Every year my neighbors throw a massive Christmas party complete with turkeys, hams, cakes, tamales and mariachi bands. In addition to them being wonderful neighbors and throwing an awesome party, they also insist that all attendees bring an unwrapped toy, which they donate to a local charity. With the amount of people they have at the party, the "toy box" is filled to the brim, and by the time I was on my third piece of cake, I took stock in knowing that despite my desire to over-consume sugar, some kids were going to be very happy this Christmas.
The holidays seem to bring out the most charitable behaviors in people, which has actually been found to make society a happier bunch. In a Ted talk presented last year by Harvard Business School associate professor, Michael Norton, the topic of money buying you happiness was broached. What Norton discovered through various research was that spending money on other people makes you a happier person overall.
This isn't anything new, however, there have been studies on the subject of giving for years. A group of Canadian researchers out of British Columbia published a report in Science stating that no matter how much of your cash you give away, you will feel better about yourself. Professor Elizabeth Dunn, who led the research, said: "And spending money on others might represent a more effective route to happiness than spending money on oneself.
Neither of the studies mentions an amount of money that needs to be spent to get the good feeling glow, but maybe you have a boatload to blow? Then you might follow the pursuits of recent newsmaker "Tips for Jesus." According to The Today Show there is a masked man running around town giving extraneous tips to waiters and bartenders. Well, he is not masked, but wouldn't it be cool if he was? Now making his (or her) mark in multiple cities across the country and Mexico, this Robin Hood-esque character has been leaving large tips ranging from $1,000 to $7,000 on checks of a hundred or so dollars. In addition to spreading cheddar, the mysterious tipper is marking his good dead with the handle @tipsforjesus and posting pictures to Instagram.
Or maybe you want to step it up a notch. Last week a financial planner, Greg Parady, already on a mission to help those in need with a purchase of bikes for Toys for Tots, walked over to the layaway counter at an Orlando Wal-Mart and paid off half of everyone's layaway that was over $200. That generosity cost Parady roughly $20,000 according to various reports. Yowza! Parady must have felt pretty good about himself this year as did the 80 different families he helped get Christmas presents.
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But you don't have to have 20 grand lying around to be a Layaway Santa. The trend of paying off or paying down a stranger's layaway bill has been around for a few years, first reported by the AP back in 2011. At first the concept seemed shocking, but this year, according to NBC News, "Wal-Mart said it has tracked more than 1,000 instances so far this season of strangers paying down others' layaway accounts. Kmart said strangers have paid more than $1.5 million in other's layaway contracts over the years. Toy "R" Us said they recorded 794 layaway Santa visits in 2012." Some stores have even gotten hooked on the good feeling and are matching the gifts of strangers; Toys "R" Us is donating up to $1 million in matched monies to the Toys for Tots organization.
There are so many ways to give back this season; the charities are practically knocking on your door to make a financial donation, but if that doesn't make you smile, there are always those random acts of kindness that go a long way. Pay for someone's Starbucks on the drive through, drop a canned good in a donation barrel, let someone go ahead of you in the supermarket line, don't cut off that car trying to get over into your lane even if you already let a car get in front of you, hell, hold the door open for someone behind you. It doesn't take all that much to make someone else smile, and according to science, you'll feel better too. So do it... for yourself.
And if that didn't convince you, maybe this Thai commercial will (and it will make you cry too).