It doesn’t seem possible that December is upon us. Yet here we are, barely recovered from our Thanksgiving food coma and we’re catapulting into the holiday season. As we rush to find the perfect gift for everyone on our list, a time of the year that should be filled with joy too often becomes overshadowed by stress, overspending, and exhaustion.

If you’re craving a better holiday giving experience, it may be worth ditching the annual shopping frenzy and giving a gift from the heart.

  1. THE GIFT OF EXPERIENCE

    A recent study found that shared experiences make people a lot happier than material possessions do. They also reduce the clutter of unwanted gifts. Some ideas: give a certificate for cooking lessons, movie or concert tickets, a museum or science center membership or any outdoor activity. The point is something that will allow the recipient to spend time with you or others.

    The experience may just be your time. Make a special effort to show loved ones and others that you care. Visit an elderly relative, invite a friend or neighbor to lunch, take your kids for an evening ride to enjoy the holiday decorations in your community.

  2. THE GIFT OF CHARITY

    One way to show how much someone means to you is to make a charitable donation in his or her name. You could support a local cause that is dear to your special person or give to an organization with global reach. Not sure which charity to choose? Organizations such as Charity Navigator or Charity Watch provide objective ratings that help you see which nonprofits maximize the contributions they receive.

  3. Shared experiences contribute far more to our overall happiness than material things.
  4. THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE

    One of the most powerful gifts you can give is also one of the simplest — saying thanks to the people who make a difference in our lives every day. Write a special note to a loved one. Tape warm gloves or a water bottle to the lid of your garbage can for your trash collector. Leave a homemade treat in your mailbox as a surprise for your mail carrier. Bring a box of donuts or a pizza to your local police station. A simple act of kindness can go a long way toward showing the appreciation you feel all year long.

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