12 Days of Giving: The Gift of Time

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

This is the fifth in our special “12 Days of Giving” series running for the holiday season. It’s a little different from what you might think of as traditional presents or giving. We aren’t really talking about stuff you buy or a gift list. Rather, on these 12 days, we will be talking about different gifts that you can give to yourself, or others — those that have a deeper meaning, that can help you live with intention, be happier, be healthier. Soul gifts, you might even call them. Join us on the journey.

It’s relatively easy for most of us to purchase a gift for someone. But giving them your time is another thing entirely. Whether it’s our children, spouses or friends, it’s all too easy in our busy schedules to not really look when your kid is showing you a picture they drew at school while you’re cooking dinner; or tune out and mentally go over tomorrow’s to-do list while your partner recounts their day.

Trust me, I know. We’re all busy, and with so much constantly going on we can’t always be there in the way we’d like for others. But to give of yourself with your time is perhaps the most meaningful and important thing you can do to show another person how much you love and value them. Time, after all, is the only thing that none of us can regenerate more of. We all have only a finite amount of it — what, and who, you choose to spend it on says a lot.

So when you sit down to do a craft project with your kid instead of handing them a toy, or you go to the park together instead of looking at your separate screens, you are telling them that they matter in a way that few other things or actions can do. When you set aside a date night to do nothing other than focus on each other with your partner; when you carve out time for lunch with that friend you haven’t seen in too long; these things remind you both of what really matters.

Here are a few ideas and fun ways to give someone else — and yourself! — the gift of time:

Make and send handmade holiday cards

A couple of years ago I wrote a story for Modern Woman magazine about the art of handmade greeting cards. When it comes to sending holiday cards, many simply sign a name, stamp the envelope and ship it off. But the holidays are all about connecting, and one way to do that is by taking a bit of time to create a personal card.

Not only will the recipient love it, but the project is a fun way to get in touch with your creative side and disconnect from technology for some good old-fashioned tactile stuff. If you have a big holiday card list, you don’t have to make cards for everyone; maybe just make them for those closest to you.

Listen to someone who needs it

I mean, really listen. It might be a family member, friend or co-worker, but we all likely know someone who is going through a tough time and could use someone to talk to. So many times when we talk with people on a regular basis, we are distracted with our phones, our own thoughts, or just listening so that we can respond with what we want to say.

But to be with someone 100%, give that person your total attention and listen to them attentively, without interrupting or interjecting your own stories, is a truly special gift. You will be amazed at what you learn and this may be the first time anyone has listened to them in such a profound and respectful way.

Practice a random act of kindness

If you’ve ever been the recipient of one of these acts, you know how they can completely change the course of your day, or even your week. The most simple, small acts can have a ripple effect of positive repercussions — so much so that there’s even a Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, whose mission it is to “make kindness the norm.” I love this idea. It’s a great place to get ideas, and they also have some cool things like a Kindness Calendar you can download for free (just did!).

Bonus benefit? Being kind is actually scientifically proven to be good for you. It has health benefits and produces oxytocin, the “love hormone” that lowers blood pressure and improves overall heart health. Kindness is also contagious — and is a pretty awesome thing to spread around. In fact, pretty much all of the things on this list are both good for our own mental, emotional and physical health, and contagious.

The RAK site has lots of inspiring and feel-good videos; here’s one about a “Week of Kindness” that the St. Matthews School in Cambridge, England held. I can’t think of many more important things to teach kids.

Give yourself to others through volunteering

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’ve been highly involved with a number of nonprofits, and an active volunteer, for all of my life. And speaking of great things to teach kids, altruism is something that can’t be started too early.

I have a grandson who just turned 7. On my birthday this year, my daughter sent me this paper he brought home from school. The first-grade class assignment was to write about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Jude wrote that he wants to help people. My heart was totally melted, it was the best birthday present!

Jude has been talking a lot more lately about this, wanting to do things to help people. We are going to buy gifts for a child on the Giving Tree, and when we pass homeless people on the street he wants us to stop and give them water and granola bars. He already has a kind heart, and I want to foster that, so I plan on searching for volunteer opportunities that we can do together. Here in Austin, there’s a great organization called Generation Serve that is developing generations of community-minded leaders by engaging children in volunteerism. Volunteer Match also is a fantastic nationwide database of all kinds of volunteer opportunities, and you can search by type of organization, type of work, location, and even for volunteering as a family.

Share time and experiences instead of stuff

There’s a whole host of different research that shows us that experiences bring far more happiness than things. Try incorporating this idea into your gift giving. For example, my partner Keith and I generally give each other experience gifts rather than stuff; because we love to travel, this is most often what we spend our gift resources on. But we’ll also buy each other things like tickets to a concert, or a massage — things that are experiences, rather than something other thing that we don’t need.

I’ve also suggested to my family that instead of doing gifts for the kids, we take them to do something fun, together as a family, instead. We’ve long opted out of much gift-giving among the family except for the kids; but to be honest, none of these kids needs more stuff, either. And the fun times, laughter and memories we will make by going skating together, or to a festival, or taking an art class, will outshine any gift-wrapped present. I’m betting that 10 years down the road, not one person will remember a present that was given to them a certain year; but we’ll all remember that great time we had together.

Give yourself the gift of time

Slow down. Breathe. Be present. Do something for yourself that helps you recharge and rejuvenate. That might be a walk, a bubble bath, curling up in a chair with a good book….whatever it is, give yourself permission to just be. Rinse. Repeat.

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