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posted: 11/29/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Giving more than presents this season

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  • Daily Herald file photoGift buying will always be part of the holidays, but there are other, perhaps more important, ways of giving to others.

    Daily Herald file photoGift buying will always be part of the holidays, but there are other, perhaps more important, ways of giving to others.


A week ago, in honor of John F. Kennedy, our editorial asked what each of us has done for our country. Are our actions consistent with the goal of strengthening America? Do we step up and put nation before self when it matters?

Today we revisit that idea but reduce the scope. Keeping JFK's theme of service, consider asking not what you can do for yourself but for others within your reach.

This is, after all, the season of giving, and today is the traditional start. With leftover turkey wrapped and stored in the fridge, thoughts turn to gifts that will be wrapped and placed under the tree. (This year, those thoughts may have started at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, but that's another topic.)

Black Friday is now a holiday of its own in a sense. Instead of going to the office, many people use it to make serious work of their Christmas giving lists. While buying and giving gifts is an important part of the holidays, when this weekend's frenzy subsides, perhaps we can engage in a different kind of generosity -- something that requires more of ourselves than swiping a credit card. It's giving of our time, our energy. Our kind words.

Many already are drawn to such service. Over the past months, concern for others' needs has blossomed into action time after time in the suburbs. Residents helped flooded-out neighbors this summer and tornado victims this month, assembled care packages for troops, attended fundraisers for severely ill friends, served food to the needy, and headed up drives for coats and school supplies. A rich tradition of caring abides.

And it is not without benefits to those who serve. Research shows that acts of kindness create positive feelings within the provider -- not unlike the way showing gratitude can reduce stress, as we stated on Thursday. The feel-good parts of the brain light up, leading over time to better health. It's no wonder some doctors prescribe a regimen of service as a way to combat depression.

"For it is in giving that we receive." St. Francis of Assisi had it figured it out centuries ago. So if humans are geared to respond positively to doing good to others, shouldn't it happen more? Especially in this bustling, most wonderful time of the year?

It can. While it may be daunting to think about organizing a food drive, anyone can be patient as a store clerk figures out a problem with an order. Or pay for the coffee of the person behind you in the drive-through. Or let the other guy have the parking space that just came open.

Make someone smile with a compliment. Sincerely thank people for their help. Listen rather than talk so much. Giving of ourselves starts with a mindset, and it can start small.

This season, find ways to give that you haven't considered before. Activate those endorphins. In the words of one whose life of service began in a humble stable, let your light shine before others.

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