Hands holding a gift box isolated on black background

Now that we’ve eased into November, the holiday season seems right around the corner. Skeletons and costumes are being boxed up for next year, replaced by Christmas lights and piles of fallen leaves. In the name of cheery holiday spirit, as well as the anticipated ending to our fall semester, it’s time to start redirecting our attention from selfish personal matters to the problems and concerns of others — those who face darkness and trials much greater than our own.

It may seem unusual, but whenever I go through a hard time in my life I turn to serving those in need. This is not because I am a “good person,” or because I need to make up for my sins, but because it is genuinely therapeutic. Putting other people before yourself allows you to redirect your focus and forget all your own issues to realize that they really aren’t as big as they seemed.

Interestingly, I know many anorexics who went to rehabilitation, and something that was included in their recovery was participating in service. A lot of addiction and mental health issues have the unfortunate side effect of pushing those suffering to feel and behave in self-centered ways. The idea is that when you push someone out of their comfort zone and into an environment where they can witness someone who is struggling with something exceptionally difficult, maybe even more so than what they’ve dealt with, they typically start to see outside of themselves and realize that there are bigger problems than their own.

When I was younger I would accompany a charitable organization during Christmas time when its members would go to Walmart. We would bring little kids from the YMCA, and each child would get $100 to spend on their family for gifts. It was one of my all-time favorite things to do. Seeing the kids act enthusiastically selfless, even though they knew they weren’t going to receive very much for Christmas was humbling. Most of the kids ended up purchasing more presents for their siblings than for themselves. They all made sure to get their dad a tool and their mom some jewelry. By the end of each outing, the children would give their “partner” (the adult) a grateful hug after they wrapped their presents. They felt so happy and inspired that they got to give their loved ones presents because, for a lot of kids in similar circumstances, having anything to give was rare. It was absolutely the most rewarding experience.

As we approach the end of our fall semester, and the holiday season grows closer, I am going to ask each of you to consider dedicating some of your holiday break to engaging in a service activity. The end of the semester can be a fairly selfish time period — as it should be. We’re all hustling to cram for finals while trying hard to sleep and avoid putting on that extra winter insulation. When it’s all said and done, and you have the chance to breathe, don’t let your mind wander so much towards what you think you’ll be receiving as gifts.

Think about others, including those who aren’t immediately close to you, like the strangers who may be struggling this chilly holiday season. Not everyone can provide their families with gifts, so, if you have the heart and means, consider doing it for them. Additionally, there are family members who won’t have the opportunity to sit around a table full of loved ones —maybe they’re military stationed overseas — so consider including them in your efforts as well. Putting others before yourself will increase your mental health (which you’ll likely need after wrapping up the semester) while also helping out your community — it’s a win, win. I think that everyone these upcoming holiday’s needs to focus on giving service more frequently and with more effort because it is the best present you can give someone else while likely being the best present you can give yourself.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu 

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