I recently wrote a paper for a rhetoric class where I talked about value hierarchies. Value hierarchies simply display how we place certain values superior to other values. As I evaluated my life, I realized that last year I let the pressures of school, work, and extracurriculars override my desire to be less self-centered. In essence, my value hierarchy placed “me” above “others.”
Sometimes, especially in college, it’s unavoidable. We don’t pay thousands of dollars in tuition simply to be nice people. But despite the fact that my primary purpose for coming to college is to get a degree, I’m also here to foster relationships with other people. I truly believe that part of the reason I’m at UT is to build a community and be a helping hand to others.
I don’t think I’m alone in these ideals, either. You might find yourself wanting to balance out your life and do something selfless. I think nearly everyone wants to do something good, but most people can’t find the time. You might assume that you need to spend five hours a week volunteering in order to make a difference. It’s understandable in college to be stressed, pressured, and have limited time for others. You can’t do it all. But the truth is, change starts small. That’s why I’ve been trying to do little things to make the world around me brighter.
These small acts of kindness do not make me any better than anyone else. They simply give me an outlet to serve people I care about, one favor at a time. You probably already do some of these things for other people, but if you want some inspiration for how to make someone’s day, read on.
1. Write Notes or Cards
Sometimes I just feel like I need an outlet for my creative side. I’m prone to writing notes to my roommates expressing how awesome they are, how much they mean to me, or wishing them good luck on a test or paper. If I’m really sentimental, I’ll write a letter and seal it up, saving it for a time when they really need a boost.
I’ve also been the recipient of small notes in the morning from my roommate telling me to “ace a quiz” or “have fun at work.” While simple, they actually put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. You can even mail the notes to your closest friends (even if they live a couple blocks away!). Receiving an unexpected affirmation is a great surprise!
2. Bake Something Sweet
Here’s my thing – if my roommate is stressed or has had a long day, I’ll pop some brownies in the oven. It takes me about five minutes to mix, and five minutes to clean up. The look on her face when she comes home to her favorite dessert makes me smile.
Baking is not only stress-relieving, but you can eat the results as well! If you want to go the extra mile, package up some cookies and decorate circle tins like this. Deliver the treats to your friends who could use a sugary surprise, or even to someone in one of your classes who has been having a rough day.
3. Buy an Extra “Something”
Don’t you hate it when someone walks in with food, and you wish they could go back in time and order some for you too? Maybe I’m the only selfish one, but after feeling like this several times, I decided I didn’t want to inflict this food-craving on anyone else.
If I know I’m going to see a friend or coworker soon and I’m at a fast-food chain or small eating establishment, I’ll pick up something to-go for them (it works better if I know what they usually order). For example, I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of Jamba Juice without two smoothies. And I try to grab my roommate an extra coffee if we’re going to the same class.
It’s low-cost, and you’re already getting yourself something, so this is definitely an opportunity to do something nice.
4. Send a Text
While I’m all about the handwritten (see above), sometimes you just don’t have time, or you think about someone while you’re on-the-go. While it might feel tacky or rushed, a small text can actually be a great booster in someone’s day.
Sometimes I’ll get texts from friends ranging from the general “have a good day” to “hope your rhetoric exam went well.” They both make me feel awesome and loved. Spread the joy and take a few minutes (or seconds if you’re a super-fast typer) out of your day to send a text to someone you care about.
5. Extend an Invite
Sometimes all it takes is extending an invite to remind someone you care. You don’t even have to be super-formal (“want to get bagels before class tomorrow?”) to be effective. You can let others know you value their company and ask people to meals, parties, meetings, etc. Just make sure you follow through.
6. Call an Old Friend
Photo Credit: ELLE
I’m so bad about this one! But I love getting calls from friends I haven’t seen in a while, especially ones that don’t even go to school with me. When a high school friend calls out of the blue, we get to catch up, and I love knowing that they care enough to keep our relationship alive. Try it with your old friends that you miss, or even friends you met in college and lost touch with this semester.
Finding balance between your values doesn’t have to be difficult. You might feel like you’re doing something wrong if you feel good doing things for others. After all, isn’t that actually being selfish? I don’t know the psychology behind altruism, but if you make someone’s day a little bit better, who cares!
Spreading joy can actually create a virtuous cycle where the recipients of your favors might feel inclined to help others in return. Not only can you keep your value hierarchy in balance, but you’ll help others as well.