While this is the season for buying, it's also the season for giving. And did you know the more you give, the better you feel?
"Donating or giving back is a great way to keep your spirits up," said Lisa Dietlin, a philanthropic adviser and charity expert. "Research shows that people who volunteer live longer, and people who work in the nonprofit sector are happier in their jobs."
Volunteering as a family is a great way to fill the time when you have kids home from college or houseguests looking for something to do, Dietlin said.
"And some people may be experiencing a loss during this time of year or they're going through a divorce," she said. "Maybe there are conflicts with certain relatives which is causing you stress. This is a way to take your mind off the negative things going on while you focus on doing something positive."
Here are Dietlin's tips for making the most of your time and resources when giving back this holiday season:
Seek out the veterans or senior living facilities.
"Whether you're going to the local VFW Hall or the nearby senior center, there are plenty of seniors and veterans who are alone and they want to share their stories," she said. "Get the entire family and serve a holiday meal, or go play cards or board games. You could even help decorate the tree. A few minutes of your time can make someone's holiday."
Showcase your musical talents.
"If you play an instrument or can carry a tune, offer to perform in a lobby," she said. "Whether it's a business, senior living facility or community center, they often have pianos you can use that can be put to good use. And if you have a group of singers, organize an outing to sing Christmas carols. You can make this a family tradition."
Be a layaway angel.
"Wal-Mart and Kmart re-established their layaway programs, where people can put down a little bit of money on things each week," she said. "Since then, they allow people to be layaway angels. So you can go in, and ask the clerk to find an item that is in your price range, and then pay off their layaway. Then the clerk calls the person to come and pick it up. So it's a great way to help if you feel like being anonymous."
Get groceries for those in need.
"Call your local food pantry and see when they are accepting donations, and then get the family in the car and go to the store and buy a meal you would want to eat," she said. "Don't just empty the cupboards of the things you don't like. Put together a big feast that you would feed your family. Items that are in demand are foods high in protein such as meat, nuts and produce."
Visit your local house of worship.
"If you don't know where to start, consider reconnecting to your house of worship or find one that is nearby," she said. "A lot of them have ornaments on the back wall saying things like '14-year old girl needs…' and you can grab an ornament and get them a gift. They might also know of a family that has fallen on hard times — either with medical bills or perhaps they're having a hard time feeding their family."
Head to the hospital.
"There are so many patients who have nobody visiting them, and the loneliness can be magnified during the holiday season," she said. "Check with the children's hospital to volunteer to play games or even to donate presents, and see if there are any patients getting chemotherapy who have nobody to talk to. Each hospital has a different protocol for how they choose volunteers so be sure to call or go on their website to see how you can be of service ahead of time."
Go green and recycle.
"Instead of lining up at the popular department stores, people may want to consider shopping at thrift stores run by nonprofits," she said. "In Chicago, we have many. There are the traditional ones like Goodwill and Salvation Army but we also have (the Brown Elephant, the resale shop of the Howard Brown Health Center) in Lakeview. I found these hand-painted champagne glasses to match my sister-in-law's set of gorgeous glasses at (the Brown Elephant), and they were originals! You can really find some nice deals."
Plant the seed to future generations.
"A lot of individuals want to teach the gift of philanthropy to their children and grandchildren, so instead of buying gifts, give them an amount of money and tell them that they have to give that to a charity," she said. "Ask them to research which charity they want to give that money to — and there are over 1.6 million so they will have plenty to choose from. Then have them explain why they want to give to that charity. I know people who have made this a tradition and the children look forward to it. This teaches kids how to give, rather than just focusing on what they will be receiving."