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Volunteers distributing food and drinks to migrants in conjunction with Giving Tuesday celebration at Malmo train station in Sweden in 2016. REUTERS PIC
Volunteers distributing food and drinks to migrants in conjunction with Giving Tuesday celebration at Malmo train station in Sweden in 2016. REUTERS PIC

DECK the halls, or should I say, “Deck the Malls?” Shopping centres are overdoing one another again this year.

Reindeer, sleighs, evergreen trees and general Yuletide merriment are everywhere. But what does it all mean, really? Is this festive season about buying, or should it be about giving?

Traditionally, the end of November marks the beginning of a long string of celebrations chasing one another. Thankfully, Thanksgiving hasn’t quite taken hold in Malaysia as much as it has on other shores. I say thankfully, not because I am not thankful for all that I have, but because Black Friday follows on its heels.

I appreciate a good bargain as much as anybody else. In fact, I purchased the very laptop on which this article was written at a discounted rate on Black Friday last year. Having confessed to this, I do find it a little disturbing that we should feel the need to invade retail outlets and fight over a good deal for items we want, the very morning after we celebrated being thankful for all that we already have. And since Black Friday isn’t going to disappear any time soon, best not pretend the night before, I reckon.

I don’t weep over the almost non-existing tradition of Thanksgiving in Malaysia, and I can’t exactly embrace Black Friday either. And do I even need to get into Cyber Monday? I do, however, regret the absence of another, poorly known celebration called Giving Tuesday.

The official Giving Tuesday website, states, “#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fuelled by the power of social media and collaboration.

It is celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the United States) and the widely recognised shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

It’s a simple idea. Whether you come together with your family, your community, your company or your organisation, find a way to give back.

A simple idea indeed, unfortunately, not one that has enjoyed too much media coverage, social or otherwise, this past week. Instead, we have jumped right into the next retail extravaganza — Christmas at the shopping mall.

Too bad we overlooked Giving Tuesday. According to a study published in Time Magazine, scientists in a Swiss university have discovered that the mere thought of giving and being generous towards others makes us happy. In other words, it turns out that altruism triggers an enhanced activity in the parts of our brain responsible for happiness.

But there is more good news. Our mental glee switch gets turned on regardless of the amount of good we plan on doing at any given time. Bringing coffee to our co-worker in the morning seems to be as exalting as buying our spouse a luxury car. What is true for the giver might not be quite the same for the receiver of course, but that’s beside the point.

Fact is that, giving can be as effective at reducing high blood pressure as medication or exercise. The study’s lead author Philippe Tobler, associate professor of neuroeconomics and social neuroscience says that, “there is a positive association between helping others and life expectancy”.

But let’s get back to the extravagantly decorated malls around town. Look at the displays in the shop windows and the hotel reception areas downtown. What do you see between the sparkling gold and all the fake snow? Right, gift boxes under the tree, wrapped in glittering paper with a fancy ribbon on top. And most of us wonder what might be inside, what we might be getting this year.

How about wondering what we might put inside these nice boxes for others instead? How about celebrating Giving Tuesday next week, since we missed it last week? How about celebrating Giving Tuesday every week?

So go ahead and deck the halls, rejoice in all the festive joy, but don’t forget to bring your co-worker coffee. Happy giving, everybody.

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The writer is a long-term expatriate, a restless traveller, an observer of the human condition and unapologetically insubordinate

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