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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
December 2017
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Senior Spectrum Publications

Adding Life to Years
by Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss
Center for Healthy Aging

The Season to Give 

Dr. Lawrence J. Weiss
Larry Weiss

It is the season to give, is it not? Christmas holiday time is special. I remember as a kid getting gifts from Santa Claus. I do not remember giving gifts as a child. It was fun, but what message do we give to our kids. Giving is the key. It can be contagious. Haven’t you found yourself receiving a small courtesy favor like someone letting you in the grocery line before them, which in turn you pass on this giving of a small gift to someone else, and so on – paying it forward. Isn’t this what the holiday season is all about?

Our Christmas season beliefs and practices exemplify the value of giving. Not only do we give to those who we love, such as family and friends, but to those who are in need. The best holiday time I experienced growing up was when my family decided to give to others rather than each other by distributing food to those in need. Even today, we practice giving to others through our Center for Healthy Aging. During the entire year we serve and advocate for the Seniors in our community. During the holiday season we give to specific programs that help make the holiday season just a little better for caregivers and Seniors. During the month of November, we work with the Caregiver Coalition on their annual Caregiver Recognition Luncheon – we say Thank You to those who care for others and let them know how much we appreciate what they do on a daily basis. Another way we give back during the holiday season is by volunteering our time and nonprofit organization to help with the “Be A Santa To A Senior” giving program. Home Instead Senior Care, a personal care agency, established the “Be A Santa To A Senior” giving program, where several thousand needy seniors in Northern Nevada get holiday gifts from anonymous individuals or organizations during December. Knocking on a senior’s door and handing them a gift unexpectedly brings tears to all. Tis the season to give back!

It is never too early or too late to learn how to give. If you have young kids or grandkids, have them donate a toy to charity for someone in need. I have a very good friend that gives his grandkids gift certificates for the holidays – with the understanding that the gift certificates are for them to give to others.With your other family members or friends ask them what they are thankful for and then volunteer with them at a local community agency to give back. Simple acts of kindness are impactful. Smiling as you walk by a person, saying hi to a stranger on the street, opening a door, giving a genuine compliment, or letting the person behind you in the grocery store line check out before you are small acts that can change another person’s day. When that person has the experience and pays it forward – it changes another person’s day. We all win! “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Sir Winston Churchill.

Giving evokes gratitude and research has found that gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and social bonds. It is also contagious. When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift, we also have a ripple effect of generosity through our community. November 28th was “Giving Tuesday”, which was a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday; Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and endofyear giving.

You don’t have to be a billionaire to give. You can give money, but time or emotional support can be just as powerful. Kahlil Gibran, the prophet said “It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” Gratitude is one of the best ways to develop personal health. Giving develops healthy relationships and families, and involvement in your community. By giving one enhances compassion and supports others sense of belonging and acceptance. Giving gives hope and love! If you want to give your time and energy by volunteering, the Center for Healthy Aging has several programs that can help. Call us!

As I have mentioned many times before in my articles, giving influences us in many ways, especially giving us good feelings. These good feelings are reflected in our biology. In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”

During last year’s holiday, I watched a news brief about a ‘Secret Santa’ in Kansas City. The private donor was giving away $100,000 in $100 bills. He had done it himself in past years, but, last year he wanted to spread the giving high. He chose to work with the local sheriff’s office because of all the bad press peace officers had been getting. He gave $100 bills to the deputies to randomly distribute to people in the community. The result brought tears to all those who received the money. Certainly giving away money is only available to a select few, but what a great example of sharing the giving experience and giving unconditionally to bring happiness to the Officer’s and the recipients, and all those that experienced the news brief.

Even though the holiday season seems to be hectic and complex, many things can be achieved though giving. If we focus on the real important aspects of our lives and never stop doing the little things that are important to others such as telling them that you love them, giving a hug, or simply sharing a smile, then those little sim ple things will occupy the biggest part of our hearts and those that receive the “gift”.

Given this and the fact that giving has been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone (also released during sex and breast feeding) that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others, what better way to “add life to years” and years to life.

Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at larry@addinglifetoyears.com or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.