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There are so many ways to make a difference and so many reasons you should.
All you have to do is decide what you’re going to do and then go do it.
At least, it should be easy, but in reality it’s often not. Life is busy.
Between work deadlines and family commitments, finding time for volunteering can be tough.
For many of us volunteering isn’t even a blip on the radar, so caught up are we in life’s daily grind.
Time is an issue, but another sticking point for people is not knowing exactly how they can make a difference either. Luckily for you, I’ve listed 12 ways to make a difference and most of them are fairly easy to do.
As always, you’re very welcome.
Why Doing Good Is Good for You
In their 2013 health and volunteering study, UnitedHealth Group looked at why doing good is good for you. They found that, amongst other things, volunteering helps manage and lower stress levels, gives you a deeper sense of connection to others and makes you feel better—physically, mentally and emotionally.
The act of kindness has positive health benefits. Studies have shown that whether you’re the giver, the receiver or simply someone witnessing an act of kindness, you stand to benefit from the exchange.
Doing good bolsters our immune system and increases production of serotonin in the brain. A naturally-occurring neurochemical, serotonin is well known for its ‘feel good’ qualities. While doctors commonly rely on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat serotonin deficiency, there are plenty of natural boosters to consider first.
These include sunshine or light therapy, regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, meditating and, as mentioned above, performing acts of kindness. Of course, every situation is different and in extreme cases medication may be necessary to treat severe cases of depression.
I’m not a fan, but I also recognise that allopathy has it’s place.
How amazing is it that feeling better about life is the happy side-effect of doing good? That’s not to say that an act of kindness should be performed purely for personal gain. Rather, we should view it as one of those wonderful win-win situations, where everyone benefits.
You know how much we love ourselves a win/win here at Mostly Mindful.
So Many Ways to Make a Difference
1. Become a RAKtivist
The brainchild of the guys at Random Acts of Kindness, a RAKtivist is a kindness ambassador and you’ll find them the world over. From the driver who lets you cut into their lane during morning rush hour to the student who held the door open for their teacher and the colleague who surprised you with coffee, these guys are all RAKtivists. Be a world-changer. Apply to become a RAKtivist today!
2. Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen
I know, I know, this old chestnut again. I mention it with good reason however. First, it doesn’t require a lot of time. Ladles of Love, the pop-up soup kitchen Sporty and I sometimes help out at, typically takes an hour out of our day.
Second, it reminds us how much we have to be grateful for in our own lives. It’s easy to forget how good we have it, especially when we’re run off our feet. These people are so happy to receive a warm bowl of soup and a chunk of bread. Witnessing that is a truly humbling experience.
3. Pledge Your Birthday to Charity: Water
The last thing we need is more stuff in our lives, so why not pledge your birthday to Charity: Water? You could still throw a party and celebrate the occasion, but instead of gifts, everyone could give your age in dollars to a cause that’s changing lives. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
4. Donate a Santa Shoebox
The Santa Shoebox Project collects and distributes gifts at Christmas time to underprivileged children throughout South Africa and Namibia. From 180 shoeboxes in their inaugural year (2006), the project has since reached 858 673 children.
To get involved you pledge a child online and then make them a personal shoe box. Shopping for and packing the box is a huge amount of fun. It’s also a great way to teach your own kids about the spirit of giving. If you don’t live in South Africa, you can pledge a virtual shoe box.
5. Trekking Challenges for Charity
How about a charity walk that’s also an adventure? If like the idea of getting fit while making a difference, this option will definitely appeal to you. Here’s the best part. You get to indulge your wanderlust at the same time. You could go on a trek to Tanzania or Nepal or Morocco and raise funds for your favourite cause at the same time.
6. Celebrate National Chocolate Day
Making a difference can also be something as simple as buying chocolate for your colleagues on National Chocolate Day. You could pick any day that appeals to you e.g. Boston Cream Pie Day or Doughnut Day, the point is to do something unexpected for your work pals to let them know you appreciate them.
7. Who Let the Dogs Out?
Animal shelters are always in need of an extra hand. A Saturday morning spent walking a group of excited dogs is, in my opinion, a Saturday morning well spent. Of course, you could also offer to help sweep out cages, clean kitty litter trays or help out in the office doing admin.
8. Spread a Little Old School Love
The Internet is the best, right? You can make friends in faraway places, enjoy face time with loved ones when they’re a thousand miles away, share good news, give kudos to a new restaurant and more. All thanks to the interwebs.
But there’s also something to be said for receiving a handwritten letter from an old friend, an unexpected postcard from some exotic destination or a thank you note that arrives by snail mail rather than email. It takes effort to go the old school route, but that’s what makes it so special. You didn’t just hit send, you actually went to the store and picked out a card.
9. Gift a Book
A lot of people still prefer reading an actual book rather than using a Kindle. The problem is, books are expensive and they take up space. And because we’ve spent our hard earned dollars on them, we’re naturally reluctant to part with them once we’ve read them.
The next time you buy a new novel, think about a friend who might enjoy the story as well. Then, when you’ve finished the book you can gift it to them. That way you’ll have had the pleasure of enjoying the story and performing a small act of kindness.
10. Pay it Forward
Similar in concept to being a RAKtivist, the idea of paying it forward took off following the movie Pay It Forward, starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and a young Haley-Joel Osment. The pay it forward movement is still going strong and there are lots of ways you can take part.
You could buy coffee for the person behind you in Starbucks, pay for someone’s groceries or visit an elderly neighbour’s house and ask them if they have anything they need doing, such as shopping, mowing the lawn, etc.
11. Plant a Tree
Greenpop started in 2010 with a simple goal: to plant 1000 trees in one month. In response to the recent study showing that tree planting is the best way to mitigate climate change, the Cape Town-based NPO has set a bold new goal of 500 000 trees by 2025.
If you’re unable to join them on one of the many tree-planting events they hold each year, another great option is to gift a virtual tree. Along with a beautifully designed card, the recipient also receives the exact GPS co-ordinates of their tree. Kids in particular, are enthralled by the notion that they have a tree somewhere in Africa that they can locate via Google Earth.
12. Volunteer on a Mercy Ship
A global humanitarian organization, Mercy Ships delivers free health care services to those without access in the developing world. More than just sailing hospitals, Mercy Ships are vessels of hope.
While it does require a time and financial commitment, volunteering on a Mercy Ship is probably one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. If that’s not an option for you, there are plenty of other ways to give as well.
It’s Time to Get Busy
There you have it, 12 awesome ways to make a difference. But that’s just for starters. Give it some thought and you’ll see there are at least a gazillion more opportunities to give back. If you’re still stuck for inspiration, take a look at what these kids are doing.