12 Practical Ways to Give Thanks


November 8, 2022

When you’re thankful for all that you have in your life, it overflows in service to others. Because sometimes, giving is the best way to show your gratitude.

In giving back, you help other people. You also benefit yourself. Studies show that being a giver can make a positive difference in your own health.

If you’re ready to give thanks by giving back, here are 12 ideas to get you started.

#1) Make a give-back grab bag.

Start by brainstorming a list of generous things you could do for others. If you have a spouse or family, get them involved, too. Ideas include:

  • Baking cookies for neighbors
  • Adding to a micropantry or a little free library
  • Dropping off coats and gloves at a homeless shelter
  • Picking up trash
  • Calling an elderly relative
  • Paying for someone else’s fast food
  • Making cards for nursing home residents

This list isn’t exhaustive. Get creative and think of ways you could improve the situation for your friends, neighbors and community. 

Write each idea on a slip of paper. Fold the papers and put them in a small gift bag. On evenings when you have extra time, have your kids draw a paper from the bag. Make that idea your mission for the evening or the upcoming weekend.

#2) Write thank-yous.

Charities and service organizations often receive donations. Sending thank-you notes is a good practice, but when staff and volunteers are stretched thin, it may fall through the cracks.

To help out a charity of your choice, you could offer to send handwritten notes to donors. The recipients will appreciate the personal touch. They may even be more motivated to keep giving.

#3) Play a kindness game.

To motivate a group of people to be givers, issue a challenge. See how many kindness activities they can check off of a bingo-style grid. You could issue the challenge for one day, a week or the entire month of November.

TeamBuilding offers a kindness game template that’s designed for the workplace. You can adapt the ideas to apply to other groups as well. Try doing this challenge with different groups of people, like your family, your book club or your volunteer team.

#4) Gather donations all month.

One day of giving is good. Spreading your generosity out over an entire month may be even better. In doing so, you’ll build a habit of blessing others.

For example, make a plan for collecting non-perishable food items. Each day, you’ll track down a different item and add it to your collection box. At the end of the month, your box will be ready for drop-off at a local food pantry.

Passionate Penny Pincher has a day-by-day list of donation items to get you started. You can do this activity in your immediate family or ask others to get involved. Think about recruiting participants from your workplace, your kids’ school or your religious community.

#5) Serve a meal.

Volunteering at a soup kitchen is a traditional holiday activity for many people. Even if you’ve never done it before, you may want to start this year. The practice of serving people a meal can help you recognize the good things in your own life.

Community kitchens aren’t the only place to serve food, though. Try:

  • Ordering lunch for the teachers at a local school
  • Providing hearty snacks for your town’s emergency workers
  • Serving dinner to mourners after a funeral
  • Preparing party food for long-term care residents
  • Blessing single parents with grocery or restaurant gift cards

#6) Organize donations.

Groups that accept donations from the community may need behind-the-scenes help. That need may be especially pronounced after donation drives. Whether a group is collecting non-perishable food items, holiday toys, winter coats or used clothes, someone will need to sort through the donations.

Put your organizational skills to work for a group near you. Check with food pantries, homeless shelters or thrift stores to ask how you can help.

#7) Become a gift wrapper.

When charities hold gift drives, the gifts may arrive unwrapped. If you’re handy with scissors and tape, then put those skills to use by offering to wrap donated gifts. Check with local kids’ clubs, prison ministries or nursing homes to see if they need wrapping volunteers.

Also, some groups host wrapping days as fundraisers. Busy shoppers bring their packages to be wrapped. In exchange, they make donations to the group’s cause. You may be able to join one of those events — or plan one of your own!

#8) Declutter and donate.

Many people join decluttering challenges around the holidays. Some have you clear out one item a day or increase the number of items throughout the month. Others focus on cleaning one area of your house at a time.

Whichever method you choose, make a plan for where to unload the items you no longer need. When your focus is on generosity and giving, then you’ll want to donate as much of the stuff as possible. To help, The Spruce offers a free donation guide. This resource provides suggestions on where to donate linens, books, furniture and more.

#9) Become a virtual volunteer.

Fitting service projects into a busy schedule can be a challenge. Fortunately, thanks to technology, some organizations let you volunteer from wherever you are.

Be My Eyes is a group that serves people with vision impairment. As a volunteer, you can take calls from people who need the benefit of your eyes. During video chats, you may read product labels or select outfits for the person on the other end of the call. To get started, download the organization’s app.

#10) Put together a family memory book.

Giving often starts at home. This holiday season, think about serving your family by assembling a collection of memories. By putting work into it now, you can capture your family’s history before it’s too late. Your project could even become a treasured heirloom for years to come.

Ask extended family members to share stories or photos of past holiday celebrations. Then compile their memories into a bound collection. On-demand photo printing services make it easy to produce a copy of this book for each household.

#11) Bake for others.

They say that food is the way to a person’s heart, so it’s no surprise that the gift of a homemade treat can brighten someone’s day. You can whip up a batch of tasty treats for people who could use some cheer.

For inspiration, check out Spread the Bread. This organization offers tips for scouting troops and anyone else who’d like to bless others with home-baked gifts. You can even try a spin-off project, Spread the Biscuits, to provide homemade pet treats.

#12) Give blood.

An hour of your time could be all that it takes to save someone’s life. The American Red Cross and other blood-donation organizations are always looking for willing donors. Each time you give blood, you could be helping up to three people.

Use the Red Cross’ website to find a blood drive in your area. If you want to take your giving to the next level, check out the guide to hosting a blood drive.

Doing good for others releases feel-good chemicals in your brain. Over time, that can lead to lower rates of mental health disorders. It also reduces stress and increases your overall satisfaction with life.

Being a giver can improve your physical health, too. For instance, people who volunteer have been shown to have lower blood pressure. Studies even show that dedicated volunteering can increase your lifespan. 

You don’t have to give back only during the holidays, either. Take some time to establish the habit now so you can show your gratitude throughout the year.

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