There’s an obvious secret to living a happy life embedded in the magic of Christmas— it’s easy to overlook.

The question of, “What do you want for Christmas?” is on so many people’s lips right now. The desire to find the perfect gift as an offering of our love and care and makes us feel good.

Our family has a competition each year to give the gift that brings the greatest tears of happiness. Everyone waits with bated-breath and curious smiles to see who wins the prize for the year. We’ve had many memorable years of gift-giving.

One of the most powerful gifts I ever received was held in a simple envelope. I knew something was up when the entire family stopped what they were doing, with expectant smiles on their faces, to watch me open it.

The whole family was in on the surprise that had been carefully been crafted by my husband’s hands. Inside the envelope was a home-made jigsaw puzzle.

Feeling the pressure of the many eyes watching me, I endeavoured, and failed, to guess what the gift was by examining the individual puzzle pieces. I made some pretty wild-guesses and everyone laughed and returned me to my project.

Tears of joy flooded my being as I came to recognize the significance of the many pieces assembled. Even though I’ll never touch or see the physical gift, this gift would change lives of people far across the world, and it changed mine too.

My husband had purchased a donkey, in my name, to be gifted to a village in Ghana as part of UBC Okanagan’s Project GROW initiative. I was moved at depth in learning the importance of donkeys to the life of a village. There was nothing I wanted more for Christmas.

Rural villages depend on donkeys and carts that serve as delivery trucks, market transport, ambulances, the energy behind the ploughs and so much more. These beasts of burden are shared among villages, and without their aid women must physically pack and transport everything, leading to injuries and undue stress to their bodies.

I was privileged to name our donkey Mike in honour of my deceased brother. He had the biggest heart and worked so hard in his life and I knew he’d love it. Even all these years later I smile at the awareness of the difference Mike the donkey makes to a whole village in Ghana.

We’ve continued in this manner for years now contributing to local needs as well as purchasing goats and participating in a Secret Santa campaign in Kenya. It’s moving to realize the donations to this program mean children are fed and educated, having greater possibility to lead a better life. I love knowing 100% of funds raised go directly to the recipients.

Last year, we included our grandchildren in the giving by sponsoring children in their name. It helped them understand the privileged lives they have and that extending our good to the less privileged makes an important difference. It helps them not take for granted what they have and know the importance of charitable giving.

I still love to give and receive traditional Christmas gifts but the greatest gifts for me have been those gifts I’ll never see, yet know others’ lives have been better for them.

We feel good when we give gifts that matter, and in this, does the secret rest. In a world of getting, the secret to feeling good is not so much in what we get, but in what we can give.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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