Why You Should Go Gift-Less This Holiday Season

Four tips on giving without gifting.

We’ve all done it — gotten to the bottom of our holiday shopping list and realized this whole gift-giving situation is out of control. For me, the epiphany came last year when I was traveling to the Jets-Cowboys game. It was six days before Christmas and I was stressed out trying to find a gift for my best friend Carla’s dog. Seriously, I was shopping for a dog. Carla doesn’t even like the dog.

That’s when I realized I had ceased being a giver and had become a meaningless ‘gifter.’ So this year, I’m putting down the wrapping paper and stepping away from the Amazon packages. Here are 5 ideas on how to give more this holiday season by going gift-less:

Write a hand-written letter to a friend, co-worker or family member.
Tell them how much you still laugh over a funny story from years back, or what they’ve meant to you this past year. It’s funny, I’m a journalist, but I can’t remember the last time I wrote a heart-felt letter to my grandfather who I’m lucky to still have with me at 84 years-old. I bet he’d like to hear that, and it would sure beat the Omaha Steak order I was considering. Even in the digital age, there’s still something powerful about receiving something in your mailbox, rather than your inbox.

Give someone your undistracted time and attention.
Legendary sportscaster Craig Sager lost his battle to cancer last week. In his final interview he said, “Every day is just a canvas waiting to be painted.” When I woke up the morning after his death, I asked myself, “How should I paint my canvas today?” The faces of my three small children appeared as my first strokes. That night I made a point to turn off my phone and give my true, undivided attention to each of them. So what if they missed their bedtime? We laughed, played games that required imagination (and not a password) and had great conversations. I felt joy I hadn’t felt in a while just by listening to their thoughts. It made me wonder, why do we wait until death to value time? It’s such a gift we have today, and there isn’t a scooter or Xbox in the world that can replace being mentally present for your kids or people you love.

Have people over for dinner.
Cooking skills not up to par with Bobby Flay? No sweat. This holiday gathering is about the company and not the food. Instead of buying a neighbor or co-worker a cheesy ornament, why not set an extra plate for them on a random Tuesday? Two weeks ago I was putting up my tree when my co-worker who’s going through a divorce popped into my head. I slapped some extra spaghetti noodles in the pot and invited him over last minute. He got a kick out of my attempted Martha Stewart moment but was so happy to join us. We sat at the table for a long time after eating and more importantly, we laughed. It brought me back to my childhood where my big fat Greek family always opened our home to friends. Food truly can feed the soul.

Perform a random act of connection.
Choose someone who you interact with every single day, but don’t really connect with. Do something nice for them. Offer your elderly neighbor a lift to the senior center. Tell the chef at your work cafeteria how his friendly smile and amazing turkey burger brighten your day. Strike up a conversation with the woman at the gym you’re always too busy to get to know. Pay attention to not only how they react but how positively you feel afterward by re-connecting with mankind.

Material gifts will always have their place for special people in our lives. But when it seems giving has become an obligatory burden, why not change it up? Giving instead of gifting will leave us all feeling centered, fulfilled and happier heading into the New Year.

Amber Theoharis is an Emmy Award winning sports journalist and host for NFL Network.