While walking with Stephanie Foo through Forest Park in Queens, New York, we got to talking about her decision to become a “Parks Department Super Steward.” When I asked her why she would choose to spend her free time assisting local plant life, Foo said, “Protecting trees isn’t altruism. It’s a form of self-care.” Which got me thinking, do you have something you do—an activity, a way of relaxing—that is both helpful to you as well as being helpful to your community? What is something that you do that is both beneficial for you, and for the people—or plants, or animals—around you?
In connection to a children's Little Free Library at the end of our driveway in suburban Philadelphia, my husband and I host summer story hours on our front yard. Our local firefighters and police are guest readers as well as some teachers and children's book authors. We are in our sixties and these summer evening gatherings are fun for the children and their parents and has given us an opportunity to make friends with new young neighbors.
I started WeGotThisSeattle.org to get food to frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic in Seattle and surrounding areas. It almost immediately became apparent that the restaurants and caterers needed business desperately, so I started fundraising and put in orders with local businesses for hot meals, paid for them in advance, picked them up, and drove them all over to essential workers. It was all volunteer and I spent a lot of my own money and an average of 40 hrs/week during March-Dec of 2020, and then 20-30 hrs/week during most of 2021. Seeing how much it brightened people's day was worth it all.
I learned to crochet about 4 years ago after an encounter with some ice and my left elbow. It’s great for my mental health and keeps me from doom-scrolling so much, but there are only so many hats and scarves a person and their immediate family can use, so I started putting them in the Little Free Library near my house with a note that says “if your head is cold, this hat is for you.” I give some to the elementary school my daughters attend—they have a community food bank as well. When it’s warmer I use the time to get ahead for when it turns cold again.
I write books about the relationship between us and the rest of nature, so that benefits others-- at least, I sure hope so--and it benefits me because I'm writing about very good things, like people healing damage done to nature. Someone else can write about the bad stuff! Here at home, I have a garden that pretty much everyone who walks their kids to a local elementary school has to walk past. It's an intentionally ecological garden-- lots of native plants, lots of flowering plants and bushes with berries--with a few arts pieces worked in, and I feel that it's a gift to others. And they tell me that as they walk by. I love your blog, by the way. Great interview with Stephanie.
My boss who's a published self-help author has a weekly newsletter called The Breakthrough where he encourages people to take small, life-improving actions to achieve mini "breakthroughs" in life. Each week, I get to read dozens of breakthroughs sent in by readers, then select the best ones to share in the following week's newsletter that goes out to half a million people. I get inspired reading the breakthroughs, seeing real people making real life-improving changes in their lives, and the breakthroughs I choose to feature in the following week's newsletter then inspires others to take action. I'm deeply grateful for this privileged position I have. :)
I teach kids string games as a storytelling art. Almost every day I get many moments to watch and feel the joy children have in learning something challenging and meaningful to them on their own terms. I feel blessed beyond measure to have found work that I love so much, and I'm continually amazed that I actually get paid to do it.
Cook healthy plant based food. It's good for myself, my family and all the animals that are not sacrificed. And it's good for the planet to eat less meat.
I design coloring books that can be printed and passed out to children in under taught communities. The stories teach lessons about safety so my project: The Equitable Literacy Project was able to get grants for art supplies. The process of designing them is greatly calming for me.
Teaching. It pays the bills, gives me a sense of well-being and it gives the students valuable hard and soft skills (the most important being that they can do hard things).
I'm a group therapist, and although I don't internally make it about me during sessions, when I'm leading a psychoeducational group, I'm retelling myself the basic truths, simply by my ears hearing them and soaking into my mind. I became a much more self-actualized person AFTER becoming a group therapist.
For me it’s the other way around.
I had spent a lot of my life in the sort of “helping” that left me an empty shell, losing myself (Catholic context, where that was considered a good thing).
I’ve since discovered things that make life worth living for *me*, things that help me live *today*. I don’t specifically try to help anyone, and I don’t want to. So I was floored when my fellow patients in the psychiatric hospital came up to me to tell me that what I’ve shared (of the things I discovered for myself) helped them rediscover their creative side, e.g. I’ve discovered that when I truly do things for myself, people will find their own help for themselves in what I’m doing when they’re searching for something.
What is beneficial to me is brightening someone's day by giving them something that I've made. It could be a crocheted cowl or amigurumi (stuffed animal). It also could be a handmade card. I just want people to know I'm thinking about them, and hopefully bringing a smile to their faces with whatever I've made.
I'm a therapist and during the pandemic, people would ask me if I was totally burnt out and I realized my answer was no, I was doing ok. I was busy--my days were full and no one was stepping down to every other week or monthly check-ins. But I was ok because I spent all day helping others, and I also spent all day hearing about my clients making it through this. A very different experience than reading the news, which was totally apocalyptic.
I pick up plastic on our local beach to help protect the oceans, fish and ultimately ourselves from having plastic embedded into ourselves. I feel it is good for my soul because it reminds me of how what I am doing is only a drop in the ocean.
What comes to mind is parenting. Every day I unleash this kid out into the world then back he comes. The better I do in raising him the better the world. At the same time, having grown without my own dad parenting helps me. Win win.