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7 Small Ways to Make a Big Difference in the World

Today, all of us are busy. To-do lists are overflowing. Email goes unanswered. Voicemail goes unchecked. So many of us are exhausted, sleep-deprived, stressed out and working way too much.

This is when kind gestures and deep compassion can get lost. We can get so bogged down with daily responsibilities that we miss the bigger picture, often right in front of our eyes.

But we can make a meaningful difference in this world every day. And we can do so in small ways.

In the new book Be a Good in the World: 365 Days of Good Deeds, Inspired Ideas and Acts of Kindness, Brenda Knight shares a slew of feasible and powerful compassionate suggestions. She features a variety of nonprofit organizations we can donate our money and time to. She includes creative ways we can care for our loved ones, colleagues, strangers and our entire planet.

Here are seven important ideas from Be a Good in the World.

1. Listen to others.

As Knight writes, “We don’t always have to donate time and energy to other parts of the world. Sometimes help is needed much closer to home.” If a loved one is having a hard time, listen to them. Ask someone else how they’re doing or how their day is going, and genuinely, with interest and curiosity, listen to their response.

Listen fully. Don’t try to fix the situation. Don’t judge. Don’t interrupt them as they’re speaking. Just listen to what they have to say. Listening is a powerful act of kindness. In fact, according to Knight, “Listening is an act of love.”

2. Give — with no strings attached.

Write a list of items someone has given you or actions they’ve taken that you’re thankful for. This might be anything from an old sofa to a ride to the airport. Next, list 10 things you’d like to give to someone, without any strings attached. Then see how many of these acts you can cross off in a week. Knight shares such examples as babysitting for a loved one, buying coffee for a friend and volunteering at a soup kitchen.

3. Use your skills for good.

If you’re a musician in Philadelphia, Miami, Nashville, New York City or Washington, D.C., you can volunteer to give live, in-room performances to patients who are undergoing treatment or can’t leave their beds. The nonprofit organization is called Musicians on Call. If you’re a painter, paint a mural in your community or create another piece of art to add beauty.

Tutor an elementary school student who reads below grade level for 45 minutes twice a week through Reading Partners. Learn more about opportunities to teach at Teach for America.

Make a list of ways you can use your skills for making a difference.

 4. Be a good neighbor.

If your neighbor is elderly or disabled, offer to help them with their yard. Rake their leaves. Mow their lawn. Pick up their paper, and bring it to the door. Bring them soup, dinner or dessert.

5. Volunteer your time or money.

Find a new organization you can help out. These are just some of the important organizations Knight features in her book:

  • VOICES of September 11th provides information, support services and events for families, rescue workers and survivors.
  • Twilight Wish Foundation grants wishes to senior citizens. Volunteers donate items, money or their time.
  • Love146 is an international human rights organization working to end child trafficking and exploitation.
  • Give An Hour provides free counseling to soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families.
  • Shoes That Fit provides new shoes to kids in need.
  • Project Night Night donates “Night Night” packages to homeless children. These canvas totes include a new security blanket, an age-appropriate children’s book and a stuffed animal.

6. Write notes of gratitude.

“Write a note of gratitude to the people in your everyday life who make a difference — the mailman, a grocery clerk, or the greeter at the mall … Just by paying attention to those who can easily go unnoticed (especially if your smartphone is glued to your hand), you can enrich each other’s lives a little each day.”

7. Don’t forget about common courtesy.

Nice gestures go a long way. A small kindness can always help. We never know the kind of day someone is having; the bad news they just got; the loss they’re struggling with; the health crisis they’re undergoing; the dark thoughts they’re wrestling with. Hold the door for strangers. Say “good morning” and “thank you.” Be generous with compliments and words of appreciation.

It’s hard to think of others when we’re feeling overwhelmed, when our gazes are down, lost in our own worries and task lists. But there are small and simple ways we can give every day.

Start with any of the above ideas. Or come up with your own list of compassionate acts. As Knight writes in Be a Good in the World, look around and simply ask yourself, “‘How can I help someone today?’ In the end, you are also helping yourself just as much.”

7 Small Ways to Make a Big Difference in the World


Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.


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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). 7 Small Ways to Make a Big Difference in the World. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 18, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/7-small-ways-to-make-a-big-difference-in-the-world/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 5 May 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.