The Season to Give

It is the season to give, is it not? Christmas holiday time is special. I remember as a kid getting gifts from Santa Claus. I do not remember giving gifts as a child. It was fun, but what message do we give to our kids. Giving is the key. It can be contagious. Haven’t you found yourself receiving a small courtesy favor like someone letting you in the grocery line before them, which in turn you pass on this giving of a small gift to someone else, and so on – paying it forward. Isn’t this what the holiday season is all about?

Our Christmas season beliefs and practices exemplify the value of giving. Not only do we give to those who we love, such as family and friends, but to those who are in need. The best holiday time I experienced growing up was when my family decided to give to others rather than each other by distributing food to those in need. Even today, we practice giving to others through our Center for Healthy Aging.  During the entire year we serve and advocate for the Seniors in our community.  During the holiday season we give to specific programs that help make the holiday season just a little better for caregivers and Seniors.  During the month of November, we work with the Caregiver Coalition on their annual Caregiver Recognition Luncheon – we say Thank You to those who care for others and let them know how much we appreciate what they do on a daily basis.  Another way we give back during the holiday season is by volunteering our time and non-profit organization to help with the “Be A Santa To A Senior” giving program.  Home Instead Senior Care, a personal care agency, established the “Be A Santa To A Senior” giving program, where several thousand needy seniors in Northern Nevada get holiday gifts from anonymous individuals or organizations during December. Knocking on a senior’s door and handing them a gift unexpectedly brings tears to all. Tis the season to give back!

It is never too early or too late to learn how to give. If you have young kids or grandkids, have them donate a toy to charity for someone in need. I have a very good friend that gives his grandkids gift certificates for the holidays – with the understanding that the gift certificates are for them to give to others. With your other family members or friends ask them what they are thankful for and then volunteer with them at a local community agency to give back. Simple acts of kindness are impactful.  Smiling as you walk by a person, saying hi to a stranger on the street, opening a door, giving a genuine compliment, or letting the person behind you in the grocery store line check out before you are small acts that can change another person’s day. When that person has the experience and pays it forward – it changes another person’s day.   We all win! “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Sir Winston Churchill.

Giving evokes gratitude and research has found that gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and social bonds. It is also contagious. When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift, we also have a ripple effect of generosity through our community.

November 28th was “Giving Tuesday”, which was a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday; Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

You don’t have to be a billionaire to give. You can give money, but time or emotional support can be just as powerful. Kahlil Gibran, the prophet said ‘It is when you give of yourself that you truly give’.  Gratitude is one of the best ways to develop personal health. Giving develops healthy relationships and families, and involvement in your community.  By giving one enhances compassion and supports others sense of belonging and acceptance. Giving gives hope and love! If you want to give your time and energy by volunteering, the Center for Healthy Aging has several programs that can help. Call us!

As I have mentioned many times before in my articles, giving influences us in many ways, especially giving us good feelings. These good feelings are reflected in our biology. In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a ‘warm glow’ effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the ‘helpers high’.

During last year’s holiday, I watched a news brief about a Secret Santa in Kansas City.  The private donor was giving away $100,000 in $100 bills. He had done it himself in past years, but, last year he wanted to spread the giving high.  He chose to work with the local sheriff’s office because of all the bad press peace officers had been getting. He gave $100 bills to the deputies to randomly distribute to people in the community. The result brought tears to all those who received the money. Certainly giving away money is only available to a select few, but what a great example of sharing the giving experience and giving unconditionally to bring happiness to the Officer’s and the recipients, and all those that experienced the news brief.

Even though the holiday season seems to be hectic and complex, many things can be achieved though giving. If we focus on the real important aspects of our lives and never stop doing the little things that are important to others such as telling them that you love them, giving a hug, or simply sharing a smile, then those little simple things will occupy the biggest part of our hearts and those that receive the ‘gift’.

Given this and the fact that giving has been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone (also released during sex and breast feeding) that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others, what better way to add life to years’ and years to life.

Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is in November and it is the time of year to give thanks. Unfortunately, our world is experiencing major traumas with hurricanes, floods, fires, and mass shootings. How can we be thankful with all this death and destruction? We are also experiencing more common and vocal hatred and prejudice be it race, religion, and sex. This behavior is manifesting itself publicly from the top down and we are being bombarded by it in the news every day. I have friends that cannot watch or listen to the news because of all the negativity and hatred that is being expressed. I, on the other hand, want to hear it, so that maybe I can understand the behavior. It appears that we are reverting back to the 1930’s as a prejudicial society. What can be done?


Despite the highest standard of living in the history of humanity, our generation seems driven by an insatiable desire for more, better and faster. Just when we should feel most satisfied, we find ourselves bored and disillusioned. The problem is not that things are so bad, but that we have lost a gift called gratitude. Even though we may stuff ourselves at the dinner table on Thanksgiving, celebrating Thanksgiving and being thankful can actually make us healthier. Recent research has shown that being thankful improves our physical and emotional health. Holding on to feelings of thankfulness boosts our immune system and increases blood supply to our heart. Daily guided exercises of giving thanks or the habit of keeping a weekly gratitude journal can increase our alertness, enthusiasm, and energy, and improve our sleep. People who describe themselves as feeling grateful tend to suffer less stress and depression than the rest of the population. Cultivating a spirit of thankfulness honors and strengthens our relationships with other people. We can’t be in a right relationship with anyone without a spirit of thankfulness.


Being thankful or gratitude also serves to reinforce future behavior in benefactors. For example, one experiment found that customers of a jewelry store who were called and thanked showed a subsequent 70% increase in purchases. In comparison, customers who were called and told about a sale showed only a 30% increase in purchases, and customers who were not called at all did not show an increase (Carey, J. R.,, 1976). In another study, regular patrons of a restaurant gave bigger tips when servers wrote “Thank you” on their checks (Rind, B., & Bordia, P., 1995).


According to Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Several research studies have shown the positive relationship between gratitude and increased wellbeing not only for the individual but for all people involved. In addition, there is research that has shown people who were more grateful coped better with life transitions. Specifically, people who were more grateful before the transition were less stressed, less depressed, and more satisfied with their relationships three months later. Gratitude has been said to have one of the strongest links with mental health of any character trait. Numerous studies suggest that grateful people are more likely to have higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress and depression.


Thankful people appreciate what they have instead of obsessing over what they lack. They express gratitude to others, and often receive more gratitude in return as a result. They see each day as a new opportunity for happiness, rather than another challenge to struggle through. Here is a couple of suggestions on being thankful:


  • Be thankful in the moment;
  • Give back as part of giving thanks;
  • Tell someone you appreciate them;
  • Talk about gratitude with family;
  • Make a point to say ‘thank you’ regularly;
  • Send thank you notes in addition to texts and emails.


Grateful? Write it down. Think about it. Talk about it. Tis the season of thanking, and not only will you spread those positive vibes to those around you, your health will benefit, too. You can pay it forward and pay it to you. For those who tend to be more Grinch like than grateful, there’s some hard evidence that might make you want to turn that frown upside down. A positive outlook and feelings of thankfulness can have a direct and beneficial effect on the brain and body. The brain’s primary reward chemical is called dopamine. Many good and bad things happen every day, but the real benefit comes when we focus our attention on those positive things. If we focus on the bad things, we don’t get the neurotransmitter release of the dopamine that allows us to feel good. The brain doesn’t know the difference when it’s reacting to reality, fiction or even past events. So feel thankful for things whether they are real or not and that will have a positive effect on your mood and emotional well-being, what better way to add life to years.”


Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.

Navigating health care:  Senior Health Advocate Volunteer Program The Senior Health Advocate Volunteer (SHAV) program, which I have written about in past articles, has developed a trained volunteer advocate base that provides elders and their caregivers information and education about appropriate local community resources available to them to meet their needs and promote healthy, independent, active and safe lifestyles.  This activity meets the Reno Senior Citizen Advisory Committee strategic plan goals and objectives relating to eliminating information gaps for seniors and caregivers and improving access to senior-related information to improve health outcomes. In addition, the SHAV program works to identify and develop partnerships, health advocacy programs, and financial sponsorships to support senior services that promote healthy, independent, active and safe lifestyles as well as increase volunteer opportunities for education and advocacy by and for elders. It especially helps elders advocate for their own health and wellness as well as help their peers secure the appropriate and timely services and programs that are needed.

