Although I have frequently touted the evils of materialism and consumption during the holidays, Santa still makes an annual trip down our chimney.  And believe me, not all of my gifts are homemade.

Like most of you, I have been buying gifts like mad for the many kids in my life, and I could tell you almost to the minute how much more time I have to get free shipping on all those things I should have ordered a month ago.

Stressful, isn’t it?

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Here’s the kicker: No part of me believes that the bead kit or foursquare ball or peace sign reading lamp so politely wished for on Santa’s lap will bring my children more than momentary happiness.

But we, the gift givers—madly purchasing parents—should get some joy out of giving.  Research is clear that giving to others improves our health and well-being.  When we are generous, our outlook on life changes, and ironically, we begin to “perceive others more positively,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky in this Science of a Meaningful Life video.

So if giving and generosity boosts our happiness, the Season of Giving ought to bring nothing but joy.  Right?

I was thinking about this last week when I was about to buy gift cards for the kids I still hadn’t found Hanukkah gifts for.  I was also thinking about the research that shows that even though people believe that they will be happier spending money on themselves, it turns out that they find greater happiness by spending on others or giving the money away.  In the study, people got $5 or $20 and were happier spending it on others or giving it away than spending it on themselves. When different people were told of this scenario—spending on yourself or another—they predicted the spending on themselves would bring more happiness.

And then it occurred to me: I’ll give the kids money that they can give away themselves.

I found this website,, which made the whole thing a piece of cake.  I was able to print a great gift card for the kids I was going to see that night and order custom plastic gift cards for others.

My gifts were opened with—let’s be honest—polite, faux enthusiasm.  There was nothing to play with after our Hanukkah meal.

But then the kids got home and were able to search the TisBest website for charities that appealed to them.  Based on the Thank You emails I’ve received, it seems making donations did make kids happy.  Here is what an eight–year-old boy wrote me:

Thank you for this card. It feels good to donate to charitys [sic]. Just one dollar can make a diffrance [sic]. Happy holidays.

And here is what his 10-year-old sister wrote:

Thank you!! It feels great to donate to different causes. I think we should do this more often! This is a great program, and I am happy with my choice of charities. It seems that even a small donation can make a difference or even a large change. I also enjoyed the picture on the form you gave me! Very cute! 

And so, I’ve solved my holiday gift-giving woes, and have a new standard for myself in gift-giving: Does it make me feel generous?  Because if it does (rather than just checking something off of my to-do list), I know I’ll get a little holiday joy out of it. 

And better yet, does it offer the opportunity for the receiver to feel generous? 

What ideas do you have for gifts that bring joy?  What makes you feel most happy—and most generous—at this time of year?

© 2010 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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As 2010 comes to a close, I am once again profoundly grateful that I am able to write this blog for the Greater Good Science Center. This work—so fulfilling for me, and I hope meaningful for you—is made possible by donors like Lee Hwang and his Quality of Life Foundation, and Tom & Ruth Ann Hornaday.

As a valued member of this blog community, your support and enthusiasm brings greater happiness to children (and their parents!) in a very real way.  December is the most important fundraising month at the Greater Good Science Center. During this time we encourage all those who believe in spreading happiness and compassion to express their generosity by supporting us financially.

This year I hope you will consider giving to the Greater Good Science Center in support of Raising Happiness.  Making a gift is easy, and, of course, tax-deductible: just CLICK HERE.  (At the very bottom of the online form in the “special instructions” box, please note that your gift is in support of Raising Happiness, if that is your intention.)  Many, many thanks!

I hope that your gift, along with this blog, brings you great joy both now and in the coming year.

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OUR APOLOGIES: We are aware of the technical difficulty on iTunes with yesterday’s podcast, “Why Parents are Unhappy.”  We are hoping to get this problem resolved today!

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Join the Campaign for 100,000 Happier Parents by signing this simple pledge.
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