By Laura Schroff
Author of An Invisible Thread
The holidays are the time of year when we count our many blessings—but they should also be a time when we focus on those who are far less fortunate. I’m not saying we shouldn’t throw parties and buy presents and cook big dinners and otherwise revel in the joy of being with our wonderful families and friends—I certainly do all those things. But we should also make time to truly think about and appreciate how lucky we are, and to more profoundly connect with our own humanity by reaching out a helping hand to someone in need.
Here’s a handful of ways you can make a real impact during the holidays:
Don’t be a superhero. Most of us don’t have superpowers—and we don’t need them to make a real difference. Realize that you don’t have to sign over your life savings and solve world hunger to become a difference-maker—the smallest act of kindness can have the most far-reaching effects. So start with the understanding that any act of genuine kindness can be its own miracle.
VIDEO: Watch the book trailer for An Invisible Thread
Open your heart—and your eyes. Most of us don’t have to look very far to find someone who needs a helping hand; usually, they’re right there in our paths. But we can be so caught up in our own routines and chores that we don’t always notice what’s right in front of us. When I first saw Maurice panhandling on a Manhattan street corner in 1986, I walked right by him—just like thousands of other people did. But then I stopped and thought about what he said to me—”I am hungry”—and I went back and took him to lunch. I really looked at him and really listened to him, and once I did those things it became impossible for me to walk away without helping him. So make it a point to open your eyes and really look around you, and you’ll see the world in a totally different, and more rewarding, way.
Your money is great, but your time can be more valuable. There are many generous people who donate lots of money to worthy causes, and that’s a wonderful thing. But sometimes volunteering our time can be a much more powerful gesture. I could have given Maurice a couple of bucks and called it day—instead, I took him to lunch and talked to him about his life. Think about it: the way we can tell someone cares about us is by how much time and attention they give us. So find someone who needs care and attention—an underprivileged family, a down-on-his-luck neighbor, even a lonely relative—and share a little of yourself with them. The power of honest human interaction can change lives.
Pick a cause that matters to you. When I met Maurice, I was 36 years old and had no children. But having children, and a family, was by far the most important goal of my life. So reaching out to help Maurice became very personal for me; it felt like something I was meant to do. Dig around in your heart and decide what really matters to you, and let that be your guide in figuring out how to make a difference. Elderly people in nursing homes, victims of abuse, vulnerable children, animals in need—think about the issues that most resonate with you, and you’ll be able to make a more meaningful connection with someone who could use a hand.
Brace yourself for the best gift ever. The great hidden secret of human charity is that it isn’t charity at all—everything we do to help someone boomerangs right back to us ten times over. People always tell me that Maurice was lucky to have met me, and I always correct them and say, “No, I was the lucky one.” You see, opening your heart and helping someone brings you a special kind of joy—it’s unlike any other feeling in the world. So if you truly want to experience some holiday magic this year, look for a way to make a difference in someone’s life.