We have found through county and city strategic planning processes that not knowing what services are available, contact information, eligibility requirements, and costs are tremendous inhibitors of obtaining the appropriate services for seniors. Our goal is to empower elders with the tools, educate, and train elders and their caregivers about services available. When the services are not available, help develop alternative methods to make them available and affordable to meet their needs. In order to accomplish this we have built partnerships with community organizations to seek resources to meet the ever increasing senior service needs.

The dominate needs of elders in our community include developing untapped resources that can be mined for senior services such as a volunteer base that can provide for multiple needs. Such identified needs as transportation, socialization, healthy behaviors and activities, educating seniors about available resources, and expand programs, facilities, and personnel to meet those needs can be achieved through the SHAV program. The SHAV program advocates for enhanced services to meet the ever increasing needs of our growing senior population and educate them as to what currently exists. The SHAV enhances communication, educates the elder in need about the available senior resources, provides tools to determine service eligibility, and educational methods for improving health and wellness.

Senior Health Advocacy services promotes the health, dignity, rights and quality of life of seniors and disabled, services that make a difference in people’s lives. In previous Senior Spectrum articles I have introduced the Senior Health Advocate program that we now provide through AmeriCorps VISTA support. The services that are provided at no cost by trained volunteers (Senior Health Advocates) make a significant difference in people’s lives. This program is also supported by the City of Reno Senior Citizens Advisory Committee, Truckee Meadows Park Foundation, and the national AmeriCorps VISTA program.

An example of the SHAV impact comes from the lack of information by adult children who care for their aging parent and many elders themselves. They wished they had known about the many resources/services that are available in the community. It’s typical that people don’t seek out information about services until there is some crisis and something is needed.  Adult children caregivers become emotionally drained about what to do with mom or dad who are losing capacity when there simply aren’t funds to care for them when they have to work and can’t leave them alone. Some have lost time at work, especially when they can’t afford a professional caregiver or have other family or friends available to help. Our SHAV was able to steer them towards the Resource Brochure and discussed options like the Washoe County Senior Center’s daybreak daycare and other local volunteer companion programs such as the Senior Outreach Services or the local Seniors in Service program, which can provide some respite.  In other cases, family caregivers have made similar comments about not knowing there are resources for respite – some didn’t know that respite is “a break for the caregiver”.  They didn’t know that they could take mom or dad to an assisted living facility for a few days or a week, or have a caregiver for a period of time and, at no cost in many cases.  The Senior Health Advocate volunteer role is to help inform, educate, and empower to minimize cases like these.


Our SHAV’s help facilitate the elder to become aware of their overall health, needs, and available resources.  Programs of similar intent around the country have found that the initial assessment is usually completed in the elder’s home through several individual tools that the elders use themselves to determine what services are needed.  From the information gathered in the interview and use of the tools, recommendations of services can be made.  Each person’s service recommendations are unique and individualized.  Education and review of conditions and services is an ongoing process, so the SHAV’s can provide short term help to see the elder through a crisis or long term help by acting as an ongoing advocate for multiple issues.


The SHAV looks beyond the obvious needs of elders to become advocates for their physical, mental and emotional well-being. Whether one is faced with a new diagnosis, recent surgery or hospitalization, chronic health problem or a long-term illness, the advocate program can provide educated information about services and compassionate support. Communication is critical and ongoing.  The Senior Health Advocate will keep in contact with the elder, their caregiver, and the family and stay up to date on a regular and continual basis.  Communication is frequently provided by phone or in person.

The work the Senior Health Advocate Volunteer does is important to the health and well-being of the elders in our community.   So if you or you know someone that wants to volunteer in helping their peers, please refer them to me.  What better way to “add life to years”.

 Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.