Nov 23

Why Giving Back Together Brings You Closer, Plus Nine Ways to Do It

Photo Illustration by Katherine Borah

Last December, my fiancé and I were on a mission to find the perfect roller skates for a 9-year-old girl. We didn’t know her, but I’d seen a letter from her asking for the skates. Together, we scoured sporting good shops and toy stores in New York. We geeked out over Amazon reviews. Then, we picked out wrapping paper together. And on the designated day, I brought it into the office for the annual Toys For Tots donation drive.


Buying this gift–and giving back together–felt better than shopping for each other or for ourselves. And of all the presents I gave or was lucky enough to receive that year, the set of roller skates was what stuck with me long after the holidays were over.


The happiness boost

Research reports that participating in charity with a loved one—whether it’s a significant other, family or friends—can bring you closer, says Jen Shang, Ph.D., Professor of Philanthropic Psychology at the University of Plymouth in England. That’s because philanthropy often sparks conversations that make us vulnerable and shows our true selves. “You see that you can make a difference, you start to connect with others in those situations, and you discover a voice that you might not have known you had,” she says. “When done right, giving back together can be a journey in which you discover more deeply who you are as individuals and as a couple, and what it means to be with each other.”


How to start the tradition

If you want to start a holiday giving tradition with your bae or fam, Shang suggests having a conversation about why doing a charity project together is better than doing it separately—or not at all. Just talking about your shared values reinforces your bond and further increases your psychological well-being, she adds. Then, identify a group of people or a cause that you connect with during the holiday season and figure out a way to contribute.


And it doesn’t matter how much money you spend on charity, as long as you all enjoy the activity. If you do, there’s a bigger chance you’ll make it a yearly tradition–which is good for you and the beneficiaries of your service, adds Shang.  


From free to spendy, here are some creative ways to give back together this season:


  • Contact municipal offices and volunteer to clean up a local park, beach or other public space.


  • Volunteer time at the library reading to children.


  • Get a group together and sign up for a holiday 5K where proceeds go towards a good cause.


  • Volunteer together at a soup kitchen or assemble bagged lunches for homeless children or a shelter. Search this directory of homeless shelters near you.


  • Walk dogs for a local animal shelter, or bring them needed supplies.


  • Host a craft night with friends to make blankets or knit scarves for a homeless shelter or children’s hospital.


  • Create food baskets to give to needy families suggested by local organizations. Decorate the package and deliver it together.


  • Find a shelter or community organization accepting donations or a Toys For Tots drive for kids in need. Pick out the present and drop it off together.


  • Assemble a group of friends to sponsor a family to pay for their holiday meals or gifts. Local religious and charitable groups gather personal information from families who need sponsorship, including their clothing sizes and holiday wish lists. Then you can choose one of the families to sponsor.


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