Part 3: 29 Ideas To Inspire More Gratitude (and Joy!) in the World + Ideas for Artsy Christmas Gifts

To celebrate the season of “Thanks Giving,” Engage Art is offering a four-part series on Gratitude. In part 1, we delved into the scientific ways that gratitude is good! In part 2, we laid out three super-effective exercises to increase your appreciation. In this article, we explore how to spread the love (joy and gratitude) around! Our final part of the series will discuss some ways to integrate gratitude into your art practice.

How to Spread Gratitude

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24

One of the best ways to bring joy and gratitude into your own life is to bring joy into someone else’s. Here are some ideas about how to do that in three categories: Random Acts of Kindness; Targeted Acts of Kindness; and Be Kind to Artists this Holiday Season. What? You think one of these things is not like the others? Keep reading.

Random Acts of Kindness

By definition, random acts of kindness are often spontaneous, and the giver is less concerned with who the recipient is than with the act of giving itself. These random acts can become habits. Some examples:

  • Smile
  • Say “thank you”
  • Hold the door
  • Let someone cut in front of you in line or take the best parking spot.
  • Give a compliment or a few words of encouragement
  • Be flexible and patient in a situation that doesn’t warrant it.
  • Help someone struggling (with their shopping bags, an elevator, etc.)
  • Donate nice things you no longer need to a place that will find a good home for them (battered women’s shelter, cold weather shelter, welfare to work program, winter coat project, etc.)
  • Give up your seat (in the doctor’s office, on the bus, etc.) so someone else can sit down.
  • Let someone merge in traffic.
  • Offer directions to someone who looks lost.
  • Pay for a “suspended coffee”—you pay for the coffee, the establishment tacks a notecard on a bulletin board used for this purpose, and when someone comes in who can’t afford a cuppa or who left their wallet at home, they “pay” with your note.
  • Organize a drive for people in need (school supplies, clothes, food, etc.). Make sure to partner with an organization that has a suitable distribution method.
  • Put coins in an expired meter or pay for a couple of hours on the parking meter when you’re ready to leave.
  • Give out cold water bottles to people working outside on a hot day.
  • Consider how your body could help someone else—give blood, become an organ donor, participate in a charity walk or run. This gesture could be symbolically powerful around Easter when we consider the sacrifices Jesus made for us.

Targeted Acts of Kindness

Kindness becomes a little more personal when you target who you are helping. Would this sort of giving feel more potent for you?

  • Spend time with people (probably digitally for now!). Listen to them, laugh with them. Call for no reason. Don’t be in a hurry.
  • Make amends.
  • Prepare food for someone. Deliver a home-cooked dinner to someone who is ill. Bake a cake for a new neighbor. Take a plate of brownies or their favorite dish to someone you know is feeling down.
  • Prepare ziplock bags of food and travel-size toiletries to give to homeless people. Warm socks are also a much-requested item. Keep the bags in your car to offer (at a social distance!) to someone down on their luck.
  • Write a letter or send a card. It can be short (I’ve been thinking about what a good example and gracious person you are) or a full-length letter full of news and pictures and old memories.
  • Do a chore for a family member or friend.
  • Be on time.
  • Give a small gift that you make or find that reminds you of that person.
  • Pass along an article or book that made you think of them.
  • Donate vacation or sick days to a colleague who needs them.
  • Attend a play or game that your friend’s child is in.
  • Mentor someone and share your knowledge freely.
  • Help a neighbor by doing for them what you’re already doing for yourself—scrape off their windshield, shovel their walk, mow their grass, etc.

Buy Art, Perhaps Locally, and Spread It Around

One group of people—a very targeted and talented subset—is particularly dear to us at Engage Art—Artists. They often live on the edges of the economy and can be the first to have their incomes dry up. This year has been tough for many of them. Even Broadway will be closed for more than a year, and Carnegie Hall is silent. Almost nobody is visiting museums or galleries. Theaters—both the live and movie kind—are dark. Opera and ballet seasons are canceled, as are art fairs, craft shows, concerts, plays, and live music usually played in restaurants on the weekends. The global pandemic has silenced the arts at almost every level.

When you purchase art directly from its maker, it is an exchange of goodwill that is likely to provide a reason for gratitude in the artist, in you, and in the recipient if you gift it. If you buy from a local artist, there is the potential added benefit of meeting the maker and knowing you are supporting someone working in your own community. Supporting artists is a very targeted act of kindness that could have an outsized impact by helping our creative class make it through this challenging time.

Another place to find cool art gifts is by looking through the Engage Art Gallery. Many artists include their website addresses or other places you can find and purchase their work. I personally have my eye on some fantastic $20 posters I found this way.

So instead of a tie or unwanted calories, consider buying art for the people on your Christmas list. There is art that is appropriate for almost anyone:

  • a handmade mug or a handmade rug
  • a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry, new bag, or wearable art
  • a phone message written by a comedian or performed by an actor
  • the story of their life, to be written by a playwright or author
  • a piece of art to hang on the wall or stand on a table
  • online one-on-one entertainment for a child (by actors over zoom) to give the parents some time off
  • a music performance to be prepared this winter and performed in the open air in Spring.
  • a song, written and recorded just for them
  • their favorite saying or Scripture in calligraphy

Pro tip: Most visual artists are happy to have you purchase something from their inventory and pay for it in installments. When we were newly married, my husband and I paid $25 a month for a very long time to acquire a piece of art we still enjoy.

This post is about spreading opportunities for more people to feel more gratitude far and wide. When you act as a catalyst to bring appreciation and joy to others, the focus should be on them, of course, not yourself.

That said, there are plenty of benefits that come back to you when you bring joy to others. To highlight one example of how powerful this practice can be, consider writing a letter once a week expressing gratitude to someone. After three months of writing letters, a study at Indiana University found “profound” and “long-lasting” changes in the brain. Participants found it easier to notice the good in their lives, a characteristic that bodes well for long-term resilient happiness. (abstract at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2674658)

If you’ve missed them, there are three other parts to this blog series:

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