Habits to Help Others

When we think of positive habits that we want to adopt, we usually do so in order to better our lives.

  • Remember to floss daily for stronger teeth and fewer cavities.
  • Set your clothes out the night before so you don't have to worry about what you'll wear in the morning.

These habits can create positive life change by lowering stress and making you a healthier person.

What if we focus on creating new habits for the sake of helping others? What if the main goal of starting a new behavior isn't to make our own lives better but those in need half a world away? What if we chose to benefit the environment over our daily routine?

These questions have intrigued me lately. Over the past couple of weeks, I've had some online conversations about how we can make a difference in the world. We can't just come at global issues with positive thinking and think they'll all go away, so where do we start?

Earlier this week, I wrote about technology's limits and said that our daily decisions can contribute to improving issues, even if it were only by small amounts. What excited me most about that post was the comments that the community responded with. I have my habits and decisions that I know to make in order to try to help, but other people have so many more ideas. And they're not seemingly impossible tasks like "clean up all the trash in the world today." They're sensible ideas like "go digital more often to use less paper" and "make microloans through Kiva."

These are very possible tasks that we could get in the habit of.

The Benefits of Helping

Giving is very challenging. I know I've never had an easy time of it. I've been thrilled with how people's lives were changed because of it, but I've always paused in the process to wonder if this was the best use of my time and money. (Yes, I know this sounds selfish, but giving isn't always the perfect solution. Perhaps we should be investing in infrastructure instead of just handing out money, etc.)

In the same way, we should examine prospective new habits to find all the benefits before launching into them. Choosing to go without meat could be beneficial to the environment and to the economy (the costs of raising livestock are incredibly high and resource-intensive), but I really like steak. But, maybe I could cut meat out of some of my meals. Maybe you're a voracious reader. Digital books could be better for the environment, but you love the feel of a paper book in your hand. Maybe you could get some of your books digitally. You could even get some through the library, reducing the number of paper copies that need to be created. (Don't hate me, authors.)

There are options, and we don't have to live in an all-or-nothing paradigm.

The side-effect of habits that we adopt for the sake of others is that we may find a lifestyle change that we really like. You may find that you love some vegetarian meals. Digital books may be incredibly handy. Recycling more may make you feel better about your impact on the environment.

Some of these benefits could be new conveniences or health-boosters, or they may simply improve your mood. In any case, habits for the sake of others are helpful to us, too.

Do My Habits Make Enough of a Difference?

Will one person's habits change the world's issues with poverty? Probably not. Maybe if that one person is Bill Gates or President Obama, but my habits aren't going to have those sorts of ramifications. Still, a large group's habits can have a substantial impact. This is why cities offer recycling along with their garbage pickup programs. Rather than making people take their stuff to recycling centers, city leaders decide to make the habit of throwing recyclables in a bin easy for people to choose. Mix in a bit of peer pressure from neighbors who are setting a good example by always having their recycle bins full on garbage collection day, and you've got a scalable system.

By sharing our habits with one another, we can find ways to multiply our efforts.

Check this out, here was a quick search this morning in Google...

how to make a difference
how to make a difference

More than 91 million results on "easy ways to make a difference." If you're not sure where to start with your habits, there are literally 91 million suggestions.

We'll talk more about this in the coming weeks, but I ask that you start looking at your daily routine to think about what changes you could make to benefit the world more. I don't have specific suggestions... just think about it.

What about You?

If you have specific suggestions, I'd love to hear about them in the comment section.

Feature image by OldMainstream