Contrary to popular belief, December is not a peak season for depression. Rather, it is a time when many people reach out to one another as they celebrate the season. Unfortunately, while the holidays are a time for giving, many people associate holiday shopping with the commercialization of important values.

However, research seems to indicate that giving is about far more than consumerism. Several studies have shown that giving may be linked to increased happiness. In a three-part study reported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia found that study participants who spent money on someone else were happier than those who spent money on themselves. Dr. Dunn also compared the income, spending, and happiness data of a group of employees who received bonuses with the same data from 632 people spread throughout the United States. The findings were similar. People who spent the most on others appeared to be happiest, rather than those who received larger bonuses or had higher incomes.

Another study co-authored by Dr. Lara Aknin found that even toddlers are happier when they are giving than when they are receiving. What's more, toddlers displayed greatest happiness when giving involved personal sacrifice - giving up one of their own treats, rather than a treat provided spontaneously by the researcher.

This research offers a lesson to take to heart: Holiday giving doesn't have to be about shopping. You can come up with unique ways to give back to your family and your community. You'll be celebrating the spirit of the season - and you may find that your spirits are brighter too.

Volunteer as a Family

Volunteering is a win-win. It's beneficial for those you help and for yourself. Why not multiply this positive feeling by volunteering as a family? The holiday season offers many opportunities for volunteering. You could serve food at a soup kitchen, deliver treats to housebound neighbors, or visit the elderly at a senior citizens center. Talk to your kids about the options, and choose something that everyone can take part in. Many families enjoy being involved in canned food drives. Consider organizing a holiday food drive in your neighborhood. You can get your kids involved with helping to make fliers about the event and helping to pack up food to take to a local food bank.

Create a Community Gift Basket

They say charity begins at home--so get your family involved in giving locally. Consider creating a gift basket or donation box for people in your community. Neighborhood community centers and religious organizations, like churches, temples, or mosques, are often aware of local families in need of support. Many of these organizations even run events to gather meals or gifts for families who would otherwise go without. Find out how to get involved, and enlist your kids to be Santa's helpers. You can help ensure that another family gets to experience some of the holiday joy that you share with your loved ones.

Donate to Charity

Short on time? Even if you can't find space in your schedule for volunteering, you can still participate in the giving spirit of the holidays. Better yet, you can get your kids involved too. Consider giving your kids the opportunity to donate goods or money to a child-focused charity. Find a list of local, national, or global children's charities online, and explain to your child how each one benefits other children. If your kids are old enough, let them do the research on their own. Once your kids have chosen a charity to support, you can give them a small amount to donate or support them in fund-raising on their own, such as by door-to-door caroling.

Put It in Practice: It's Better to Give

Research has confirmed what you might have already known in your heart: The best gift is to give to others. Boost your happiness this season and find ways to give in your own community. Whether you decide to volunteer or make a donation, it's easy to get the whole family involved. You'll be teaching your children an important lesson about the meaning of giving, and you may put smiles on their faces too.