Be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi
This was my college’s motto when I went there and it has always stuck, persistent in the back of my mind. I don’t always live up to it, but it’s always there, nagging at me to be a better version of myself. These days, the change I wish to see is kindness. It is love. It is openness. It is positivity. It is love.
As one person, I can only do so much. Even then, most of my actions cannot be on a big scale because I am but one person, with limited (albeit generous) resources. That said, my world can be made better is small, but important, ways and the kindness, love, openness, and positivity I want to see in the world can be spread like ripples on the surface of water. Many days, my small actions feel adequate and sometimes even good. Those are happy days. Other days, it feels like my small actions are too small to make any difference at all. On those days, I have to take care of myself and wait for the next day, hoping that it will be better, and having faith that consistent effort over time means more than just that one (or two or three) bad days.
Recently, I’ve had some bad days between being physically sick from a bad cold to being emotionally sick from what’s happening in our world. As a result, I have compiled a list of little ways that we can all make the world a little better and a little brighter. Hopefully these little things will cause some ripples that spread out.
Ways to Brighten Your Personal World
Smile – this first thing is the simplest and easiest way to make the world a little better. Smiling helps you out by making you happier (even pretending to smile will boost your happiness) and it makes other people happier. Happiness is contagious. If you smile at someone – even at the grocery store, a traffic light, or over the phone, that someone will react and experience a small mood boost.
Give someone a hug – I don’t mean a little shoulder pat. I mean a good hug, where you tightly hold on to the other person, whether it’s for 1 second of 30 seconds. This one may be because I’m a hugger, but giving someone a hug has always made both of us feel better (except for one friend I have who hates hugging, but she’s the only one). Hugging may be so good because the physical contact releases oxytocin in our brains, which has so many benefits.
Send your friends a happy text message – it doesn’t have to be much, just so long as you send a friend or two happy text message reminding them that they’re awesome (which they are).
Call your mom – it will make her day. You know it will, especially if you rarely see her. If you don’t feel like you have time during the day, give her a call while you’re driving (as long as it’s hands-free). If she asks why you’re calling, tell her that you just wanted to say hi and that you love her. This will really make her day.
Call your grandma – same thing as your mom, calling your grandma will make her day. If she’s anything like my grandma, she’ll start telling stories and you’ll learn something about her, your grandpa, and/or your parents.
Call your siblings – just to say hi and you love them.
End personal phone calls with “I love you” – I make a point to end every call with my parents, sister, cousins, and good friends with, “I love you” because I mean it and want to remind them. Everybody almost always responds (my dad sometimes just grunts because he’s not very emotional) and it’s such a nice way to end a phone call.
Write thank you notes – they don’t have to be complicated at all. All you have to say is, “Dear [insert name], You are so kind to get/give me [insert whatever they gave you, whether it’s a tangible gift or time]. It was/is wonderful. I really enjoy[ed] [insert what you liked about their gift]. Thank you so much! Sincerely/Love, [your name]”. If you don’t have much else to say, write big. If you don’t have any thank you notes, throw some in your cart the next time you go to the store or are shopping on Amazon. Even a thank you email is better than no note at all.
Write ‘just because’ notes – this is a bonus way to make the world better and everybody loves receiving mail! Chances are, you probably have a postcard or some blank notecards lying around. Write out a short note to someone – it can be as short as “Dear [insert name], Thinking of you and hoping things are going well. Sincerely/Love, [your name]”.
Read differing opinions – chances are that there are opinions and lives out that different from your own, whether you are liberal or conservative, Christian or Jew or Muslim or Buddhist or atheist, urban or country, rich or poor, college-educated or school of life, single or married, parent or childless, white or black or brown, straight or gay or somewhere in between (or outside), American or Chinese. You would probably benefit from being more open-minded and learning about those differing opinions or lives. It is highly likely that some of those opinions will be uncomfortable (to put it mildly), but that doesn’t inherently mean they’re wrong. If you’re white, consider reading The Root. If you’re Christian, consider reading books about Judaism and Islam. If you’re conservative, consider reading one or two liberal news sources. If you’re American, sign up for a foreign news source. The last 3 examples can also be reversed. Don’t react or respond, just absorb and acknowledge that your point of view is not necessarily the only one. Yes, it can be incredibly hard not to react or respond, but the point is to learn for yourself.
