Stories from Dr. Yukari, Story 50, White Envelope Christmas

[ Stories from Dr. Yukari ]

Guided by the hope of St. Nichiren, we continue to work towards a peaceful society. Honolulu Myohoji Mission collaborates with Psychologist Dr. Yukari Kunisue, a trained and experienced therapeutic life coach, to offer a safe online space: Stories from Dr. Yukari

While people in Hawaii wear aloha shirts and boardshorts during the holidays, they still show their holiday spirit by decorating and preparing holiday gifts under a “tropical” Christmas tree. The on-going pandemic did not stop busy mall-goers from doing their shopping along with the flood of online orders arriving at our front doors. 

In Nancy Gavin’s house, preparing holiday decorations and giving gifts to their three children was a common custom but her husband Mike was never happy with the commercialized aspect of this worldwide holiday. He would openly announce, “I do not like Christmas season!” Due to his general distaste of the holiday season, Nancy has been looking for ways to satisfy her husband’s desire to have a Christmas without the commercial aspect while still making sure she doesn’t disappoint the children. One year, she decided to try something new.

Nancy’s 13-year-old son was a member of the wrestling team at his middle school. During the wrestling season, there was a match where several schools visited her son’s school. Nancy noticed that students from one of the schools participated without any safety gear. It is also important to note that their school was known to be one of the poorer districts in the city. Neither the parents or the school could afford the costly safety gear. When pinned down, their bare knees slam onto the gym floor. Without their helmets, students are also prone to get more injuries. Despite the lack of safety gear, the students worked very hard. On the other hand, her son and his peers all wore shiny new helmets to their matches. Nancy then had the bright idea to purchase wrestling helmets for the other team. She paid a visit to the store and asked them to send it to the school anonymously. 

On Christmas day of that year, there was a single envelope on their tree addressed to the kids from Santa. Inside the envelope contained a letter with a brief description on what gifts were sent out to the school. Her husband Mike loved the gift and smiled to his family after reading the letter. He reflected on the new gear the kids were wearing during their wrestling matches. 

After a year goes by, Mike finds another white envelope on their tree. This time, the description explained how money was sent out to children at a local mental hospital for an ice hockey championship. The following year, the gift was sent out to a neighborhood family who lost their house from a fire. Their gifts, while never too big, was always carefully selected and sent out to the most needed while staying within their budget. The children eagerly awaited where the gifts were sent out to every Christmas. This became a new family tradition for the Gavin family. 

Few years later, Mike fell ill and passed away shortly after. That year, Nancy found three white envelopes under the tree. Her three children found a good deed on their own. This year, they became Santa in hopes of improving their mother’s extinguished spirit. Even after the children left home, they continued this tradition year after year. 

Soon enough, people caught word of the family tradition and many began their own white envelope gifts during the Christmas season. From this, Giving 101: White Envelope Project started as a charity. While it is not a large multi-million-dollar charity, it is all about small scale giving that is done with both thought and love. Sometimes, the small amount we can offer is more than enough.

The story of the White Envelope reminded me of a book by Dr. Michael Norton, a Harvard Professor in Business Administration titled How to Buy a Happiness. He asks questions on whether one can buy happiness with money. He says that our belief that one cannot buy happiness with money is not always accurate. He conducted research in Canada, Uganda and in the USA. The team gave $20 worth of local cash to participants to spend the money any way they wanted as long as they use it by 5PM that day. Some of the participants went directly to Starbucks to buy a drink for themselves or for others. Others even bought a small gift for their family or gave it to homeless people. 

The research team asked participants whether or not they felt any different with their level of happiness. The results in fact showed that using the money for someone else had a positive effect on their happiness level. Those who spent the money on themselves did not experience a big change in their happiness level. In Uganda, a participant bumped into an acquaintance who was struggling to pay off hospital bills. While $20 in the US may not go very far, it can be a significant amount in other countries. This participant in fact showed the greatest level of satisfaction and happiness.

In Buddhism, Alms giving or offering is considered an important deed. We cannot go out to a mall to buy happiness but we can “buy” happiness with our time, labor, compassion, warm smiles, and a swipe of a credit card. When we give, we indeed receive in return. We are often led to think that happiness is NOT possessions or experiences, but it is sharing what we have with others. 

Let us think about one thing we can share during this upcoming holiday season, especially while many of us are still feeling the misfortunes that come from natural disasters or an on-going pandemic.


NOTE: Thank you for reading my blog every week. The weekly blogging ends with this article, but I will continue posting once a month starting January 2022. Please continue to read and give feedback.