What if I told you there was something you could do this holiday season that would make you feel like you had more hours in the day, while also increasing self-confidence, improving physical health, and creating long-lasting memories that you treasure forever?
Sound too good to be true? It isn't. A recent study from the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania found that when people volunteered—carving out even a small amount of time in their day to help someone else—they experienced feelings of efficiency and competence. These feelings gave people the sense that they could do quite a bit with their limited time. In other words, when you give time, you feel like you have more time.
If you have kids, it’s a parenting no-brainer to get involved in a service project this holiday season. Several studies have shown that kids who volunteer experience a positive effect on their grades, attitudes toward education, and self-esteem. Volunteering also leads to reduced drug use and huge declines in dropout rates and teen pregnancies. There is also research linking youth volunteering to a higher quality of life as an adult, and showing that families that focus more on the material side of the holidays tend to feel less happy than families that focus on spending time together. What better way to spend time together than volunteering? It’s really the best gift you can give your children and yourselves.
I started incorporating service projects into our family’s holiday traditions a few years ago after I read a book that emphasized the idea that rituals are about passing down your values and beliefs to your children. And it hit me that even though I always tell my kids that Christmas is about giving, it had really become more about baking and wrapping and singing, with a token volunteer project thrown in. Although these family rituals are still important to us, I realized that I also wanted to establish service as a huge part of what we do during the holidays. The kids liked it so much that it stuck, and we tend to do one service project a month.
Part of the key to our success with the projects is letting the kids pick out what they want to do. My oldest loves animals, so she tends to pick animal-focused charities. My middle daughter is all about art, so she likes anything that involves painting, making cards, or assembling craft kits. My little one just wants to keep up with her sisters, so she’s happy for now just imitating what they’re doing. For our family (or maybe really for me), the simpler the project, the more successful it’s been.