Don’t comment on controversial topics on social media – this last one can be particularly hard, but can also avoid sending out the wrong kind of ripples. Think about it – have you EVER seen a politically-motivated comment on social media that was particularly constructive? I sure haven’t. My rule is that if I agree with something, I ‘like’ it. If I disagree, I scroll past it without clicking or commenting on it. This saves everyone involved a lot of heartache.
Ways to Help the Environment
Recycle (and rinse off any food containers) – our landfills get enough stuff thrown in them and so much of our refuse can be recycled. Many municipalities have recycling centers and are even collecting recycling now. So, even if your town doesn’t collect recycling with the trash, you can often store it up and drop it off – it usually only takes a few minutes of your time. When you do recycle, please take a few minutes to rinse off any food containers. Leftover food can become smelly, moldy, incredibly disgusting, and attract wildlife, so just take a few minutes to rinse stuff off. At work, you can save your paper recycling in an old box under your desk. If you end up with a recyclable container at work, take it home and recycle it there. All those plastic bags (no, not just the bags you carry out of the store, I mean the ones that hold your cereal and tortillas) can be recycled together. Goodwill accepts styrofoam recycling at their donation centers, so save your styrofoam and put it with your Goodwill donations.
Pick up trash – picking up trash is a bit more effort, but still relatively easy. All you need is a plastic bag and 15 minutes. My office building is right next to some fast food restaurants, a motel, and a grocery store, so there is always trash around. In the afternoons, I will take a 15-minute walk to get some sun and stretch my legs, and every now and then will bring along an empty Walmart bag. In 15 minutes, I will fill up the bag and know that a little bit of trash has been diverted from the oceans. It’s truly a small effort, but it has added up to a LOT of bags over time. Yes, picking up trash can be a little gross, so I also wear a latex glove – you can buy them on Amazon and at any drugstore/pharmacy (get ones that properly fit your hands because nobody wants to wear an oversize latex glove – remember, it’s the little things).
Go to a farmer’s market/Buy local – these two things go together pretty well. At farmers markets and local stores, those people have gone through a lot of effort to start a business and you can help support them. This helps the local economy, reduces transportation costs (for the food), and helps you be involved in your community.
Ways to Brighten Lives
Donate $5 to an organization – If you want to help but are short on time, consider donating some money. There are a lot of really good organizations out there that desperately need money and will happily accept yours. If you don’t know where to donate, consider some of my favorites:
- Heifer International
- Your local humane society
- A local blood bank
Tip an extra $0.25, $1, $5 – you can probably spare an extra bit of change and it’s nice to give a little something extra to a hard working waiter or waitress.
Donate blood – Not everybody can donate blood, but it is so rewarding. You can donate blood every 8 weeks and it takes approximately an hour of your time. If donating blood makes you feel queasy, drink LOTS of water. I mean A LOT of water, especially a large glass about 20-30 minutes before you donate. It makes you feel better during and afterward, speeds up the donating time, and is generally good for you. Plus, you get to eat a little extra over the next 24 hours after you donate. The biggest plus is that you can literally save someone’s life. Isn’t saving someone’s life worth an hour of your time?
Become a bone marrow donor – it is so simple to sign up to be a bone marrow donor! This is a slightly bigger commitment than donating blood if you match with someone, but it could potentially be so much more rewarding.
Be an organ donor – the next time you renew your driver’s license, check the box to be an organ donor. This doesn’t affect your day to day life, but could ultimately make a difference in someone else’s life. If you choose this, then please share this with your family so that they may respect your wishes.
Volunteer – this world-brightening option can take as much or as little time as you have. In my case, I volunteer 1 hour of my time each month to pick up food from 2 Starbucks and a grocery store and drop it off at the local homeless shelter. Thankfully, this was set up for me by a coworker, but you can find something yourself. If you have a few hours on a weekend, consider spending a Saturday morning with Habitat for Humanity or Rebuilding Together. Or if you love animals, email or call your local animal shelter. My local animal shelter has training twice a month for volunteers, who can then come walk dogs, clean kennels, play with animals, help with adoptions, and much more. If you’re a member of a church or religious organization, they probably have opportunities ready for you. Even if you only volunteer for 1 hour a month, that adds up to 12 hours a year and can make a huge difference for others.
The Little Ways That You Can Change the World
This was a particularly long post, so thank you for staying with me to the end. Hopefully, you can take this list and go out to be the change you wish to see in the world, brightening the world a little bit at a time.
Have you done anything on this list? If so, please comment or email me. If you have other little ways to add, please comment or email me. It’s always good to learn more ways to make the world a better, brighter place.