In this age of senseless terror, we can feel helpless. But there are small ways that you can help contribute to a kinder world. By living a compassionate lifestyle, you will improve not only society and the planet but also your own well-being and health. Here are seven ways to make a positive impact:
1. Be kind.
It sounds simple—even simplistic—but think about how often we lose our tempers, judge others, or criticize. How often do we ignore others, look over their heads, or pretend they are not there? Starting each day with the intention to be kind to others is an incredibly powerful way to live. Research shows that not only will you positively affect all those around you but you yourself may benefit most. People who are more compassionate and generous end up being happier and healthier than others—and may even live longer.
2. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
This seems obvious: Recycle everything you can. This is less obvious: Don’t buy stuff you don’t need. And if you do, buy from companies dedicated to sustainable production practices. One gold wedding band creates, on average, 20 tons of toxic waste. Buy your jewelry, your clothes, and your kids’ toys from places that use sustainable, biodegradable, and recycled materials only.
3. Buy fair trade.
Did you know that there are 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today? This is a horrific number. I once asked an expert in this area what I could do about it: She said it’s simple. Slaves are used for major industries like chocolate, tea, and coffee. Whenever you buy those (and other) items, look for the “fair trade” certification. Fair trade means that no slave labor (or unfair business practice) was used. What if your favorite brand is not fair trade? Email their customer service—chances are they'll make the necessary adjustments. Hey, it’s good PR for the company, too.
4. Use organic and green products.
That shampoo you put on your head? If it’s not biodegradable, it’s probably toxic for the planet and for you, too. The chemicals in our makeup, in our cleaning products, in our detergents are often terrible both for our health and that of the planet. Going green means going a whole lot healthier, too.
Whether you have a passion to support veterans, the environment, animals, or children, there are countless wonderful charities that can help you help them. And almost everyone can donate. In fact, research shows that middle-class families actually donate more per capita than higher-income families. When you compare people who have spent money on themselves versus on others, those who have spent money on others are happier.
6. Stop eating animals.
No matter where you stand on the vegetarian argument, empirical evidence conclusively demonstrates that the global ecosystem is crumbling under the tremendous pressure of animal husbandry. Animal husbandry leads to more greenhouse gas production than any other industry. Not to mention the ruthless carnage of millions of animals and their babies day after day.
“But I love my meat!” Here’s what can help you develop the compassion you need. If you have (or know) a pet, you also realize that each animal has its own distinct and charming personality. Just like you, research shows, animals the same large spectrum of emotions that we have and that, like us, they want to be happy. If that doesn’t help, get on YouTube whenever you have a craving and look up videos on veal (baby cow) slaughterhouses.
With eyes wide open to what you are participating in, it is unlikely that you will still want that burger. What’s more, the FDA has released study after study showing how much your health will benefit.
7. Be kind to yourself.
What you do, you model for the world. If you are someone who takes care of yourself, who speaks up for yourself, who knows your limits, and who has good boundaries, you encourage others to do the same. Research shows that when you have self-compassion, i.e., the ability to treat yourself as a friend, you are more resilient, have better relationships, and are happier and even healthier.
And since you are a gift to the world, make sure you take good care of yourself. We’re all so grateful you are here and looking to lead a more compassionate lifestyle.
For more on the science of happiness, check out The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success (HarperOne, 2016)
A version of this article originally appeared on MindBodyGreen