Okay, I’ll be more positive. It was a hard year though, for many of us. But I’m here to give out advice, so I’d better start acting all role modely. Accessing sage mode now.
It’s been interesting to observe the “2016 sucks” phenomenon on the internet. There are certainly plenty of memes and gifs on the theme. But we have to pause and ask ourselves, did 2016 really suck worse than other years, or did we just collectively agree that it did, and then co-create that reality?
Hmm. Upon reflection, no, it really did suck that bad.
So, here’s the good news. We can create a better 2017. I hope that didn’t induce too much eye-rolling. If it seems hopeless, perhaps part of the problem is that we simply don’t have enough practical, everyday solutions? Well, here are some steps that pretty much everyone can take to start making the world a better place starting in the new year—beginning with the changes you can make in your personal life, then branching out to what you can do to create change in the world.
1. Commit to ongoing self-improvement.
I know what you’re thinking. “Duh,” right? “Self-improvement” may seem redundant since New Year’s resolutions are a commitment to self-improvement in themselves. And it’s true—you got me on that one.
But here’s the thing: the resolutions in this piece challenge you to become a better you for the purpose of improving the world around you. Yes, our happiness as individuals is important, and we are all born with the right to pursue that happiness. Yet it is also true that this happiness comes with a price—not because any outside force is imposing it upon us, but because it is inherent in human nature that happiness comes hand in hand with love, and love inspires compassion, and compassion…well, that’s what drives us to dedicate ourselves to others, does it not?
The first resolution comes with a dedication to understanding the interconnected nature of all life and matter on the planet. When you improve yourself, you make an improvement in the world. What you do in your daily life ripples out to affect others around you, which touches those around them, and so on, until we all end up touching one another. It’s true.
Yet the inverse is also true. What you do for others, you also ultimately do for yourself. By making the world a better place for all life, you make it a better place for you, too.
So, the advice in this resolution comes with a challenge, and it is thus: meditate, practice self-love, repeat mantras, write affirmations, follow a regular spiritual practice, cultivate self awareness, spend time with your shadow, build confidence and self esteem, find yourself and love you dearly—all with the intention to give yourself away. That’s right, do much of what you do to improve yourself in the spirit of service, and for the love of others.
When you allow yourself to belong to the world, only then does the world truly belong to you.
2. Stay aware of the world around you.
If you’re reading this now, you have internet access. That’s amazing, seriously. Chances are, you also have a social media account, and you see videos and articles about things that are happening around the world.
If this is not so much true for you, and you somehow stumbled across this piece by accident, or someone just straight up read it to you, let me take advantage of this window and urge you to take control of your awareness. Go to diverse news outlets and start following them; make sure to find independent ones that cover world events outside your country, too. DemocracyNow! is the favorite around here. Watch videos, read articles, comment, share, converse.
And if you’re already doing that, well, that’s cool. Keep up the good work. Tell your friends. (Hey, read this post to them!)
We can’t change the world unless we know what’s wrong with it. People want to focus on the positive, but we have to be real about this: ignoring the negative and focusing exclusively on the positive is just not what gets the job done. In fact, that can make the problems worse. Ignoring injustice empowers perpetrators and isolates those who are suffering. Only by shining the light of consciousness—your consciousness—on these issues, and then acting to remedy them, can you hope to make the world a better place.
3. Get healthy.
The “get healthy” resolution is so classic, it’s almost cliche, but at least it’s also fairly straightforward. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Walk, jog, do yoga, perform basic cardio and strength training exercises regularly. You can Google or YouTube workouts that you can do for free right at home.
Eat healthy foods. Get plenty of fruits and vegetables. Eliminate any unhealthy addictions. Sleep as much as you need and try to cut caffeine from your routine. Drink water—lots of it.
Practice self care. Do what makes you feel good. Meditate. Read. Spend time in nature. Cultivate health in mind, body, and spirit.
Getting healthy is a no-brainer when it comes to a good New Year’s resolution idea in one’s personal life, but how does this help change the world? Not only will becoming healthier enable you to become a faster, better, stronger version of you, and thus touch the lives of more people around you, but there are other side effects to healthy living on a large scale, too. Let’s look at the ripple effect of growing health.
