedly support. Personally, we find it motivating to give when we know who we are giving to—for example, with the assistance of  a local nonprofit, we partnered with a family around the Holidays—we were given information about the family and what their needs were and how we could help. Similarly, you can feel you are making a difference when you fulfill a concrete need, such as knowing X amount of money will provide X number of new books for a classroom or if 1,000 people gave one dollar we could help solve problem Y.

3. Once you have a charity in mind, spend a little time to do some research. Call the charity and ask how your money will be spent. If you’d like, you may be able to restrict your gift to a certain program. Although keep in mind non-restricted gifts can be used to cover administrative costs, which may not seem particularly interesting, but can help charities keep their doors open during tough economic times or allow the nonprofit to use the money where they feel the need is greatest. You may also wish to ask what percentage of their revenue goes to programs and what percentage covers overhead, but just because one charity has higher overhead doesn’t mean they’re not worthy—they may just do more outreach, or use higher quality food or materials in their programs. If they have high overhead costs, don’t dismiss the charity, but do ask why.

4. Set an intention when you give a gift. We believe that the energy behind the gift makes a difference—both to the giver and recipient. Give freely and with love.

5. Teach your children about how to be altruistic. It seems the best way to teach children is simply by example. By modeling how to take action to help others, they will most likely adopt these same values.

6. If you can’t make a financial contribution at this time, you can still raise money for your favorite nonprofit by doing something like running a 10k or marathon and getting sponsors. Or having a garage sale and donating proceeds to charity. And many nonprofits need volunteers, so look for opportunities to donate your time.

7. De-clutter! Yes, de-cluttering and donating what you no longer need or use is a great way to give to charity. In fact, if you like this blog, you may also like: Doing Good by Decluttering.

Looking for a great stocking stuffer? Consider Smile Cards from! Every time you perform an anonymous act of kindness for someone, you can leave behind a Smile Card, which encourages that person to pay it forward by performing an act of kindness for someone else—it’s a great way to keep the ripple effect of kindness going! To learn more, visit

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