We live in a society that sometimes seems increasingly disconnected: Social network feeds are full of memes suggesting that we put down our devices and reconnect with each other, and barely a week goes by that doesn't see yet another article bemoaning the isolation of modern life. So how do we break the cycle?
One of the best antidotes for loneliness and isolation is giving to others as part of a community. These five simple ways of giving back to the community every day will not only help others they'll also increase your connectedness and the joy you take in your life.
1. Share Your Passion with Community Youth
Whether your secret — or not-so-secret — passion is knitting, gardening or playing soccer, you're almost certain to find young people in your community who want to learn more about it. Whether you share your knowledge of gardening or sign up to coach a youth basketball team, you're likely to benefit as much from the experience as the kids you're teaching. More than one study has confirmed that the real fountain of youth is — surprise — spending time with young people.
Meanwhile, the kids will reap more than the benefits of your knowledge. According to one of the most famous longitudinal studies of all time, the Kauai Longitudinal Study, children who had at least one caring adult in their lives were more resilient and successful as adults. The types of adults cited in the study included caring neighbors, youth leaders, ministers, teachers and members of church groups.
2. Offer Your Skills to a Local Organization
One of the biggest buzzwords in the nonprofit world is capacity building — growing the ability of an organization to reach and serve more people or to do their work more efficiently. Whatever your skill set, there's a good chance that at least one local organization needs your expertise. A newly formed community workshop, for example, would probably love your help setting up their computer network. Whether you share physical skills such as wiring, plumbing, painting and more, or your professional knowledge, such as walking a new charity through the maze of paperwork required to become a nonprofit, your donated time will help them spread their good works even further.
3. Choose Companies That Give Back
One of the simplest ways to give back to your community is through consciously choosing to give your business to companies that give back. This can be especially meaningful when you're buying gifts — the happy recipient will appreciate knowing that their gift also helped others.
A number of national companies advertise partnerships with charities you can support with your purchase, but you can practice conscious buying locally as well. When you make a purchase from Cheryl Saban Glassware, for example, you do more than bring a spark of colorful joy into your home. Each piece you buy helps support a variety of local charities that benefit women and children, building on Cheryl’s belief that "every person deserves a bright, safe, and prosperous future."
4. Get Crafty for Charity
Let's be realistic — you can give only so many of your hand-knit hats to family and friends before they’ll start rolling their eyes. So instead, spread that joy around and find new places to direct your creative energy towards. You know who'd really appreciate those hats? Your local homeless shelter — warm hats, gloves, scarves and socks perennially top the list of their most needed items for donation.
This list of 10 organizations that accept handcrafted donations includes everything from birds' nests to knockers, as well as knitted, crocheted and quilted crafts — so it’s likely there is a market out there for whatever you love to create. You can make it even more fun by working with others. Grab a few patterns and invite other crafty people to join you in a weekly or monthly knit-in for charity, and you'll make new friends as well as helping others.
5. Organize a Giving Event at Your Workplace
Each year, United Way holds an international Day of Action, encouraging businesses, schools and organizations to go out into the community and take action. The projects are local — think building playgrounds at a school or spending a day doing home repairs or painting for seniors in their community.
You don't have to wait for a sponsored event, though. Put a box in the break room of your office to collect canned goods and other foods for a food pantry, school supplies for kids in need in your city or kitty litter and cat food for an animal shelter. Commit a group to making the delivery, or go one step further by organizing a monthly crew to cook and serve dinner at a local homeless shelter or go do some kitten cuddling. You'll do more than help the charity you choose — you'll be creating a bonding experience that will bring your whole team closer.
Giving back to the community is about more than charitable works. When you consciously choose to make giving back a part of your daily life, you're helping build stronger relationships and connections that foster a happier, healthier community and a longer, happier life for yourself.
Deb Powers is a freelance writer living and working in Massachusetts. She writes frequently about health, wellness, home design and lifestyle topics.