When you reduce stress, keep your body and heart healthy with regular exercise, and nourish yourself with nutritious foods, you reduce the wear and tear on your body. This means fewer visits to the doctor’s office, fewer drug prescriptions, and ultimately, less money spent on healthcare.
The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most powerful lobbying forces in politics, and they spend all the money coming in from sick folks to get their way in legislation—from how long they can hold patents on certain name brand drugs before allowing cheaper generic brands to compete with them, to refusing to cap the prices they can charge on certain prescriptions. By staying healthy, we buy fewer prescriptions, and we can slowly begin to defund the pharmaceutical industry while progressive politicians and activists hit them on the political side to get them under control. Curbing the power of the pharmaceutical industry can help us regain control of our healthcare and pass the legislation necessary to make it truly affordable and accessible to all.
While this example has applied to the U.S., which is behind all other advanced industrial nations in providing universal healthcare to its citizens, taking control of your health is an empowering move no matter where you live. If you have the privilege of being able to choose what you eat and whether you get enough rest and exercise every day, take it. Empowered citizens are more effective leaders, and you can use your newfound empowerment to accomplish amazing things—not to mention, all that money you save on healthcare can be put to some interesting use in later resolutions.
4. Embrace your creativity.
Be honest with yourself: there’s an artist in there somewhere, isn’t there? Yes. YES, there is. Okay, fine, I won’t argue with you.
But you’re creative somehow. Remember that faulty piece of furniture you ghetto-rigged with a couple pieces of cardboard and some duct tape? Yeah, you were awful proud of yourself for that one, weren’t you? Or the time you forgot some crucial ingredient in a recipe and had to improvise? Or that one time you left your paper at home on the day it was due and had to call your little sister and blackmail her into bringing it to the university for you at the last minute or else you’d tell your mom about the time you caught her out late in a particularly scandalous situation when she was supposed to be spending the night at her best friend’s house—
Ahem. The point is, we’re all creative. Whether we create art, or we just find creative ways to solve problems and communicate to people, we all have a unique talent or set of skills that can be used to help make the world a better place. Just like our bodies, those talents and skills need daily exercise to be healthy and strong.
Keep an eye out for your muse. It might just be hiding in the most unexpected of part of you.
5. Live green.
The “go green” resolution is so overplayed it’s like that catchy pop song we turn off because we just can’t stand to listen anymore—and yet it bears repeating. Yes, I know, Elon Musk and SpaceX and Mars colony blah blah—that’s great for future people. But for us, living on Earth right now, if the planet goes kaput, so do we.
So, stick with the basics. Recycle. Pick up trash when you see it. Carpool, walk, bike, or take public transport when you can. Turn off lights and electronics when not in use.
When you’re feeling super fancy, and you have the cash to back it up, start investing in some renewable energy technology. Buy electric cars if you have to own your own vehicle. Get solar panels on your home if you have to own a house. Purchase stock in renewable energy companies and defund the fossil fuel industry. If you have the money to do these things, be a pioneer and help drive down the costs so that these awesome utopian technologies become accessible to the rest of us broke people, and we will forever love you for it.
Here is a big one, and I’m going to go through it quickly and connect all the dots, so go ahead and do your own research for more depth on this one. Don’t throw your food away. Food rot in landfills contributes to greenhouse gases, plus it’s wasteful. If and when you can, donate food before it goes bad if you know you’re just not going to finish it before it expires. When that’s not possible, compost your uneaten food, then start growing some of your own produce. You can literally grow a portion of your own produce in nearly any kind of living arrangement. If you’re in a city apartment, talk to other people in your community about urban farming on rooftops or empty lots.
Change your eating habits. If you can afford local, organic, ethically raised food, buy it. Again, you will drive down the costs for the rest of us by helping local producers compete better against agricultural giants who rely on heavy pesticides and cruel factory farming practices for their profits. If you can’t afford to switch to organic completely, do what you can here and there. As you can, reduce your meat and dairy intake. These two industries are known to be amongst the hardest on our water and land resources, and they are contributing to global climate change enormously as more and more land is being cleared to make room for livestock and the food to feed them. Stop eating cheeseburgers and save the rainforests, yo. Small steps will make a difference, I promise.
