I think we can all agree that family gatherings, holiday celebrations, wish lists, party outfits and “normal” festivities hold more weight this year. After over a year of being hesitant to gather and engage with loved ones, many of us plan to jump in with two feet this year. There is a sense of gratitude that fills the air differently.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion and tool for living full and meaningful lives. As a community, we talk a lot about gratitude during the holiday season. It is the time of year when we adopt families that have holiday wish lists that they cannot fulfill. We provide Thanksgiving dinners to those who face food insecurity. We provide warm clothes to individuals facing homelessness. We make donations on Giving Tuesday to organizations that speak to our hearts.
So, I ask: how can we grasp the gratitude we are so moved by during this time of year, especially after COVID, and use it as a motivation to engage in year-round meaningful service and giving?
When I served on the board of Jewish Volunteer Connection (an agency of The Associated) for several years, I realized how important it was to engage in conversations, while engaging in service, especially with our children. When there is conversation, there is a deeper connection. When there is a deeper connection, there is more impact. And when there is more impact, there is a greater likelihood that people will want to continue the service.
I remember leading a service project several years ago and gathering the kids around me in a semi-circle after we packed over 100 blessing bags. I asked the kids the following questions:
How did our activity help those in need?
Why is it important to give back to our community?
How did you feel doing this project?
What are some other ways we can all help people?
The kids were eager to answer these questions. Some even talked about ways in which they had been helped by friends and family members when they were in need. They remembered how they felt, which in turn, propelled them to then help others in similar ways…an amazing ripple effect.
Although I am no longer on the board of JVC, my family continues to participate in service. It is something we enjoy doing together, and separately. While we were packing “Bunches of Lunches” (paper bag lunches distributed to organizations in Baltimore serving individuals facing food insecurity) this past weekend, we talked about ways in which activities like this and the upcoming JVC Casserole Challenge impact them. My son remembered the first time he gave a blessing bag to someone we passed on the street. He said, “I remember the smile on his face when I gave him the bag and how something so simple made him so happy. I wanted to do more service because seeing that person smile made me feel good and I know it made him feel even better.”
My daughter said, “Service projects help me see what is outside of my own world. I am more aware of how other people’s lives can be impacted when we can help.”
These kinds of responses that are elicited in our children (and us) when we engage in service takes us back to the concept of gratitude. It is impossible not to feel gratitude when these interactions occur, for ALL participants. And when there is gratitude, there is joy. As one of my favorite researchers and authors Brené Brown says, “I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”
So, while you are donating to causes that are near to your heart this holiday season, ask your family questions about the impact of your service. Engage in that ripple effect. Feel your gratitude.
And let’s keep this going all year long.
For more information about ongoing service projects, please visit jvcbaltimore.org.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in our 2021 Charmed Holidays Guide. Photos by Dori Chait.