How To Improve Your Life By Helping Others

...and yes, I know this sounds self-important and wanky
Publish date:
January 28, 2013
new year's resolutions, charity, 2013, Helping Others, Big Society, Alturism

We’re nearing the end of January, and if you’re anything like me your New Year’s resolutions will be flailing like Nick Griffin on Question Time. It’s not about lack of effort; I eagerly signed up for my Mandarin classes as promised, only to be sent a letter the day before they were due to start telling me the course had been cancelled.

Fate? Karmic revenge? Or just bloody bad luck – who knows. It definitely wasn’t a lack of willing on my part though.

Anyway, that’s just my cautionary tale of how New Year’s resolutions are a massive ball ache. But why? Surely they shouldn’t be? Surely the idea of starting a New Year on a positive, forward-looking foot is a good one. I'm starting to wonder if the problem is not the idea of resolutions, but the resolutions themselves?

In my experience, they just tend to be so self-indulgent and egotistical (even when they’re as seemingly noble as learning a new skill); I’m going to lose weight, I’m going to work hard and get a promotion, I’m going to do my hand-washing and not just wear things once then leave them in a corner hoping they’ll magically self-clean. You know, that sort of thing. Me, me, me.

More often than not New Year’s resolutions are just selfish plots to try and improve our own lives, and maybe that’s why most of them fail before the month is out. Maybe if our resolutions weren’t solely about us they’d stand more chance of succeeding?

Last year I was asked to write a feature on easy ways to improve your life; a subject which no one who knows me in real life would ever ask my advice on. Anyway, like any desperate, broke writer, I said “yes”, and hit the internet to search out ideas that didn’t make me want to hurl.

As you can imagine this was pretty tough; self-improvement is an area saturated with unbelievable numbers of plastic-faced weirdos spouting self-congratulatory drivel. One idea shone out through the swamp of premium bullshit though; giving.

Yes, apparently giving to others makes you, the giver, feel good. I know, I KNOW, it sounds crass, but if you just take a deep breath and think about it for a second you’ll realise it kinda makes sense.

We all know this from our daily lives; that little buzz you get when you give up your seat on the train, or let the person with only one item jump in front of you at the checkout. Those little acts of kindness which feel like two fingers up to isolated modern city living, and which you hope will one day, when you really need it, be returned to you.

Now don’t worry – this isn’t the part where I tell you about all my good deeds and feebly attempt to hoodwink you into joining my sexy little sex cult disguised as a charity. In fact, quite the opposite. I want your help – I want to know if you have first hand experience of the joys of ‘giving back’, and if you have any recommendations on how a ‘too-busy to help’ gal like me could get started.

To prove that I’ve not led a life totally devoid of selfless acts, I will quickly regale you with some of my past charitable deeds: In my gap year I worked as an LSA (Learning Support Assistant) working with children with behavioural and learning difficulties (without a doubt the most emotionally testing job of my life), I also once did a Christmas food drop to local families in need (a logistical nightmare due to London parking restrictions), and last year I served breakfast at a homeless shelter at my synagogue (which was surprisingly rewarding thanks to the presence of an impossibly hot Burmese guy with a ponytail… and half a finger missing).

Not nothing, but I’m hardly Mother Teresa, and what’s more, none of them stuck. So, this year I’m looking for a new giving challenge - a real way to give something back to society and make my mark on the world.

Maybe I’m just being selfish, but I’d like to see if I could feel that cheesy glow of altruistic smugness more often. I’m not saying I’m ready to give up all my belongings and dedicate my life to helping others (obviously!), but I often have moments where I feel like my life is a black hole of selfishness, and I’d like to think that when my time is up I’ll be able to look back and know I made a small positive difference to someone, somewhere.

So, please get in touch and share your charitable wisdom with me. Do you regularly give back? If so, how? And how does it make you feel? I’d love to hear your experiences.

And while you’re at it, why not earn some easy karmic points by following me on twitter @MissSisiG.