You can do so much more, but these are just a few things you can do to get started. Call me biased, but f*ck Mars. Planet Earth all the way.
6. Practice random acts of kindness.
If you really want to do something amazing for yourself and look good doing it, practice random acts of kindness for loved ones and strangers. “But wait, Jack, how is that doing an amazing thing for me?” you might be wondering. Well, now you’re just being selfish.
I kid, I kid. There are actually some studies that show that we get more pleasure out of giving gifts than receiving them—that’s because we love making people happy. Aww, we’re all just big old teddy bears after all, aren’t we?
I also wrote a pretty in-depth essay about this, so you should totally read that and save me the trouble of hashing it out again… You’re not going to, are you? Sigh. Okay.
Ripple effects. What you do grows. Humans are herd animals. If everyone’s being poopy, people will likely continue to be poopy to each other unless someone breaks the mold. You can be that everyday superhero who does a randomly awesome thing to brighten someone’s day. Buy a cup of coffee for the person in line behind you. Leave a love note on the windshield of a stranger. Hold the door open for people, even when (especially when) they don’t say “thank you.” Give compliments. Get creative with it—there’s a whole movement dedicated to random acts of kindness.
The world is in desperate need of kindness, and you can help. Plus, you know, it’ll make you feel good, too.
7. Build community.
If we’re going to make the world a better place, we’re going to have to do it together. Sorry to dash your hopes if you were hoping to spontaneously mutate to become the next superhero and save the world singlehandedly, but thems the digs.
But come on, that’s not so bad, is it? Don’t you feel all warm and fuzzy toward humanity from all those random acts of kindness you’ve been performing?
Here’s the reality: in order to change anything, we need to do what we can, where we can, both within the world of politics and outside of it. If you want to change something politically, you need political will, and you gain political will through the community. Where politics and government are slacking, as they so often do, we take care of one another through direct action. Whether we’re talking about something as intricately organized as a soup kitchen or worker’s strike, or as simple as bringing your neighbor’s children home from school during an emergency, community makes a huge difference when it comes to building trust and making the world a better place.
Sounds big, right? It doesn’t have to be. Do not underestimate your power as an individual to begin growing community in your neighborhood, city, or region. You can begin by smiling and making small talk with your neighbors. Be friendly and approachable. Invite new people to your parties and gatherings, and go out of your way to help them fit in. Or, if you’re at someone else’s event, or if you see a new face around work or school, be the first to extend the welcome and help that person feel that they belong. Encourage inclusion wherever you are.
Join groups and communities. Meetup.com and Facebook groups are great ways to find social networks to join. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, start a group yourself. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to catch on—stick with it, and give people a chance to find you, and one another. A healthy, tight-knit community is well worth the effort and the wait.
These resolutions seem to be getting more and more challenging, aren’t they? That’s good, though, and I know you’re up to it. I truly believe in you, and I don’t even need to know who you are to know that you can do anything you put your mind to. If you want to find a few hours once a month to volunteer toward a cause you believe in, you absolutely can.
We have plenty of things to volunteer for. Homeless shelters, women’s shelters, children’s homes, animal shelters, community gardens—find what makes your heart bleed, and there’s something going on that you can get involved with to help.
If time is an issue, or if you’re nervous around large groups of strangers, don’t let that stop you from volunteering. You can totally go it alone. Pick up trash around your city. Hell, do it at night when no one is watching, if it makes you feel better. Put on a cape and mask and transform into that lone superhero you were longing to become.
Be generous with your time. If you find yourself spending minutes in idleness, watching Netflix or playing games, well, gosh, I’m not trying to say you should be volunteering instead, but… I don’t know, man.
Seriously, though. We all need down time. It’s okay to relax. But be honest with yourself. If you’re relaxing a lot and you feel deep down that you could be spending some of that time helping others, that might be a sign that it’s time to act on those feelings and go find ways to volunteer.
