Be Present


‘TIS THE SEASON for giving, which likely means you have a long, long to-do list. So many traditions to keep, presents to buy, friends to see, parties to attend, decorations to put up, sweets to make, travels to plan and other holiday demands. The giving season can quickly exhaust and overwhelm.


In fact, the holidays can be downright brutal for anyone struggling with depression, grief or other emotional stress. So it’s vital to pay special attention to loved ones and take note of any signs that all is not well. This month’s feature story on the latest findings about suicide makes the need for doing that very clear.


We hope you find our gift guide, giving guide and other recommendations helpful for alleviating some seasonal stress. There are many ways to navigate the giving season, and one rewarding approach is this: give first to the neediest, and schedule time with the ones you hold most dear.


Wouldn’t you like more love, less stuff? Unless they are children, excited by the anticipation of surprises from Santa, your loved ones likely feel the same way. They will shine brighter as you pause to spend quality time with them instead of spending lots of time elsewhere purchasing piles of presents.


I learned about giving to those who need it most through my own experience. By the time my kids reached their teens, I could summon no enthusiasm for holiday shopping. So I went shopping for the homeless instead.


Purchasing new coats, hats and mittens and delivering them to homeless shelters with my family on Christmas Eve substantially improved my holiday mood every year and became a cherished family tradition.


Creating space in a packed holiday schedule helped too — giving us more time to just be and be together. More laughter usually ensued as well.


What are your favorite holiday memories? We’ll bet they also have more to do with people and unexpected laughter than with perfectly planned and executed activities.


For some reason, my favorites revolve around my children and fire. Feeding fires in a fireplace. Playing with candles and a few fire-related accidents. One of my kids lit the minister’s program on fire during the “Silent Night” hymn candle-lighting at a Christmas Eve beach service. He came perilously close to igniting the minister too.


After delivering winter outerwear to the homeless, I always feel better about sitting my family down to a spectacularly decorated table for a formal Christmas Eve dinner. One year, I forgot to put the ceramic fondue pots in their metal casings. Soon after I placed them above the direct flames, they exploded — spewing melted cheese over the table and my dressed-up family. Our gasps quickly turned to giggles as we sopped the cheese right off the table with our bread cubes. We hope that your to-do list doesn’t eclipse your ability to pause and be present and that you can give the gift of your loving presence to the ones you hold most dear.


I’m always in search of new inspiration to navigate the holidays. If you have favorite ideas for activities, please share them. And please know, your attention is a great gift to me.


Susan B. Noyes is the founder and chief visionary officer of Make It Better Media Group, as well as the founder of Make It Better Foundation’s Philanthropy Awards. A mother of six, former Sidley Austin labor lawyer and U.S. Congressional aide, passionate philanthropist and intuitive connector, she has served on the boards of the Poetry Foundation, Harvard University Graduate School of Education Visiting Committee, American Red Cross, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Annenberg Challenge, Chicago Public Education Fund, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New Trier High School District 203 and her beloved Kenilworth Union Church. Most of all, she enjoys serving others, creating virtuous circles that amplify social impact for all.