Looking for ways you can make a difference in the world? It’s easier than you think. So often, we get trapped in the idea that we must perform large acts – the grand gestures of philanthropy – in order to make a difference. This is just not true. You don’t need to go to Africa and battle poverty and disease in order to make the world a better place. Although tackling the world’s problems is a noble feat and definitely worth pursuing, most people will never set foot on African soil let alone donate money to support world hunger.
Instead, I believe that we have an opportunity to make a difference in the world each and every day simply by living our lives well. Our daily words, decisions, actions, and energy all contribute to the world’s problems. Thus, if we make an effort to be kind, helpful, supportive, positive, and responsible each and every day, we in turn contribute such kindness and support to the world.
Of course, we cannot be super nice and positive every single day. That is incredibly unrealistic. (I think I just heard a rainbow cry.) However, if we are kind and supportive most days, chances are there will be someone else who is also kind and supportive most days that can pick up our slack.
So, let go of the notion of the grand gesture. It just isn’t in your timetable. Instead, opt for the more practical and long-term commitment to help contribute positive things to the world simply by living well most days.
How can you live well in order to make a difference in the world? Here are six practical ways you can improve your own life and in turn improve the world:
1. Eat Less
Eating less not only helps our waistlines, but it helps our world and all the people in it. Resist seconds just because it tastes good. Instead, focus on enjoying the first round. Make sure you get enough calories and nutrients to stay healthy yourself; but resist the urge to go overboard simply because more food is available to you.
Suzie Stercho says it best in her article, The Secret To Being A Super Thrifty, Skinny, And Socially-Conscious Humanitarian: Buy Less Food. It’s pretty simple: The more we eat, the more the food production industry consumes our earth’s valuable (and limited) resources. It takes a lot of resources to grow, harvest, package, ship, store, sell, and buy our precious food. Reducing the quantity of food you purchase can help decrease the amount of resources that are exhausted.
In addition, we in our health fad-infested society do not realize the burden we place on other people when we stock up on the latest and greatest grain or herb that is promised to administer longevity and strength. Quinoa is a great example of this.
Quinoa is a seed packed with protein and nutrients and is quick and easy to make. It pairs well with many meats, vegetables, and sauces, and can be used for dozens of delicious meals. However, since we as a society have caught on to this wondrous seed, the price for quinoa has increased quickly. Quinoa used to be just an run-of-the-mill staple food for poorer communities in Peru and Bolivia. Now, such communities can hardly purchase their beloved seed because the price is too high. So, they opt for whatever is cheaper (most likely junk food). This does not necessarily mean that you should never eat quinoa, but it is evidence of how our purchasing decisions affect people around the world.
2. Move More
The more you move your body, the healthier you will be. The healthier you are, the less of a burden you are to our nation’s healthcare system. It sounds rather cold and cruel, but it is true.
Sick people consume a lot of resources. Sometimes you cannot help that you are sick. However, there are some diseases that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and plenty of public and private medical organizations consider epidemics, such as obesity, childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, that can otherwise be avoided. Although we are sometimes genetically dispositioned to be more prone to certain ailments, obesity and onset diabetes can generally be avoided by making good decisions most of the time. One of these good decisions is the decision to exercise your body regularly in order to maintain its proper function.
Also, the more you exercise your body, the better your joints, muscles, and back will feel. You will have better posture, be stronger, look better, have more confidence, be able to participate in awesome activities like hiking and surfing, and you will last longer (interpret that however you want). Essentially, being active means that you can experience more in life and for a longer period of time.
The environmentally conscious health website MindBodyGreen has a good article on Why Everyone Should Walk 30 Minutes A Day. The article gives us a few really good reasons why it’s important to use the simple act of walking to improve our health.
The more you move, the better you feel. When you feel good, you consume less resources than you do when you are sick. And that’s better for everybody.
3. Get Off The Treadmill
Gyms are great places to workout, meet people, and stay motivated. However, they are also filled with equipment that use a heck-of-a-lotta energy. Think about it. All those electric treadmills and bikes – I do not need to give you any numbers to argue that exercise equipment consumes a lot of energy every day. Maybe such equipment is not a huge drain compared to other electric items in our daily lives, but it is still an area where we can dramatically reduce our energy consumption by utilizing natural alternatives.
iVillage points out how using plastic water bottles, driving to the gym, and even our workout gear contribute to environmental problems in addition to the power consumed on treadmills and ellipticals. Check out 5 Ways Your Workout Is Killing The Environment (a little dramatic, but a valid point).
It is so much more fulfilling to take a walk or jog through nature than to spend 20 minutes jumping up and down on a treadmill while watching CNN or soap operas (that is not just my personal opinion, it is truth). Exercise is a great opportunity to have some alone time. You can get all meditative or work out a problem in your mind while you are running around the block.
Why not make exercise a two-fer by grabbing a friend and going on a hike? You get some quality time with your buddy and physical activity at the same time. Brilliant.