While you’re volunteering your time, why not also volunteer your money? Thanks to the work of those at Effective Altruism, you can find the organizations that make the most of each dollar donated, so you know that your money is going to help the causes you support, and not just paying the salaries of some corporate big wig. You can read this awesome essay for more.
If you don’t make much, it’s okay. You can donate $5 here and there and still make a difference—especially for those living in developing countries. Believe it or not, there are some who live every day on as little as $1 for their entire family. Seriously, check out this documentary. At the end, they also give you information on how to make direct loans to people in need.
If you’re fortunate enough to have all your basic needs met, and still have some left over for luxuries like shopping, entertainment, and eating out, consider helping others who are still struggling every day for their survival. Or, pick another cause that you are passionate about, such as environmental conservation, supporting indy media, donating to animal shelters, and so on. It might seem like a drop in the bucket to you, but a little can go a long way toward helping to improve the world, one dollar (or euro, or other currency) at a time.
10. Stop being an observer of the world and start being an actor in it.
This is it. Little by little we’ve approached this apex, stretching beyond our comfort zones, giving of ourselves more and more. And here we are. We can no longer sit back and watch as others hold the reins of political power and determine the course of the planet and all of humanity. We, now, must steer the ship.
So, what does this look like? Vote. No, I know, stop your groaning. It does matter, especially locally. Voting is how we tally our positions, so when we have politicians in office or policies that don’t reflect what we the people want, we know we’re in the right to go knocking on some doors and demanding some damn answers. Voting is how we show the politicians and their sponsors that we are paying attention, we are engaged, and they can’t just run around doing whatever they want at our expense.
Beyond that, we must talk to one another. Go beyond hitting the “like” and “share” buttons on social media and posting comments. Those things are important, but we also need to take the conversation off the internet and into the world, with our friends, family, and neighbors. We need to spread awareness (#2) about what’s going on in the world, and empower each other with solutions. If we don’t have solutions on our own, we can often arrive at them through combining all that awesome creativity (#4) we’ve been cultivating within ourselves with that of others in the communities we’ve been building (#7), too.
Are you beginning to see how these resolutions are building on each other? Good, now you see the true brilliance of my master plan! Muahaha!
Okay, so how do we break these down into manageable tasks that we can apply to our daily lives? Well, fuck, man, I don’t know. I just wrote 3,000 words on this. Don’t you think you can take it from here and figure it out on your own?
Alright, fiiiiine, I’ll keep helping. I secretly love this anyway, just don’t tell anyone. Imma need a section break for this one though.
Making It Real
Let’s be brief about this, shall we?
The best way to keep track of all of these resolutions is to keep them at the forefront of your consciousness as often as you can. Whether you make a giant poster for yourself and hang it up where you can see it every day, or cover the inside of your dwelling with little sticky notes, or do as my half-alien/half-android tech-savvy friend does and fill up your Google Calendar on your phone with reminders, find a way to put them in your face every day, so you don’t forget.
Personally, I carry around a little orange notebook that I use to scribble all my weekly and daily to-do lists, then I fill it up with tasks I couldn’t possibly manage, and I stumble my way through time management while relying on my still-unshakeable Catholic upbringing to supply me with all the necessary guilt to prod me into finding the time to eventually work everything in. I’m sure there are more effective ways of doing this, but I’m still trying to work in the time to read all the appropriate books on the matter.
The more aware you are of these resolutions, the more likely you are to find ways to work them into your daily routine. I’m happy to write more on this aspect of the topic when I grow an extra brain and find out how to bend time and space to stretch my research and writing abilities across the narrow window of 24-hour days.
I love you guys. I’ll for realsies write a follow up about cultivating awesome life habits super soon. In the meantime, Happy New Year, and don’t forget to flip the bird to 2016 on its way out. We’re gonna force-cuddle 2017 into being awesomer together though, right? Yes, that’s what I want to hear.
She graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Creative Writing minor. She currently resides on Planet Earth, and therefore has a vested interest in the goings-on and goings-to-be around the place.
She's also really friendly, so feel free to drop a line: Jacquelyn@radicallyenlightened.com.
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