I love the holidays.
And like you, I’m doing double time right now so I’m able to take a few days between Christmas and New Year's Day to slow down and enjoy the season. It’s a wonderful time to reflect on the year coming to an end and prepare for the one around the bend.
Yet as much as I love stretching out in front of the fire with a good book and warm cup of coffee, that’s not what the holidays are really about. More and more each year, I understand their greatest gift.
This year and each holiday season, we have the opportunity to take stock of our blessings. And beyond that, the peace that comes from sharing them with others is ours to claim.
I’ve got a lot for which to be thankful.
More than anything this holiday, I’m grateful for my family. Joe is having a great high school senior year, Maggie is an outstanding sophomore and Tom, a fifth grader, is never outdone by his older siblings. Kate completed her master of social work earlier this year and is building a successful therapy practice, and our parents, siblings, nieces and nephews live nearby. We enjoy our frequent time together.
I’m also grateful for friendships. There are too many to name here, yet I realize as the years march on that recent and longtime friendships should be cherished equally. Kate and I are thankful for the friends we’ve made together, just as we’re grateful for the childhood and college friends who continue to bless our lives.
And I'm thankful for my job. More and more, I understand the unique opportunity I have to be part of a profession that helps organizations bring out the best in others for the benefit of us all. Whether guiding a nonprofit raising money to help constituents meet basic living needs, strengthening a community center’s programs through philanthropic growth or helping a university raise scholarship dollars to extend education to more people, fundraisers have a challenging yet fulfilling charge.
But to me, Neal Maxwell – the late leader of churches, universities and corporations – summed up the greatest opportunity the holidays provide. He said "we should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count."
The holidays are about reflecting on what’s good in our lives. They also provide an opportunity to inventory our blessings and plan how we’ll share them in the coming year.
We can share gifts of time, talent and treasure. And even small amounts of volunteerism and philanthropy make a difference in others’ lives – and in our own.
In 2009, the Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington D.C. found that giving strengthens our hearts. According to its research, individuals with coronary disease who volunteer after suffering heart attacks report reduced despair and depression, which drives down mortality. The results were found in individuals who volunteer fewer than two hours a week, or just 100 hours a year.
I’m looking forward to the holiday season and all it brings. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I’m going to take time to review my blessings and decide how I’ll share them with others in 2014.
I think I’ll do it in front of the fire with a warm cup of coffee.
How about you?
Matt Beem is president and chief executive officer of Hartsook Companies, an international fundraising consulting firm. He lives in Independence.