We all know that acts of kindness can improve people’s lives and help to make the world a better place. But, there are also multiple reasons why giving back is good for us. Not only does it help us feel more positive and foster social connections – it can also evoke gratitude, inspire others, and boost our health.
With so many benefits to giving back, it’s only natural that, at times, we might want to explore new ways to help others.
So, to give you some ideas, we’ve pulled together a list of 18 meaningful ways to give back, which includes everything from helping out at a soup kitchen to donating plasma. Plus, we’ll take a closer look at why research says giving back is so good for us…
Why is giving back so good for us?
Science has confirmed that being kind to others can make us happier. For example, one study revealed that the regions of the brain associated with social connection, pleasure, and trust lit up in people who gave to charity; creating a ‘warm glow’ effect. Doing things for other people can also lead to a rise in ‘feel good’ chemicals (including serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine) in our brains.
Another benefit to helping others is that it can add meaning and purpose to our lives, which research suggests is great for longevity. A study that looked at people’s eudaimonic score (how happy someone is based on their sense of autonomy, self-realisation, and sense of purpose), found that over eight and a half years, 29% of people in the lowest-scoring quartile died, compared with 9.3% of people in highest-scoring quartile.
Scientists have also discovered that even just thinking about helping others can improve our mood. In this study, 50 participants were told they’d shortly be receiving $100. Half were asked to agree to spend it on themselves, and the other half were asked to agree to spend it on other people.
During the study, MRI scans measured activity in the three areas of the brain associated with happiness, generosity, social behaviour, and decision making. The results showed that people who agreed to spend the money on others experienced greater benefits than those who agreed to spend it on themselves. This included increased interaction between the parts of the brain involved in selflessness and happiness, more generous decision-making throughout the experiment, and higher levels of happiness once the experiment was over.
Other health benefits of giving back that have been documented over the years include lower blood pressure and stress levels, and increased confidence and self-esteem.
So now we’ve explored some of the science behind giving back, here are a few different ways that we can get those feel-good chemicals flowing…
17 meaningful ways to help others and give back to your community
1. Find your passion
Inside every person that stands up for injustice, fights for climate change, or fosters animals, is passion – and with passion comes purpose. The more passionate you are about a charity, cause, or issue, the more likely you are to give your time and energy to it and to feel good about doing so.
Try asking yourself questions like: what do I love doing? What do I care about? And if I could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
2. Foster a guide dog in training
Early on in their lives, guide dog puppies live with volunteers who provide them with a safe, secure, and welcoming home while they complete their training. If you take on the role of ‘puppy raiser’, it’ll essentially be your job to look after a trainee guide dog pup and drop them off at guide dog ‘school’ every day for around 12-16 months.
This is a fantastic way to not only enjoy the company of a dog if you’re unable to have one as a permanent pet, but to help a worthy organisation, and develop a greater appreciation and understanding of the time that goes into each and every guide dog.
3. Consider donating plasma
Do you want the power to change someone’s life? NHS Blood and Transplant need 1,000 plasma donations every week to help save the lives of people who rely on medicines made from plasma.
These medicines help around 17,000 people a year who have cancers, rare diseases, immune disorders, and genetic conditions. To find out more, or register to donate, you can visit the relevant page of the NHS website here.
4. Say thank you
Saying ‘thank you’ is something that many of us do without a second thought – perhaps when we’re served food at a restaurant, or when the postman knocks on the front door to deliver a parcel. But how often do we truly mean it? And if we do mean it, is there more that we could do to express our gratitude and appreciation for others?
For example, next time you go to a great restaurant, you could leave them a glowing review online afterwards. Or maybe you could leave a thank you note out for your postman to let them know just how much you appreciate their service.
This also extends to how we treat each other at home. If your spouse regularly cooks for you and does your washing, then why not let them know just how much you appreciate them by offering to help out, or taking them out somewhere nice for the evening?
5. Volunteer at your local food bank
Food banks are charitable, non-profitable organisations that help people who are struggling to afford enough food. They’re a bit like supermarkets or other food shops – but the difference is, they’re free and they rely on donations. People will usually be referred to food banks by organisations that are already supporting them, like a school or charity.
There are 1,200 food banks around the UK and each of them relies on volunteers to help them run. A volunteer’s responsibilities can include everything from delivering food parcels to local food back centres and helping to process food donations, to meeting and greeting people as they enter the food bank and directing them towards further support.
You can find out more about food bank volunteering opportunities near you on The Trussell Trust website.
6. Become a mentor, teacher, or tutor
If you have knowledge or expertise on a particular subject matter that could benefit someone else and want to give the gift of knowledge, then why not consider becoming a mentor, teacher, or tutor?
Perhaps you could mentor someone who’s at the start of their career, motivate and encourage young people as a youth worker, or teach someone to play a musical instrument.
7. Donate your old glasses
Have you ever wondered what to do with your old glasses when you get a new pair? If so, why not donate them and make a difference to people’s lives around the world?
There are a few different charities, such as The Fred Hollows Foundation, whose mission is to make sight care accessible to people in developing countries – and they often collect people’s old glasses to help them do this. Some donated glasses can be used by people with the same prescription, while others will be recycled and the funds put towards optical training and sight care for those in need.
Many opticians such as Specsavers have recycling boxes that you can pop your old glasses into if you want to help a worthy cause.
