By Peggy Edwards, Council on Aging of Ottawa
November and December mark several holidays linked to giving. This includes presents and gifts of money and time to loved ones and neighbours, to charities and good causes, to people and families who are alone or live with low-incomes and to other vulnerable groups.
Older people are especially good at giving. In Canada in 2020, older people were the most likely of all age groups to donate to charities. About $9 out of every $20 came from donors aged 65 and older. Older people give more hours than any other age group to voluntary activities and to caregiving of family and friends.
Older people give and receive gifts from younger generations. They give gifts and practical help to their children and grandchildren all year, including money for education and recreation activities, and to help with housing and caregiving. As teachers, nurturers and historians, elders pass on the gifts of knowledge and cultural traditions. We receive with joy the gifts from younger people such as help with technology or household chores and the sharing of family traditions such as baking and decorating, playing games, physical outings and conversations together—often funny and sometimes sad.
“For older people who are socially isolated or alone, the most important gift is spending time with them, so they feel connected and valued,” says Bonnie Schroeder, director of Age-Friendly Ottawa at the Council on Aging of Ottawa (COA). “This could be sharing a meal, taking the older person out for an excursion, visiting or a call on Facetime or the telephone.”
The Benefits of Giving
Many studies show the benefits of giving—not just for the recipients but for the givers themselves and even entire communities.
- Giving makes you feel happy.Studies show that giving money to someone else lifts participants’ happiness more that spending it on themselves. (True!)
- Giving is good for your health.A wide range of research has linked different forms of generosity to better health, even among those who are sick and very old.
- Giving may help you live longer. Studies have shown that older people who provide practical help and emotional support to friends, relatives, spouses and neighbors or who volunteer for two or more organizations live at least five years longer than those who do not (even after accounting for their age, lifestyle behaviours and general health).
- Giving promotes social connections.Having positive social interactions is central to good mental and physical health. It fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in the community.
- Giving evokes gratitude.Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, a gift can elicit a feeling of gratitude, which is integral to happiness, positivity, health and social bonds.
- Giving is contagious. Giving can spur a ripple effect of generosity through the community. We recently saw this at Thanksgiving when food baskets in grocery stores were overflowing thanks to generous people who gave to others, despite the high cost of food for themselves and their families.
What About Santa?
When it comes to gift giving, the “Santa” conversation is probably one of the most difficult for parents and grandparents. Most experts agree that the key issue is not when to break the news to your (grand)children about Santa’s existence – their childhood friends will probably take care of that—but how to convert the belief in Santa into other expressions of the holiday spirit.
While its exact origins are unknown, one “Santa talk” has continued to show up for years on online forums. It goes like this:
Son: Dad, I think I am old enough to know. Is there a Santa Claus?
Dad: Yes, there is a Santa Claus. But he is not an old man with a beard in a red suit. The truth about Santa is that he is not a person at all; he is an idea. Think of all those presents Santa gave you over the years. I actually bought those myself. It gave me great pleasure to watch you open them. Did it bother me that you didn’t thank me? Of course not! You see Santa Claus is the idea of giving for the sake of giving, without thought of thanks or acknowledgement.
Dad: So now you know, you are part of it. You can be Santa Claus too. That means you can never tell a younger kid the secret and you have to help select Santa presents for them. Most important, you need to look for opportunities to help people. Got it?
Son: I got it. When do I start?
This holiday season, whether you buy gifts, volunteer your time, spend time with someone who is socially isolated, share family traditions or donate money to charity, your giving will make a difference. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself benefiting from a big dose of happiness along the way.
Happy Gift-Giving Season
from the volunteers and staff at the COA!
Marsh, J. and Suttie, J. 5 Ways Giving Is Good for You (2010). Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu
Statistics Canada. Charitable Donors, 2020. www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220412/dq220412d-eng.htm