If weather deters you from going outside, put on some tunes and do a workout at home. There are plenty of videos on the internet that can help you get your sweat on in your own living room (or basement with the doors locked and secured).
As another alternative, join a group fitness class. Yeah, yeah, I know they can be a little cheesy sometimes. But you have variety of classes to choose from (e.g., yoga, zumba, kickboxing, bootcamp, and so on) that can help you get moving and possibly meet new people. Plus, group classes are an energy-saving alternative to treadmills and ellipticals.
4. Choose Wisely
Your decisions as a consumer are the most important decisions you can make for our market and the consumption of our world’s resources. When you purchase a product, any product, you are essentially saying “yes” to the company that produced it. You are telling that company, “Yes, I agree with you. Please make more of this.” You are also telling that company, “I trust you. Do what you wish with my money.”
We have become so jaded over the years and assume the role of the victim, the subject, or the subsidiary so willingly that we forget who is actually in control. Businesses can produce whatever they want and place their products on the shelves. However, we the consumers are the ones who ultimately make the decision to purchase the products. If we do not purchase the products, bad business goes bye-bye.
Be a wise consumer. Learn about the products that you buy regularly. Where is the product made? What ingredients or materials does it contain? What are the environmental impacts of the product? What is the end-use of the product (i.e., can it be reused, recycled, or does it go in a landfill)? Huffington Post has some nice tips on How To Be An Ethical Consumer.
Take the time to figure out what is important to you. Maybe buying products that are recyclable is your number one priority. Maybe buying compostable products is key. Maybe you want to buy products that are only produced in the United States. Maybe you want to support local farmers and businesses. Whatever you decide is important to you, make sure your purchasing decisions reflect your priorities.
5. Spend Smart
Every country in the world has financial problems. In the US, we are used to hearing about our national debt, foreclosures, market declines, bailouts, and so on. How does everything you hear on the news pertain to you? Well, do you have debt? Do you spend more than you make? Are you relying solely on the government for retirement? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you could be contributing to the US financial problem.
Now, having debt is not a bad thing. Sometimes we need debt in order to receive a college education, live in a home, and provide for ourselves and our families. But we become part of the problem when we manage our money irresponsibly – when we spend foolishly, don’t save for the future, and take on more debt than we can handle.
One surefire way you can avoid being part of the problem is by paying down your debts. This includes student loans, private loans, and credit cards. Mortgages and other investment-type debt is a little different, but any personal debt that you have needs to go away as soon as feasibly possible. The NerdWallet has some good tips on how to understand and manage credit card debt in their article, Dealing With Credit Card Debt: How To Get Debt-Free.
Imagine that a majority of people in our country are proactive and take responsible action on personal finances. Imagine that most of us are disciplined with our spending and actively pay down our personal debts. Imagine us all saving what we can for retirement and short-term unexpected expenses. Imagine how much less of a conundrum our country would be in.
I understand that unreliable jobs, low paychecks, and expenses for kids, housing, food, transportation, etc., can be an overwhelming financial burden in many people’s lives. But, I still have a hunch that collectively we are not spending and saving responsibly given whatever our circumstances are.
6. Be Nice
Put your pride aside. Put your need to control everything aside. Put your judgements aside.
Smile at people. Hold the door for people. Be considerate when driving, especially during rush hour. Be patient when there are long lines at the grocery store.
Be nice to strangers, but treat your nearest and dearest better than anyone else you encounter. Be compassionate toward your loved ones. Be graciously supportive. Lend a hand even if you are not asked to help. Send a text or a greeting card for no particular reason. Tell your loved ones that you love them and, most importantly, show them. Forgive them and ask for forgiveness yourself. Speak kindly and do not raise your voice. Give compliments galore.
One of my favorite websites of all time, TinyBuddha, gives us some more tips on how to be more compassionate toward others in the article, 6 Ways to Deepen Your Compassion to Help Other People.
If you are to do one thing in the world in order to make it a better place, choose to be nice. Be nice to everyone, especially those closest to you. If a majority of people in this world chose to be nice to the people closest to them, in our intricate web of relationships, we would find our society raveled in love.
Now, face the fact that you are not going to be nice all the time. It is impractical to be nice all the time. (Actually, I know a few people are literally nice all the time. It’s so weird. I don’t know how they do it. I think they might not be from this planet.) However, choose to be nice most of the time.
Be nice especially during the most crucial times – when you are tired and cranky, when someone disappoints you, when someone spills wine all over your white shirt, when someone insults you or bullies you.
Now, being nice is not the same as being a pushover. (That is a completely separate article. I’ll get to that later.) Also, being nice does not mean concealing your feelings. Being nice simply means seeing the bigger picture and putting your pride down so that someone else has an opportunity to be happy.
Now get out there and be the change! Be the change every day with your everyday actions and words. What other ideas do you have? What other practical ways can we make a difference in our daily lives?