I GAVE THE BEST PEP talk I could muster, but it didn’t help. Our family of four entered Walmart in solidarity, planning to buy gifts to fill an Operation Christmas Child shoebox. Two of us left early in disarray.
I had to wrestle my screaming two-year-old all the way to the car because she knew only one way to approach the toy department—with herself in mind. Eliza melted down over her refusal to part with a cheap plastic toy. As much as we romanticize the idea of giving, it seems we have a hard time actually doing it.
A growing body of research shows that giving does more for us than spending. It sparks various psychological and physiological benefits, including pleasure, greater sustained happiness and decreased likelihood of depression.
What’s peculiar about such findings is that, even though most of us aren’t surprised to hear that giving makes us happier, we still default to the opposite behavior—and think spending on ourselves will lead to greater satisfaction.
If giving doesn’t come naturally, wouldn’t it make sense to study how to get better at it? How can we get ourselves to give more? The fact is, if our aim is to maximize money’s utility for bettering our lives, then giving is the lever we need to pull.
Unfortunately, I doubt that studying the research—no matter how convincing—will help much. Perhaps logic and reason could sway an open mind seeking to make an informed decision, but it’s powerless against those whose minds are already made up. In the movie Home Alone, I don’t think Kevin McCallister could have changed Harry and Marv’s ways with a detailed presentation on the benefits of giving.
If logic won’t work, perhaps emotion can. Christmas is an emotional time. It is, after all, the season of giving. When we open our hearts and feel a personal connection with those we’re helping, we’re more likely to follow through on our charitable intentions. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we would do well to let Christmas remind us to be more empathetic and grateful people.
But while emotion is a powerful motivator, it’s also fleeting—just as the holiday season comes and goes. Does Christmas really do no more for our giving conundrum than spur some extra kindness and charity during the year’s final month? My contention: If we take the time to explore why we have this thing called Christmas, perhaps we could also change our ways.
Let’s face it, our proclivity toward me-centered living stands in embarrassing contrast to the humility of Jesus, who we’re supposedly celebrating each Dec. 25. The pageantry of Christmas—the stable, the shepherds, the angels, the baby in the manger—is beautiful and sacred, but it’s just one chapter in a grander story. The baby grew up, and he said and did some pretty stunning things, and left the most indelible mark history has ever seen. I’m an apprentice of Jesus, the most extravagant of all givers. Guided by my faith, giving has become a prominent part of my life—and not giving would be difficult.
To me, Christmas means hope that we can become more like Jesus and can revolutionize our giving—and our entire relationship with money—so we can get maximum satisfaction out of it. Whoever you give to this holiday season, I’d encourage you to think about how much joy it gives you, and how much richer your life would be if giving became a 12-month-a-year habit. That way, the warm glow of Christmas can last long after Santa hangs up his red suit—and even long after we box up the Nativity scene.
This article originally appeared on HumbleDollar.com