In this holiday blog series, we will share ways parents can give lasting joy, connection, and happiness – without stress or over-consuming during the holidays. 

In part one, we explore gifts that deliver lasting happiness. 

Can a gift received during the holidays really deliver happiness? What is the source of happiness, peace, and contentment? Three meaningful terms that shine a bright light on happiness are:

  • Jen — a central idea in the teachings of Confucious — says that a meaningful life is based on kindness, humanity and respect for others. (Dacher, 2006) 
  • Gemeinschaftsgefühl: defines the source of wellbeing as based on social interest — care and concern for others (Adler, 1938). 
  • Unselfed love: feelings of contentment, peace, and happiness flow when we live and give without self-interest or focus.

Caring for, being connected with, and contributing to others in useful and meaningful ways is the root of happiness, peace and contentment. How do we give this to our family and friends for the holidays? 

Here are five ways to incorporate this sustainable and lasting happiness into a giving tradition:

  1. Sit down with your family members and hear what is important to each one about the holiday. As a family, think about how you will prioritize connection, helping each other, and sharing fun experiences together over acquiring more stuff.
    • Shift the question from “What do you want?” to “What are you looking forward to giving and doing with our family and friends?”
    • Pausing together to reflect on what makes for a special holiday and putting an emphasis on experiences rather than acquiring things at the holidays gives everyone the role of making the holidays special. (It can relieve parents of the stress of having to do it all!)
  2. Choose experiences as gifts. They are often gifts that keep on giving. For example:
    • Brainstorm together kind, thoughtful and fun acts that your family members can do for each other. A friend shared how her family has put a fun twist on this idea this year: they are giving each other jokes and humor as gifts. Each family member is anticipating being surprised by a fun practical joke that the family creates for them at some point during the holiday.
    • Make something together: give a gift of a recipe, some cookie cutters and sprinkles and then set aside time to bake together. Then, package some of what you make to share with neighbors and friends. 
    • Light candles, take walks in nature or under the stars – enjoy simple moments hand-in-hand.
  3. Make gratitude a part of every day
    • Some find it helpful to have a bedtime routine of saying or writing one thing you’re grateful for from that day. 
  4. Appreciate others
    • My mom calls them “Word Presents.” You might give each person in your family a night over the holiday where they get to receive word presents. On their day, everyone shares what they love, appreciate or are grateful for about that one person.  Another way to share this is in notes each night tucked under someone’s pillow. Or, you might share the qualities and memories you treasure about your family and friends verbally over the phone or in a video call. 
  5. Select a charity or cause that your family supports together
    • Adopt an animal: Often zoos and aquariums will allow you to “adopt” one of the animals in their care. World Wildlife Federation helps you to “adopt” an endangered animal and often sends a plush toy in return. 
    • Buy a gift for another family in the developing world (heifer.org enables you to buy a sheep, cow or goat for a family).
    • Encourage the habit of giving all year. Teach your children how to set aside a little bit of money from their allowance.* At the end of the year, look at all of the charities in your area and invite them to pick one.

Many of us desire for our children to be curious, patient, modest, generous, resilient, and balanced in life. Let these qualities be your guides as you set holiday traditions and enjoy annual celebrations with your family.

Stay tuned to create more ideas to create holiday harmony.  (You can see parts 2 and 3 here)

Wishing you and your family the happiest of holidays!

Sources:

Adler, A. (1938). Social interest: A challenge to mankind (J. Linton & R. Vaughan, Trans.). Faber and Faber. 

Haidt, Jonathan. (2006) The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

Kaltner, Dacher. (2009) Born to Be Good, the science of the meaningful life.