Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men—nice ideas, but who has time? Between traffic-filled trips to the mall and inflating your front-yard Santa, putting the giving in “giving season” can be a chore. But helping others doesn’t have to be a ho-ho hassle. Here are six speedy ways to give back—in less time than it takes to trim your tree.
1. Glance at a stranger
Making eye contact can help people feel more connected to other people, according to research in Psychological Science. Try it at the airport amidst the holiday mobs. You don’t even need to smile, the research showed, though it’s a nice touch. Like putting candy in a stocking.
2. Take a Cindy Lou Hoo-sized view of volunteering
Check out “microvolunteering”—tiny-but-helpful volunteer work that’s usually done online. One of the best-known microvolunteering sites is Sparked.com. To sign up, just indicate your skills and your interests (choices range from animals to the arts to the environment). The UN offers Web-based volunteering opportunities at onlinevolunteering.org, and Catchafire.org matches nonprofits with skilled volunteers for short-term gigs, from bookkeeping to web design.
3. Do absolutely nothing
Your mere presence is important. My wife and I once volunteered in Costa Rica, and the head of the volunteer organization said something that surprised me: In many developing countries, parents will send their kids to school—rather than to work—simply because foreigners are there. So sometimes you make a difference just by showing up.
4. Play games to fight hunger
Go to FreeKibble.com and answer the daily trivia question. It doesn’t matter if your answer is right: either way, the site donates 10 pieces of kibble to help pets at animal shelters. At FreeRice.com, you answer quiz questions on whatever subject you choose, from famous paintings to human anatomy. For every correct answer the site’s sponsors donate 10 grains of rice to the UN World Food Programme. Since its launch in 2007, FreeRice.com has helped feed millions of people in countries like Haiti, Uganda, Cambodia, and Bangladesh.
5. Raise money while surfing the web
Every time you search the internet on GoodSearch.com you help a charity of your choice: The site shares half the revenue it receives from sponsored search advertisers. Other sites that turn clicks into cash includ eGoodDining.com, GoodShop.com, and iGive.com, which donates up to 26 percent of your purchase to charity (and you can shop at over 1,400 stores).
6. Just think about giving
It can motivate you to help others, one study found. When test subjects made journal entries about their experiences giving to others, they acted more generously than subjects who wrote about stuff they’d received. And the more generous we are, the better we feel: Helping others sparks the same brain regions that light up when we experience pleasure.
Ken Budd is the author of The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love, Loss, Fatherhood, Fate, and Singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem. He is giving his earnings from the book to the organizations and places where he volunteered.