At the beginning of the year, a friend and mentor of mine, Dave Rich, shared an incredible idea he had implemented with his family. Each Sunday, he would hold a family meeting and each family member would share their gratitude--specifically, one thing that they did for another family member and one thing that another family member did for them. This ensured that each week, the entire family would share their gratitude with one another.

I loved this idea and immediately implemented it. But we went one step further. We had been giving our two young boys an allowance, but at the beginning of the year, we decided to up their allowance so that we could influence what they were doing with their money. Each week, they would divide their allowance into three parts: 1) for spending, 2) for saving, and 3) for giving. In this way, a third of their allowance would teach them to be responsible spenders, another third would show them how saving even a small amount consistently would quickly grow in their bank account, and the final third would allow them to give to the cause of their choice.

Giving thanks and sustaining life. 
This was another wonderful conversation with our children. With so many wonderful charities in need of our support, which should we give to? My grandmother was a life-long supporter of Heifer International. While there are many organizations dedicated to ending hunger and poverty, Heifer International always impressed my grandmother (and me) because it was an organization dedicated to empowering people to change their lives rather than making them dependent on financial subsidies.

But what was particularly impressive to our family was Heifer's Life Changing Animals Gift Catalogue, which allowed us to choose specific animals we could give to families in need. While we donated in the past as a family, I can't tell you how happy I was to see my youngest son choose a "Flock of Hope" last month and pay with it from his "giving" account. My oldest son is still saving up for a "Heifer" and has been making great progress.

How money does, indeed, buy happiness.
The point is not what, specifically, you should be giving this year, but the act itself. In Michael Norton's TED Talk, he demonstrates how money does, indeed, buy happiness--as long as you don't spend that money on yourself. If you haven't watched this one, I encourage you to spend the 11 minutes and see the compelling data on "the many ways pro-social spending can benefit you, your work, and (of course) other people."

It turns out that when we spend money on other people, our level of happiness goes up measurably more than when we spend the same money on ourselves. Think about it. For the amount of money you spend on dinner out, you can substantially reduce and in some cases even end hunger for a family. Which has a more lasting impact on your life?

Another favorite charity of mine is Charity Water. Today, an estimated 663 million people live without clean water. For just $30, you can bring clean water to one person in need. According to their website, "Every $1 invested in improved water supply and sanitation can yield from $4 to $12 for the local economy, depending on the type of project." We're now in peak giving season. Between the holidays and the end of the year tax deductions, this is the prime giving season. But what most people don't realize is how much your gift is helping you, the giver.

The secret to living is giving, says Tony Robbins.
Tony Robbins spends a lot of time speaking about "The Secret to Living Is Giving" at all of his events, his books, and audio materials and I couldn't agree with him more. From his blog:

No matter how busy or broke you may be, you have something to offer others. So many people miss the opportunity to know that their life makes a difference--but it does. Your life matters--and if you align yourself to be congruent with the truth that you're here not just to "get" but to give, then other people will feel your authenticity and they will open up to you.

The act of contribution is one of the surefire ways to feel great about yourself. I realize, of course, this is not why people give, but how many miserable givers do you know? People who give willingly of themselves are some of the happiest people I know. It doesn't have to be money. You can give of your time. My mother-in-law has been working at the Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN) serving the hungry and homeless in Long Island for the past 30 years and she's one of the happiest and pleasant women I know. She started when she was teaching kindergarten and spent even more time when she retired.

Whether you help your local community or support the needs across the globe, to truly live a full and complete life, make sure you are giving of yourself; especially this holiday season.