When things are going wrong in the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. How can we, as individuals, possibly make a meaningful difference? This year, we may have tried to do our part, but the pandemic still rages on – and so does politics. It can be incredibly disheartening to feel like our actions don’t make any difference. An antidote to this hopelessness can be to remember that many people making a small difference can have incredible, life-changing results over time.
We often hear about things going wrong in the world. And that’s important; maybe it’s necessary to be aware of the injustice and suffering of others so we can try and stop it. Nevertheless, it’s very rare to hear stories about good news – even when we’ve made massive progress we should be celebrating. In his book ‘Factfulness’, Hans Rosling writes that many people are unaware of the huge progress humanity has made in reducing suffering. In the last twenty years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost halved. While there is still much to be done, realising what has already has been achieved can give us strength to keep fighting.
How did we achieve this amazing accomplishment? Step by step. When things seem overwhelming, it’s easy to forget that tackling difficult complex problems takes time – but it is possible. This isn’t to deny that 2020 has been a terrible year for many people – simply to acknowledge that sometimes the best antidotes to hopelessness can be to take a small step in the right direction.
In his book, ‘The Life You Can Save’, Peter Singer makes the case for donating to charity. He notes that many people choose not to give money or time because they feel the problems are too big and overwhelming to ever solve. Why donate money to feed a child, when so many other children are starving? You could give away your savings and not have even made a meaningful dent in the problem. But Singer argues that this is flawed logic. Just because you can’t save everyone doesn’t mean you can’t help someone.
He points out, for example, that money can do a lot of good if donated to effective charities. A mosquito net that costs $2 can protect a child or a pregnant woman from deadly malaria. Cataract surgeries in some low-income countries cost only $50, and can prevent blindness. He argues that by taking some time to look for effective charities, donators can be confident their money can make a huge difference to another person.
Of course, complex problems don’t just need money – they also need time. Volunteers at IMAlive are available for people to talk to when they’re going through any kind of personal crisis – if they’re feeling overwhelmed, thinking about suicide, or just need someone to talk to. There are many other valuable causes that need volunteers. Around the world, people are tutoring and mentoring school children, volunteering at soup kitchens and food banks, and fundraising for charity. Donating time and money doesn’t fix the whole world – but it can make a huge difference to the individuals involved.
Many people find that one thing crucial to living a meaningful life is connecting or making the world better for others. Singer points out in his book that volunteering time or money helps the givers as well as the receivers. Generally, people who donate or volunteer are happier than those who do not. In the book ‘Happy Money’, Elizabeth Dunn and Micheal Norton write that people who donated to charity in the past month reported ‘greater satisfaction with their life’ and that ‘investing in others promotes happiness.’ Psychological studies in both Canada and Uganda showed people reported greater feelings of happiness when they spent money on others rather than when they spent it on themselves. Other studies have shown that donating relatively little money gives a happiness boost; donating 5 and 20 dollars have similar happiness effects.
Volunteering or donating money can help us make a crucial difference in a world where we often feel doomed and hopeless. Making even a small difference can be hugely empowering. Volunteering often fosters social connection, something that tends to increase happiness and promotes general well-being. It can lead to new skills and even a sense of mastery; a feeling that we are using our individual talents to nurture others and contribute to a worthy cause. In short, it’s good for everyone. Even making a small difference can contribute to a feeling of taking control of your life; of turning negative feelings of rage, disappointment or sadness into positive action; in helping to feel you are, even in a small way, making the world better.
So here’s to all the people out there who keep trying to make the world better. Here’s to those who protest and demand social justice. Here’s to those who donate or volunteer in food banks so their neighbours don’t go hungry. Here’s to teachers and nurses and doctors who teach our children and save lives everyday. Here’s to those who give and do what they can. Here’s to everyone who keeps trying to make the world better, even if it’s only a small step at a time.
If you’re interested in volunteering or donating, check out the links and resources below. If you’re interested in volunteering at IMAlive, check out our website or send us an email. You can make a real difference. https://www.imalive.org/volunteer-online/
Donate here: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/imalive/
Books mentioned in this article:
The Life You Can Save – Peter Singer
Happy Money: The New Science of Smarter Spending – Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think – Hans Rosling