“How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” – Anne Frank
I once heard Dieter F. Uchtdorf speak about a group of men in Germany who wanted to move a full concert-sized grand piano from a chapel into an adjacent concert hall. There were many willing and able men, but with everyone trying to direct the piano in different ways, it kept going off balance and they were unable to lift it. Finally, one of the men said, “. . .Stand closer together, and lift where you stand.”
What a simple idea! How can we apply this to our lives? How can we all, as humanity, or even as small as our nuclear families or co-workers come closer together and lift where we stand?
Ideas of generosity and altruism have gained more and more momentum recently. From celebrities finding causes to support (Leonardo DiCaprio), movies like Pay It Forward becoming part of daily speech (“Oh, don’t say thanks, just pay it forward”), humanitarian missions for gap years, and things like random acts of kindness taking off, it’s no wonder people are looking for more and more ways to participate in something greater. Many people have contributed to what each of us is today and we all have a way to help others!
As if you needed any more convincing that giving back is good for your soul, there are countless studies touting the benefits of altruism and giving back. Studies are showing evidence of your increased happiness (and the more you give back, the happier you get!), benefits to the greater good of humanity, reduced stress in your life, feeling of social connection to combat loneliness, stronger family ties, feeling connected to the greater humanity, etc. Read more here and here.
But with so many different ideas pulling you in so many different ways, what is something YOU could actually DO today? How can you lift where you stand? Here are 8 ways you can give back, TODAY!
1. Donate a special event in your own life toward a cause. Your birthday, wedding, anniversary, etc.
“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.” – Erich Fromm
The first time I had heard of this, was through a wedding invitation I received in college. I was at the ripe age of 18, and as I was looking through their announcement; I realized they didn’t have the long list of registries. Instead, they asked their guests to send money to a specific charity, in their name. I was overwhelmed at such a selfless act, and felt inspired to do the same.
Since then, I have been on the lookout for a good cause to donate my birthday to nearly every year! It has brought me surprise friendships and acquaintances, made me feel supported and loved, even through strangers and anonymous donors, allowed me to be connected to the world, and has brought me more joy than I could ever begin to describe.
This year, for my 30th birthday, I decided to be ambitious and raise $15,000 to buy shoes for children in Guyana. One pair of shoes is only $15 and last the children 5 years because they grow 5 sizes! I was fortunate to find this particular cause through my work at Project Happiness when we met with teachers and social workers from across the country back in March.
2. Spend your money on someone other than yourself.
“The highest use of capital is not to make more money but to make money to do more for the betterment of life.” – Henry Ford
There are countless causes asking for money, and if you ask around, you will surely find something you can stand behind to support. Be it Project Happiness, your mom who desperately needs a massage, or the person behind you in the drive-through, I promise you will feel happier if you spend your money on others.
3. Find a cause that you stand behind, and contribute your time or talents (or blood).
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” – Muhammad Ali
Find a local organization that works on something you support. There are MeetUps in every city revolving around philanthropy if you don’t know where to start. Do a search of a cause—interested in children, helping victims of domestic violence, want to be more involved in refugees? Reach out, and get involved!
Maybe you have a special skill that you can donate? Are you an exceptional photographer, or can you make a five year old child laugh until they cry? Maybe you can’t think of anything in particular? That’s okay, I guarantee you non profit organizations have a long list of things they can’t get to that they would LOVE help with!
4. Do something nice for someone who can never truly repay you.
“A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit” – D. Elton Trueblood
As Anne Frank said, you don’t even need to wait a single moment to improve your world around you! How much better would it be if it were someone who could never truly repay you?
5. Smile to someone on the street.
“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop
Simple, right? Pay attention to how many people actually smile back!
6. See someone lost? Give directions to a stranger.
“If you wait until you can do everything for everybody, instead of something for somebody, you’ll end up not doing nothing for nobody.” – Malcom Bane
Or pick up a little more trash than you created (think: Boyscout’s motto of “Leave No Trace). Or help someone with his or her groceries. Or give someone a ride. Or pay for the food of the person behind you in a drive-through. Want more ideas? Check out this Buzzfeed article.
7. Pay a sincere compliment today.
“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu
How many times a day do you think of a nice thing to say to someone, but it leaves your mind as quickly as it came? Can you think of a time someone paid you a sincere and unexpected compliment? How did it make you feel? Maybe you don’t express your admiration to your partner enough, or maybe it’s a stranger on the elevator with the perfect outfit?
8. Sign up to volunteer abroad–by yourself, with your family, or your friends.
“Young people often ask us how they can help address issues… like international poverty. Our first recommendation to them is to get out and see the world…you need to see it first hand, even live in its midst…They have paid their own way to volunteer in poor countries – and once they see the poverty close, they want to do more… it would offer young Americans a potentially life-changing encounter with the developing world.” – Half the Sky
Looking for a longer-term commitment? Want to give back in another part of the world? Here are three of my favorite organizations:
- HELP International: Geared around college-aged students, focused on public health, infrastructure development, education empowerment, and business entrepreneurship.
- Eagle Condor: 1-2 week expeditions throughout the year that bigger groups, families, or individuals can go on! They even have some during the holidays and deliver Christmas presents in an orphanage in Peru.
- Revive Service Tours: Service cruises, and shorter-term volunteering for people who are busy and looking for a vacation!
My hope is that you feel more inspired to be generous, and maybe in new ways today. If you know of wonderful ways to give back, please leave a note in the comments–we welcome all ideas.
Let’s all remember to lift where we stand. Together, we can achieve great things in the world. Individually, all we need is a single moment to improve the life of one other person.
About Brook Dorff
Director of Operations and Development at Project Happiness
Brook believes the best education comes from traveling, a good conversation, and doing things that make you uncomfortable. She is a firm daydream believer and is passionate about paying it forward through random acts of kindness.