The Gift of Giving

Jennifer Rudloff

With the holiday season quickly approaching, I find myself spending more time reflecting on the many blessings that have been bestowed upon me over the years. I’ve been fortunate in my life. I have wonderful friends and family who provide unwavering support, a job I love, and while I may have a short wish list, I truly have everything in the world that I really need.

As I was preparing to begin my Christmas shopping a couple of years ago, and gathering wishes from loved ones, I got a special request from my parents. They asked that rather than purchasing a gift, that instead I offer up my time and talents to help those less fortunate. Together, we would share the memories made and lessons learned on Christmas morning. My parents are gracious and wonderful people, so this request didn’t really surprise me, but it did make me stop for a moment and smile at their selflessness. This was the start of a new and wonderful tradition.

When I came to Healthways, I heard a similar story. Many years ago at Healthways, as the holiday preparations began, our colleagues asked Tom Cigarran that in lieu of buying gifts for colleagues they instead give that money to help those less fortunate. Tom happily agreed – and a Healthways tradition was born. Now, every year we all step away from our work for a few hours and go shopping together. This year, more than 500 colleagues each armed with an angel, loaded up their shopping carts with toys, coats, clothes, and books for some very special children at Youth Villages and McNeilly Children’s Center. Imagining the smiles across their faces on Christmas morning and knowing that we’re bringing joy and a show of love and compassion to the children who need it the most is wonderful. It brought out a child like joy in all of us. This one activity really does bring us closer as a Healthways family.

At Christmas, or any time during the year, it’s all too easy to take the simple things in life for granted. I can’t imagine not having clean clothes to wear, a roof over my head, being hungry and without food to eat, or worrying for my safety and that of ones I love. Unfortunately those are harsh realities for a number of Americans. Sadly, there are a lot of families struggling this holiday season: we know from the latest Well-Being Index findings that nearly 20% of Americans have difficulty affording food, and 10% of Americans report having trouble affording shelter, and there are many others who are struggling with other problems in their lives.

By helping those in need, you’re also helping yourself. Gallup did a survey in conjunction with the well-being index to determine how volunteerism impacts well-being… what they found was that around the holidays, or anytime during the year, there are a lots of personal benefits to volunteering. People who volunteered in the last 6 months experienced higher personal well-being across all domains than those who did not volunteer. Take a look at the chart below to see how volunteering impacts each area of well-being.

I’d like to challenge you and yours this holiday season to take a moment to count your blessings, and then think about how you can bestow one of them on someone else who needs it. Start a new tradition of your own - it’s sure to make your holidays happier.

Topics: volunteer Community Well-Being Index Helping Others Civic Engagement