We live in a culture of self adoration. Social media has made each of us the star of our own reality TV show. We’re encouraged to ‘check in’ every time we visit a coffee shop, fill our phones’ memories with pictures of the food we’re about to eat and take selfies every day. Our culture of vanity even enables us to tweak our appearance, eliminating blemishes and warping our images with “makeover apps” to create an idealized versions of ourselves that only exists as a fleeting image in our friends’ social media feeds. Is it any wonder that we’re so depressed?
The fact is that self obsession and digital vanity might offer us a fleeing thrill as we see the likes stack up, but living this way is like subsisting entirely on candy bars. In the pursuit of an initial giddy thrill, we start to feel increasingly inadequate as the real life version of us grows more and more disparate from the highly idealized version of us that stares back through our phone screen. Just as the giddy thrill we get after eating a candy bar inevitably leads to grouchiness, lethargy and sadness as our blood sugar plummets, so to do our psyches require greater nourishment as we slog our way towards meaning in the increasingly impersonal 21st century.
If we’re to live happy, healthy and satisfying lives, we need to commit to making a difference to other people and the world around us on a daily basis. There are so many ways to do this, that once you promise yourself to do it, it’s virtually impossible to renege on the deal. Here, we’re going to look at the big ways, small ways, hard ways and easy ways in which you can make a difference to those around you and the world at large every single day. You may even find that your physical and mental health improve and that you start every day with a renewed sense of purpose.
Do at least 1 nice thing for a stranger every day
Whether it’s helping an elderly lady or gentleman across the road, holding the door open for the guy from accounting whose name you can never remember, or congratulating your waiter or store clerk on a job well done there’s a plethora of ways in which you can do something nice for a stranger. This is its own reward, but maybe… just maybe they’ll pay your kindness forward to someone else.
Become a donor
The human body is a miracle that keeps on giving, and there are many ways in which you can use yours to help others in severe need or distress. Giving blood is one of the easiest ways to use your body to make a difference in the world. Blood is virtually painless to extract (it hurts a little less than getting a shot), and our bodies can spare it easily without adverse effects to our health or wellbeing.
If you’ve always wanted to give the gift of fertility to a couple who desperately needs it, you can become an egg donor or a sperm donor. Egg or sperm donation is one of the most profound ways of making a difference you can offer the world and while there is often a rigorous screening process, no costs are borne by you other than your time during the application. You may even be financially compensated for your trouble.
Finally, if you’d like your organs to potentially save someone’s life in the event of your death it’s vitally important that you sign up to be a tissue or organ donor.
Give up meat, eggs and dairy
Believe it or not, there is no greater thing that you can do for the planet than giving up meat or dairy. Although transportation and heavy industry all play a part in harming our planet, there is no greater cause of air pollution, deforestation or species habitat loss than the animal agriculture industry. Animal agriculture accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the exhaust emissions of the entire transportation industry, with livestock and their by products accounting for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even if you aren’t concerned about the inherent cruelty in killing animals en masse, the appalling conditions in which battery hens are kept or the distress and pain involved in extracting milk from cows, the sustainability issues are shocking to comprehend. Animal agriculture is an inherently wasteful industry, it accounts for 80-90% of the US water consumption and at our current rate of meat and dairy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to rise 80% by 2050.
Switching to a wholefoods, plant based diet is not only highly beneficial for the environment, but for your health too! A vegan diet is proven to be the best diet for weight loss and general health and can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.
Cut down your car use
Those of us with cars can easily become over reliant on them, even using them for trips that would take a scant few minutes if we were to walk or cycle. Aside from the obvious environmental benefits of reducing your car use there are various health benefits to walking or cycling instead. They increase your heart rate, burn calories and even give your mood a boost.
Using public transport as an alternative to driving is also greener as well as helping to reduce traffic congestion, creating and sustaining jobs in the passenger transportation sector and (in most cases) saving you money.
There aren’t words to describe how much of a difference a smile can make to someone, especially if they’re having a bad day. A smile can show a stranger that you’re a friend they haven’t met yet, it can it can make you more attractive to that beautiful stranger at the other end of a crowded singles bar and it can show your barista how much you appreciate their hard work. Moreover, smiling is proven to boost your mood and improve your mental health.
Recycling is so quick and easy to do and requires so little effort that it’s easy to kid ourselves that such a small and unassuming act can make a difference, but it does. In fact, it makes a big difference. Recycling just one aluminum can saves enough energy to keep a 100 watt bulb burning for almost four hours. Just one! Many charities work in active partnership with recycling initiatives, too! Take, for example, the Cans for Habitat program, which is a national partnership between the Aluminum Association and Habitat for Humanity. In this program, aluminum cans are recycled through a network of nationwide drop-off locations. This humble activity helps to generate money for Habitat for Humanity to build quality, affordable housing for low-income families.
Call a friend “just because”
How many times has a friend crossed your mind and you’ve quelled the urge to get in touch with them because they’re “probably too busy”. The next time that happens, don’t delay… call them. Better yet, pay them an impromptu visit. It’s a difficult concept for some to wrap their heads around (especially men) but it can make a universe of difference to the recipient. It’s all too easy for friends to become disembodied faces on our contacts list or our social media feed and an over reliance on texting, iMessage and social media can lend friendships a weirdly impersonal quality. Not only is text based conversation open to misinterpretation it can’t compare with the psychological benefit of hearing a friend’s voice or seeing their face.