First Things First: Secret Santa strikes again

Julie Baumgardner

You have probably seen stories in years past about the Secret Santa who travels the country, randomly handing out $100 bills just before Christmas. This year, he landed in Phoenix, Arizona, and enlisted some help from a homeless man named Moses to carry out his task.

Moses enthusiastically agreed to help Secret Santa give away $3,000, deciding that anybody who actually noticed him would receive a gift of $100. Many recipients were complete strangers, like Danny McCoy, a father of seven children. Danny put some change in Moses' change cup even though he didn't know how he was going to provide Christmas presents for his own children.

In addition to the strangers, Moses gave a man from his church $400. He gave $500 to a homeless mother of five as well.

Moses also received a Secret Santa gift that he described as a new beginning for his own life. Despite being homeless and receiving the gift, he said it felt so good to give to others.

"Kindness is a bridge between all people," said the Secret Santa. "If you are ever down and you want to lift yourself up, go do something kind for somebody."

Lee Schoenherr, owner of FloraCraft in Michigan, is a not-so-Secret Santa. When he told his employees he will be giving out nearly $4 million in bonuses to full-time workers, his announcement was met with applause and cheers.

"My wife, Joan, and I are blessed in so many ways. We want to share these blessings with the men and women whose energy, passion and loyalty inspire us every day," said Schoenherr in a USA Today interview. "A few years ago, I began thinking that I would like to do something more targeted for our employees, who really are the heart and soul of FloraCraft."

There truly is something magical and actually chemical about the feeling you get when you give to others.

According to a U.S. News and World Report article, "What Giving Does to Your Brain and Life Expectancy," studies have consistently shown that giving makes people feel good as the body responds by producing "happiness" chemicals such as dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. Selfless actions like volunteering or donating money can help to decrease the risk and symptoms of depression and stress. One study even found that giving time and assistance to others also reduced the mortality risk tied to stress, a known risk factor for many chronic diseases.

Another study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that volunteerism reduced mortality rates more than exercising four times weekly and attending church regularly, which is also linked to improved mental health and a longer life. People who volunteered for two or more causes had a 63 percent lower mortality rate than those who didn't volunteer during the study period.

Many believe it is better to give than to receive, and the research seems to confirm that giving in various forms contributes to our well-being. It has been said that giving is good for the soul, but it turns out that it is not just good in December. In fact, there's plenty of evidence that giving is good all year long.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at