January can be a tough month. While you should probably take all that ‘Blue Monday’ nonsense with a pinch of salt, there’s no denying people are struggling with having no money, getting back into the swing of work, and fighting off no end of illnesses (thank you flu and Norovirus).
There is a way to perk up those feelings of gloom, however, and that’s by being kind. Evidence shows helping others can reduce stress, improve your emotional wellbeing and even benefit your physical health, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
So how can you be kinder this January – and beyond? Here are some ideas to see you through.
1. Have A Clear Out
Donate your old clothes, shoes and unused Christmas presents or gifts to your local charity shop. Each bag of donations is worth, on average, about £25.
2. Buy A Meal For A Homeless Person
If you’re popping into Tesco and there’s a homeless person sat outside, why not ask what they’d like to eat and give them the gift of a meal? Or, even better, take them for a hot meal and get to know them.
3. Smile At A Stranger
The act of smiling activates messaging in your brain that benefits your health and happiness. It’s also contagious, so whoever you smile at will be guaranteed to feel a bit better – and they might even pay that smile forward to someone else.
4. Hold Open The Door For Someone
It doesn’t take much energy or brainpower to be a little more aware of the people around you. This is probably the most basic act of kindness and it doesn’t cost a thing.
5. Pay Someone’s Bus Fare
It’s a small gesture that could make the world of difference – maybe even getting someone who is struggling a travel card for the day.
6. Call Your Grandparents On Your Lunch Break
They will undoubtedly be delighted to hear your voice, it only takes 15 minutes out of your day, and it’s a productive way to spend your lunch.
7. Bake Something For Your Next-Door Neighbour
Statistics show we barely know our neighbours, so why not bake a cake or some biscuits for yours and pay them a visit? It’s a nice way to break the ice and say happy New Year!
8. Write To Someone You Care About
Writing letters can be hugely cathartic, and a handwritten note is lovely to receive in our increasingly digitally-focused world. If you don’t feel up to writing a full letter, why not write some thank you cards to show gratitude for your Christmas presents instead?
9. Sign Up To Volunteer
There are so many charities in need of volunteers and you can offer as much, or as little, time as you want to them. “There is evidence to show that people who volunteer and donate to charities are more satisfied, have more positive self-esteem and generally have a greater sense of wellbeing,” psychologist Anthony Cassidy, who works with AXA PPP healthcare, previously told HuffPost UK.
10. Have A Chat With Someone Who’s Sleeping Rough
Take a leaf out of Lorraine Kelly’s book and chat to someone who’s homeless rather than just walking past them. “A lot of them are really lonely and they’ve all got their story,” she said. “You can learn a lot by talking to them and just make them feel like a human being.”
11. Pack Bags For Your Local Foodbank
Clearing out your kitchen cupboards? Donate surplus tins and biscuits to your local foodbank. Or, go one better by taking them a donation and offering to become a bag packer (which involves putting together food parcels each week).
12. Praise A Colleague
If a co-worker has done something brilliant this week, make sure you tell them how great they are.
13. Sign A Petition To Save Bees
There’s been an overall decline in wild and honey bees over the past 50 years in the UK – now, a petition is taking off to ban the use of chemical pesticides in public spaces and plant flowers instead.
14. Make An Effort To Recycle
If everyone made an effort to properly recycle their plastic and cardboard, it could make a huge difference to the amount of rubbish ending up in landfill each year – here are 10 common recycling mistakes you’re probably making.
15. Pick Up Litter In Your Neighbourhood
Fed up of rubbish being strewn across your street? Go out with a bin bag and some rubber gloves and pick some of it up. These kids did just that on their school run and filled a whopping 173 bin bags.
16. Cook A Meal For Your Parents
Growing up, we can sometimes take our parents for granted. Invite them over for a home-cooked meal to say thanks for all they’ve done – their appreciation will be through the roof.
17. Host A Refugee
Charities like Refugees at Home are working hard to match families with refugees or asylum seekers in the UK who would otherwise be homeless. We spoke to two hosts about how having a refugee staying with them had been a joyous and wonderful experience.
18. Switch Your Meat Dish For A Veggie Option
Avid meat eater? Why not switch one or two meals a week for a veggie substitute? Ditching meat and dairy is the most effective way people can lessen their impact on the planet, according to a major analysis.
19. Pay For Someone’s Coffee
You can pay it forward in many ways, but one of the simplest routes is to pay for the coffee of the person behind you next time you’re getting your morning flat white.
20. Give Up Your Seat On Public Transport
It’s easy to sit down on the train and shut your eyes or get lost in a good book, but it’s important to be aware of those around you. If someone is standing up who clearly would be better off sitting down, do the right thing.
21. Help Someone Struggling With Heavy Bags
Fairly self-explanatory – just don’t put your back out in the process.
22. Turn Off Your Phone At The Dinner Table
We’re all guilty of paying more attention to our phone screens than those around us. If you’ve been invited out for dinner with someone, don’t sit there looking at your phone. Make an effort, listen to them, be present.
23. Donate Blood
This can genuinely save lives and is so important, especially during the winter months when the NHS is running on fumes.
24. Buy A Bird Feeder – And Fill It
The bee population isn’t the only one to take a hit. Birds are also struggling. According to the RSPB there has been a serious, countrywide decline in the numbers of many birds, including the song thrush, skylark, lapwing and house sparrow. Putting a bird feeder in your garden can help give local bird populations a boost, especially through the harsher winter months.
25. Give Unused Pet Toys To An Animal Shelter
Is there a box of cat food sitting in a cupboard that your moggy just won’t eat? Or perhaps there’s a dog bed your pampered pooch won’t even go near? These items could be donated to a local animal shelter where they’d make the world of difference to abandoned animals, who aren’t privy to such luxuries.
26. Send Toiletries To Beauty Banks
Beauty Banks is a non-profit which works like a foodbank, but distributes toiletries and beauty items instead. It accepts toiletries of all kinds – although they must be full size, new, unused and in-date. Send items to Beauty Banks, c/o The Communications Store, 2 Kensington Square, London W8 5EP.
27. Learn A Skill That Helps Other
Mental health first aid, sign language, CPR – there are so many skills you can learn which not only benefit yourself, but could help others dramatically.
28. Support A Homeless Person Into Work
Beam is a crowdfunding tool which enables the public to donate money to help homeless people train for work. It’s helped hundreds of people find their feet.
29. Walk A Stray Dog
Take inspiration from Battersea volunteer Angela Cox and sign up to help walk the dogs at your local shelter – it’s good exercise for you, too.
30. Donate To Charity On Payday
On payday, donate a fiver, tenner or something a little more to your favourite charity – think of it as a belated Christmas gift.