Culture in Mind

Mental health, culture, and ethnicity

Alternative Gifting on Valentine's Day

Share your love with the world

Valentine's Day is less than 24 hours away and I know this because my email inbox is filled with advertisements and discounts for flowers and chocolates and jewelry and even doubling and tripling emiles for purchasing such items. From what they tell me, I can indeed buy love - or at least expressions of it - in our increasingly materialistic society. Trying to find the 'right' gift can even involve specialist shoppers who get the 'perfect' something. Valentine's Day love is demonstrated through sparkly things, sweet things, smelly things and sexy things, but it may be worthwhile to show your love be saving and supporting human lives. You can give love anytime and there is not much of an impression to be made by the laziness of flowers, sweets, and bling. However, you can make an impression with Alternative Gifting.

There are 3 goals to #Alternativegifting

  1. Have people donate time or money to a worthy cause in the name of their beloved, in addition to, or instead of, the usual candy, blnig, flowers routine.
  2. Have people show their love for the world by giving to the world.
  3. Have people connect with organizations that are changing the world.

The Business of Love

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Valentine's Day is big business for card companies, airlines, jewelry stores, flower shops, restaurants, alcohol..... and the list goes on. According to The National Retailer's Association, the average American spent ~$125 on Valentine's Day in 2012 which was the highest in the 10 years they have been tracking this data, and that was 8.5% on the year before.  Totals spending was predicted to be ~$17 billion. The most popular gifts are: flowers ($1.8b), candy ($1.5b), clothing ($1.4b), greeting cards ($1.1b), and peple spend $3.5b on going out. WIth so any unhappy couples it is clear that money can't buy love. Perhaps it's time for a change of strategy.

For $25 you can lend to a woman to buy fertilizer for her crop to increase yield to feed her family and generate income. For $25 you can help Water.org prevent one of one of the three children that die every minute from a water-borne illness.

Alternative Gifting: The Whys and Whats

Alternative giving is giving that does not follow tradition but creates positive externalities. In giving to a charity about which you have passion or to a part of the world where you feel connected, you can give a gift to a family, a woman, a community in any other part of the world to honor the love that you share in your part of the world. Giving also makes us feel good and makes the recipient feel cared about. When your heart is full of love you want to share it with the world. So find someone or somewhere in the world to share it with.

You can give in Canada or you can give in Kenya. Mississippi or Mozambique. South Carolina or South Africa. Give where your heart is. If you are passionate about education donate books or help build a school. If you think everyone deserves clean water then help pay for a well or a toilet. If you believe strongly in girls then find a project that supports their development. If human rights is your issue then donate there. But give of your heart in a way that goes beyond the usual card, candy, cut blooms routine. 

Some of my favorite charities where giving a little goes a long way are: Kiva, Water.org, Oxfam, and Heifer International, Red Cross, Amnesty Inernational. Whatever your favorites are give of your heart and share your the love between you and your beloved with a world that really needs it. These are just a few of my favorite charities. And remember you can go local wherever you are.

Choosing the Gift That's Right

Only you can decide what organization you want to benefit in honor of your love and your life together. Perhaps you can decide together and make it an annual ritual to show your love for each other and the community around you. If you have children it would be a great way for them to show real love that goes beyond the dozens of little paper valentines they feel compelled to write for their class. Perhaps they can write a letter to a decision-maker about something they care about instead. Or they could mobilize their class to send a gift of love to other children anywhere in their local or global community.

Valentine's Day may be one of the most stressful holidays because everyone wants to make the right impression. Make a splash by #AlternativeGifting and showing your love for the world and your beloved at the same time. Who wouldn't be impressed by that?

Show your love, have an impact, make a difference.

Ruth C. White, Ph.D., M.S.W., and M.P.H., is the author of Bipolar 101 and is an associate clinical professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. 

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