So you want to make your mark on the world, make a difference, leave your imprint for posterity – but how? Discover a new species? Invent a never-ending battery? Illuminate the world of philosophy with a deep thought? Find a cure for cancer? Just what is it that you think will make a mark?
The truth is, for most of us, these types of big, humankind-changing imprints are way beyond our ken. Other than the idea of leaving our mark on history, they probably don’t even lie within our field of expertise or interest. But if you have the smarts, go right ahead, and good luck to you!
If you ask younger people, the currently popular way of making your mark is through becoming a celebrity. The desire to be famous burns bright – but for what? Appearing in a reality television show or becoming a trend-setting vlogger may seem easily attainable, but only for the lucky few, and celebrity status can disappear quicker than a 90s boy-band!
Any efforts to make your mark can seem as pointless and as temporary as making footprints in the snow – yes, we made a mark today, but it’s gone by tomorrow.
But what if you could make a difference by doing something else? Something that lies easily within your grasp? What if you could make a difference every day? Not just a once-in-a-lifetime-now-I’m-done kind of thing, but the kind of transforming energy that sends ripples out into the world and into the future? You can.
A 2015 study from Brigham Young University showed that loneliness is a major public health issue, representing a greater risk to mortality than smoking fifteen cigarettes a day or obesity! Humans are pack animals – we need to belong, to socialise, to feel supported, appreciated, loved. Living alone and having no human contact is not good for people’s health or mental wellbeing. ‘But what has that got to do with me and leaving my imprint in history?’ I hear you cry.
It can start with something as simple as a smile. When you smile, you cause the release of happy hormones in your body. A genuine smile triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with happiness, and dopamine, associated with desire and reward. In other words, you start to feel good because you smile. You don’t have to wait around for something to make you smile, you just go right ahead and give a goofy grin for no reason!
Once you’ve learned the basics – smiling for no reason – you’re ready for stage two: smiling at a someone else. Try it with people you know first, and then give a little grin in the supermarket, for example, as a safer way to start off with strangers.
Smiling is contagious. Research has suggested that people subconsciously try on other people’s facial expressions in social situations to recognise how they are feeling, and neuroscience has found that we have mirror neurons that fire in response to observing the actions of others. If you give a smile, you not only start to feel good yourself, but cause the person on the receiving end to start to feel good too! You are making a difference. Once they start smiling, they pass it on, and before you know it a ripple of good feelings will start to spread out into the community.
Stage three involves a little more effort to make an imprint – an active expenditure of energy. Visit your grandparents, especially if they live alone. Send a card to or call a friend or relative you haven’t seen in a while. Help a person who’s struggling with their bags, or make a point of calling on an elderly neighbour. Exchange a friendly word with a shopkeeper. Tell a former teacher how much they inspired you. Hold open a door for someone with a buggy as you smile. Volunteer. The possibilities to make a happy mark on the world are endless when you start looking for them.
You may have heard of a movement called paying it forward – where you perform an act of kindness for someone and instead of them doing a favour in return, you ask them to carry out three acts of kindness for others. This sends out an exponentially-growing wave effect of helpfulness and generosity. Even if no-one has done something lovely for you, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be the one at the centre of the pool of kindness and start the ripple yourself. The UK Pay It Forward Day is on the 28th of April in 2018, although, why wait? The world is yours for the giving! Altruistic acts not only help others, but once again, an equal effect heads straight back at you – you’ll feel happier, healthier, and that you really are making a difference.
So make a commitment to yourself to carry out three random acts of kindness in the next twenty-four hours. Whether for people you know, or complete strangers (especially isolated or lonely ones), choose a variety of nice things to do for someone and see what a difference you can make in this world. And while you’re busy spreading a wave of joy, maybe another world-changing idea will take shape too. Make your mark on the world today!