8. Donate unused items to places where they can make a difference
If you’re due to declutter and reorganise your home, then it’s worth putting some thought into what you might do with any items that you decide not to keep.
You can also donate jewellery, old cars, and mobile phones to WaterAid who recycle them and put the money towards helping people in developing countries get access to clean water and decent toilets.
9. Plant a tree
Trees improve our air quality by absorbing toxic chemicals from the air and producing oxygen. They also provide homes to more than 80% of terrestrial biodiversity worldwide, help to prevent erosion and flooding, and filter the water we drink. Yet sadly, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), between 2004 and 2017, the world lost an area roughly the size of Morocco (43 million hectares) to deforestation.
Though this news is devastating to think about, it can be useful to focus on what we can each do to help. So if you’re lucky enough to have a garden with enough space, then why not consider planting a tree?
This tree planting advice from the Woodland Trust will give you some tips on getting started. And caring for your tree and watching it grow can be incredibly satisfying.
10. Consider fostering a child
For those with time, a spare bedroom, and a desire to make a difference in young lives, becoming a foster carer could be the ideal way to give back.
The Local Fostering Network estimates that on any given day, there are 65,000 children living with almost 55,000 foster families in the UK. But approximately 8,600 foster carers are still needed across the UK this year alone – with a child coming into the need for a foster family every 20 minutes.
Foster carers will provide support in all areas of a child’s life, including helping them to manage their behaviour and feelings, and working with others involved in the child’s welfare. Fostering can also be a short-term or a long-term commitment. To find out more, have a read of our guide on How to become a foster carer, or our article; What is fostering and could it be right for you?
11. Support local wildlife
Over the years, the UK has seen a decline in the numbers of hedgehogs, honey bees, and several types of birds – which scientists say is due to habitat loss, pesticides, and global warming, among other things.
There are a few different ways you can support and protect local wildlife and help them thrive, from growing flowers in your garden that bees love, to installing a bird feeder or a hedgehog home in your garden. For additional tips on how to help wildlife, why not check out this article from the RSPB?
12. Spread good news
Negativity can spread fast – especially through news channels and social media. So, why not make it your mission to spread as much positivity as you can and make others feel good?
Positivity can take various different forms and could mean telling a loved one how proud you are of them, motivating and encouraging someone who’s in a tough spot, or leaving flattering comments on someone’s social media images.
It’s easy to take for granted the power that small comments or gestures can have on those around us, but each one of us has the ability to make someone else’s day.
13. Become a blood donor
As the NHS reminds, “Many people wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the generosity of our donors”, and around 135,000 new donors a year to replace those who can no longer donate (with O negative and O positive donors being the most in-demand). Most people can give blood as long as they’re in good health, though there are a few exceptions.
Giving blood can be an incredibly rewarding experience, as it’s used to help people who’ve lost blood through childbirth, accidents, or surgery – or to treat those who are critically ill. Barry is a donor who has saved over 450 lives in 50 years by giving blood, and you can read more about his experience here.
If you’re thinking about giving blood for the first time, then it’s worth reading this quick guide on the NHS website, which will explain how to get started.
14. Buy a warm meal for someone who needs it or help out at a soup kitchen
A warm meal is something that many of us take for granted – but for those in need, it could be the highlight of someone’s day. If you know someone who’s struggling to make ends meet, or doesn’t have a roof over their head, then why buy or cook them something nice to eat?
Alternatively, you could consider volunteering at your local homeless shelter or soup kitchen where you can help cook, prepare, and serve food to people who may not have had a proper meal in days.
You can find your nearest homeless shelter or soup kitchen by using the handy tool on Homeless Link’s website. Or to find out more about different ways you can support homeless charities, you might want to read our guide here.
15. Start a fundraiser
If you’d like to support a specific cause or charity, then fundraising is often a popular option, and money can be raised in various different ways.
Many people choose to commit to a challenging activity that forces them outside of their comfort zone for sponsorship. Examples of challenges could be things like skydiving, or walking or running a long distance. People may do this alone or with others as part of a group. Other options can include things like holding a bake sale, or organising a performance for people to pay to watch.
Before you get started on your own fundraising journey, you might find it helpful to read our quick guide here.
16. Learn CPR
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is one of the most priceless skills that any of us will ever learn. These skills could save someone’s life one day, and we might find ourselves needing to use them in the most unexpected circumstances.
If you’re not sure how to give first aid in an emergency, or your skills are a little rusty, then it’s worth booking yourself onto a course. The British Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance, and The British Heart Foundation are examples of organisations that can provide this training.
You can also read more about how to perform CPR on the St John’s Ambulance website here.
17. Befriend an elderly person
As the saying goes, “Strangers are just friends that we haven’t met yet”, and there are a large number of elderly people across the UK who could benefit from a few hours of your time. Whether you keep them company or help them out with daily tasks like cooking or cleaning, your presence could have a big impact.
To find out more about the different ways that you can help, and which organisations you can volunteer with, it’s worth having a look at the relevant volunteering page on our site here.
Whether you’re going through a difficult time, are confused about what direction to take in life, or need a fresh sense of purpose, giving back can be a humbling and rewarding experience.
Not only does it have the potential to change someone else’s life for the better, but it can also make us feel good, strengthen our social connections, and motivate others to pay it forward too.