The giving season is underway, with the holidays and year-end bearing down on us. So how can we transform one of the more stressful, and sometimes guilt-ridden, elements of the season into something more life-giving?
Whether you’re giving to a family member, a friend or a cause, please consider the following four directives as a guide to happy giving:
1) Give out of impulsion, not compulsion.
Compulsion to give can arise from the mountain of expectations, perceived or otherwise, heaped upon us at this time of year. (Those expectations are more often self-imposed, by the way.) Impulsion, on the other hand, comes from within. Give because you want to, not because you have to. And don’t give if you don’t want to.
2) Plan your giving.
Just because you’re giving from impulsion doesn’t require that you wait for an epiphany to direct you. Sit down and decide who or what organizations are on this year’s list, and how much you plan to spend. This will help ensure that you are not going to suffer in 2017 for your over-zealous, underfunded generosity in 2016. Stick to your budget.
3) Give creatively.
What you give someone and how you give it tells him or her more than the mere fact that you gave. You could give your Goth-inspired nephew a Visa gift card that he can spend on anything. Or, you could target his love of music with an iTunes gift card. Or, you could give him Jack White’s “Ultra LP” on vinyl—it plays from the inside out and has a locked groove on side A. And it also shows that you were paying attention enough to know that he has a record player and would probably like that kind of music. Creativity increases the value of your gift.
4) Give participatively.
Yes, I know “participatively” isn’t a word, but perhaps it should be. I encourage you to actively participate in your giving, physically as well as fiscally. Especially when it comes to charitable giving. You can write a check, have a positive impact and feel good about it. But you can also get involved, personally interacting with those receiving your financial gifts. These acts of giving can be life-changing, for the giver and the recipient, and this isn’t simply anecdotal advice. Studies back it up, too: “[S]ocial connection helps turn generous behavior into positive feelings on the part of the donor.”
That ever-popular song says this is the most wonderful time of the year. And while it can be, it’s also one of the most stressful times for far too many. Reframing how we view and practice giving can help transform this central element of the holidays from a burden into a blessing.
A version of this commentary originally appeared December 5, 2014 on Forbes.com and was written by Tim Maurer.