Wednesday 29 January 2014

A sense of community

Helping others is not only good for them and a good thing to do, it also makes us happier and healthier too. Giving also connects us to others, creating stronger communities and helping to build a happier society for everyone.  Action for Happiness

There are countless articles online about the connection between happiness and getting involved in your community.  One promise upfront: I am not going to try to convince you that you should give up large chunks of your time or money. Most of you are very busy people, who I'm flattered are taking the time to read this post.

Instead, I'd like to focus on the amazing little things that are going on in your community right now - and that you are quite possibly already a part of!  If not, I hope there's something in here that might catch your imagination and make you think, "Actually, that's do-able for me."

Supportive shopping
You may have read a bit about food banks, and the growing need for them, in the media of late. Perhaps there's one near you? Here's an idea: Why not take advantage of a 'buy one get one free' offer when you are out shopping and donate the 'spare' to your local foodbank? Keen to know more? I've included the link to my own local foodbank for those who live in my little corner of Aberdeenshire. Do take a peek - you'll see that they even provide you with a list of the items they are looking for.

You can make a difference (sorry, bad pun alert)
Charity clicks
Lots of charities and good causes, including community groups and schools, use a scheme called easyfundraising to help them make a little extra money via online shopping.  It works in much the same way as a cashback website. In this case, however, you click on your favoured charity's easyfundraising page before clicking through to the retailer's normal website. The charity then gets a small percentage payment from the retailer (it doesn't affect your own outlay). Don't know if your pet charity has a page? Why not ask - or even suggest that they set one up?
Back to school
If you have school age children, chances are that you've already spent some time in their place of learning. Schools nowadays are always looking for parent helpers. Perhaps, like me, you feel a wave of guilt when you can't help out due to work commitments? Don't despair. There are nearly always some out of hours opportunities to support your school, such as school discos, weekend football festivals and even just turning up when the school organises forums in the evenings for parents.  Don't beat yourself up if you can only manage to attend one event per year - it all counts!

Love thy neighbour
How well do you know your neighbours? If you're lucky, you live near people who you also count as friends.  Knowing that there's someone a couple of doors away who will take your wheelie bin in or feed the cat when you're on holiday makes a big difference to the ease with which we navigate our busy lives.  A friend recently confessed to me that she doesn't eat many sweet things herself. She does, however, love to bake and then distribute the results among her neighbours.  She enjoys both the process and the knowledge that she's brightened up their day. Who wouldn't want someone like that to live next door?

Pay it forward
There's a really positive initiative doing the rounds on social media right now, which involves making a pledge to do something nice at some point throughout the year for the first five 'volunteers'. It doesn't have to be expensive - suggestions include a book, a ticket, a visit, something home grown/made, a postcard, absolutely any surprise.

The five volunteers must then make the same offer on their own status and distribute their own joy. As the initiative states: "Let's do more nice and loving things for each other in 2014, without any reason other than to make each other smile and to show that we think of each other."

Caring cuppas
There's been a bit of controversy about this one but if you are a Starbucks regular, then it may be a good 'fit' for you. Last year the coffee giant became the first British chain to sign up to a goodwill initiative allowing customers to buy a beverage and reserve one for the homeless. Others chains have undoubtedly followed suit since. If you like a luxury cuppa and have some spare change, why not check out what happens in your coffee shop of choice?

And there's more...
This article could go on for ever because, contrary to the impression sometimes given in the mass media, there's an awful lot of good stuff going on out there. Small daily acts of support, often performed automatically, knit the fabric of our communities together:
  • It's the local independent retailers who team up to create special events and loyalty schemes (and the customers who make that extra little trip out of their way to support them). 
  • It's the mums who pick up one another's children when someone gets stuck in a traffic jam, or has to work late. 
  • It's the little 'uns who know their lollipop man by name and give him a home-made card at Christmas. 
In my admittedly average opinion, the combination of all these little things is what really makes a community work.

Is there something great that people do for one another in your community? If so, I'd love to hear about it.

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