This article is adapted from this AARP Friends & Family Blog article.

New research shows that you likely helped someone this year…and even if it was a small gesture, it likely made a big difference.  A recent survey by OptionB.org, a nonprofit organization that promotes resiliency founded by Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandburg, found that a whopping 90% of people reported doing something during 2020 that helped support others. Given the challenges of 2020, this news isn’t surprising but is warmly reassuring that empathy and kindness is still out there.

The survey results found that adults of all ages helped each other in unprecedented ways this year.

  • 90 percent of those surveyed said they supported others by doing things like texting, calling, sending a care package, helping with errands or chores, or simply acknowledging someone’s struggles and validating their feelings.
  • 62 percent said they gave more of this type of support to others than they had in previous years.
  • 80 percent said they received support from someone this year—and many said the kindness came from people they hadn’t expected.

The survey showed that even small acts of kindness were meaningful and with a year so full of struggles, the survey also found that these acts of kindness were essential.  Supporting others can lift your own spirits, Rachel Thomas, CEO of OptionB.org says. “A really powerful way to build your own resilience, and your own sense of well-being, is to actually show up for others,”  Seventy percent of those surveyed said they felt better able to handle new challenges in the future because of the hardships they faced this year.  With so many of us facing the same challenges as our neighbors, “people are sharing what’s going on with each other in ways they haven’t before,” Thomas says. That “creates a sense of shared understanding and shared empathy.”

5 ways you can support others (and yourself) this holiday season:

1. Instead of asking if you can “do anything,” just do something. If someone you love is struggling, don’t wait for them to tell you how you can help. A simple gesture, like mailing a card, leaving groceries on the person’s porch or unexpectedly shoveling their driveway can change someone’s day. You’re not requiring them to ask for any particular kind of help, so you’re not putting any burden on them.

2. Change up your holiday greeting. For many people, “Happy holidays!” will ring hollow this year. It can be more compassionate (and real) to say something that acknowledges the holiday and this year’s challenges. The OptionB.org team suggests trying something like “I’m thinking of you this holiday season” or “How are you feeling with the holidays coming up?” Thomas’s favorite phrase lately is this: “I hope you find some moments of joy this holiday season.”

3. Help people by taking care of their loved ones. This might mean dropping off a box of books and toys for a friend’s kids or grandkids, or helping them assemble a care package for someone they’ve been worried about. These acts can go a long way toward showing a friend or family member that you’re on their team.

4. Make plans for next year. Positive anticipation is great for lifting spirits. Talk with your loved one about something you’re excited to do together in 2021, and put a date on your calendars even if it’s tentative. Having something to look forward to will make it easier to get through hard moments during the holidays this year.

5. Don’t try to pour from an empty cup. We have to take care of ourselves in order to show up for others. So make time for activities you enjoy and try writing in a journal as a way to process your own feelings about the holidays this year.