It's time to rethink the Christmas gift-giving tradition – Body + Soul

16 December 2021

It’s that time of the year again – when we spend hundreds of dollars on gifts for family and friends who, let’s face it, likely don’t need those presents.

One Christmas I gave my children a goat. Technically the goat wasn’t for them – it was for a family on the other side of the world, and meant to provide them with nutritious milk and an extra income stream to help lift them out of poverty.

My boys weren’t too enamoured with the goat. As much as I tried to explain to them how their donation (on my behalf) would be life-changing to some other kids who weren’t as fortunate as them, at four and six, they weren’t having it.

Luckily, Santa got them a boogie board as well.

That said, it may be time for us grown-ups to rethink this bizarre annual tradition of spending a chunk of our savings – and credit – on stuff no-one really needs or wants just so we can “do the right thing”.

Especially so when we can instead do an even better thing: elevate other people’s lives.

An added bonus? When we give back, the recipient isn’t the only one who benefits. Research has found that contributing to worthy causes is good for our health, happiness and longevity.

Functional MRI technology has shown that when people donate to a worthy cause, the midbrain region of the brain lights up, demonstrating a definitive link between giving and pleasure. When we spend on others, including donating to social causes, we report feeling happier than when we spend on ourselves

“We are hardwired to help others,” says Mindfulness Sanctuary clinical psychologist Emma Gray. “When we give to others, our brain releases ‘happy hormones’ – oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin – which boost our mood. It’s called a ‘helper’s high’. Even the smallest acts of giving can feel good.”

There’s been a seismic shift in recent years towards a more global approach to giving as people become more socially conscious and recognise that no-one is immune to adversity. We’re less focused on the material and more so on improving the world.

Gray says this can lead us to become more altruistic and prosocial.

“When we face a collective crisis such as the pandemic, it can help us recognise what is truly important and increase our empathy, compassion and desire to help others,” she tells Body+Soul.

“In a spiritual sense, more of us are awakening and the consciousness of the planet is shifting as we realise we’re all connected.”

This is nothing new to Julie McDonald, CEO of The Funding Network, whose crowdfunding events for grassroots charities have raised some $18.7 million, supporting them to carry out their life-changing work.

“The act of giving together and creating something so much bigger than you could achieve on your own is hugely motivating and rewarding,” McDonald says.

“Whether you donate $100 or $1000, everyone leaves with a smile because giving makes you feel really good.”

With “conscious consumerism” on the rise, perhaps in lieu of candles, clothing or gadgets this Christmas, let’s opt for serving the greater good – we’ll all be the better for it.

Presents to pay it forward

  • Women’s Community Shelters: Donate a gift voucher to WCS in support of women and children facing domestic and family violence;
  • Stuff: Personal-care products for men that help fund mental-health programs for young men through The Man Cave;
  • HoMie: A streetwear clothing social enterprise to support people experiencing homelessness or hardship;
  • Forever Projects: Every purchase of a Box of Delight from this non-profit organisation’s online store contributes directly to empowering women in Tanzania to provide for their families;
  • The Social Outfit: An ethical fashion brand that celebrates creativity and diversity, and employs and trains people from refugee and new migrant communities;
  • SisterWorks Gifts: made by migrant and refugee women to empower them to access opportunities in the workforce;

Read the full story on the Body + Soul website.