Giving Happiness

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If you have ever vowed to handcraft your holiday gifts only to run out of time or patience or imagination and give in to buying the shiny, pretty things that line store shelves, you are not alone. But you might want to persevere in your intention to make your own gifts this year, because buying store-bought gifts may do more harm than good. In addition to creating waste, using natural resources, and perpetuating the cycle of consumerism, material gifts aren't likely to further the receiver's true happiness. "Happiness gained on this earth through the enjoyment of desired objects is not even one-sixteenth of the happiness caused by the cessation of desire," says Matt Huish, a yoga instructor in Portland, Oregon, quoting Vyasa's commentary on the Yoga Sutra. This cessation of desire, he adds, is reached only through satisfaction in the self.

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So this Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanza, stick to your plan to renounce materialism and make a stab at a homemade gift, treating those you love to something much more meaningful. Craft a poem or letter singing their praises, bake their favorite cookies or a loaf of banana bread, or knit them a scarf or sweater. Or you could donate money to a charity in their name or create homemade coupons good for massages, baby-sitting, or some quality time together. If your friends are into plants, make them a window box for flowers or give them a starter seed kit for growing herbs indoors. Don't limit yourself to friends, either. If you give gifts to officemates, surprise them with homemade goodies as well. Consider asking your loved ones to go the homemade route too. You all will be doing much more than giving a gift—you will be promoting true happiness.

Linda Knittel is a nutritional anthropologist and freelance writer in Portland. She is the author of Soy Sensation (McGraw Hill, 2001).