Do Good, Feel Good

I’ve just started reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project. One of her “Secrets of Adulthood” is Do good, Feel good. This is a concept that’s been around for ages, but it’s important to remind ourselves of the idea once in a while.

The fact is that when we do good for others, we feel better. It makes us happier people who then do more good. There are lots of ways to do good — you can find a charity you’re passionate about and donate time and/or money to it, you can take action by promoting a cause that’s important to you, you can do something as simple as holding a door for someone or giving a hug to friend.

Below are a few resources to get you started.


There are so many charity groups, it’s hard to know where to start. It can also be difficult to determine which charities are set up in such a way that your money will actually do some good for real people in need. I tend to focus on charities where there is some personal connection — I like to know someone either working for the charities, or someone promoting them. Ending child sex slavery and exploitation. I wrote about Love146 the other day. It’s difficult to read about the atrocities committed against these young girls, but the work Love 146 is doing is amazing.

Charity: Water. Chris Guillebeau has recently partnered with this group to build wells in Africa. Without access to clean water, communities cannot begin to dig themselves out of poverty.

The Environmental Working Group. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of this advocacy group. They conduct extraordinary studies and lobby Congress to promote real change for the safety of our products and our food.

Healthy Child, Healthy World. Another favorite here at Smart Family Tips. Healthy Child focuses all of their efforts on making the world a safer place for our children.

Find a Cause:

Visit to browse through a number of causes and click the links to take action. When taking action, you can send letters to Congress, among other things, right from the web site.

Go Local:

Find a homeless shelter or a nonprofit in your area that needs some help and volunteer your time. Volunteer Match is a good place to start if you’re unsure.

Get Personal:

Helping other people doesn’t require a formal organization. If you know of someone in need, help in any way you can. You can even help anonymously if you’re more comfortable doing it that way. Some ideas:

— If you know someone is really struggling financially, buy a gift card to a local grocery store or gas station. You can give the cards directly, or have them delivered anonymously.

— Cook a meal for someone who’s overwhelmed. Make sure to find out their tastes and any allergies they have before proceeding.

— Write a note to someone who’s been down lately.

— Tell someone you love them.

— Sign up at It Starts With Us to participate with a large group of others in “Weekly Missions” that provide you with lots of great ideas.

— Listen when someone needs to vent.

— Say nice things to others. When someone does something that impresses you, say so.

— Smile more. It makes both you and the people who come in contact with you happier.

How about you? How do you do good?

No More Resolutions

Like many people, I have an unfortunate history with resolutions. I spent years making them, only to fail spectacularly by January 15. Then I stopped making them altogether, but found that I spent the year not really working towards anything. This year, I’m going to try something different.

I’m going to spend some time thinking about what kind of person I want to be and then focus on thoughts and activities that will lead me closer to that vision. I’m not talking about becoming someone else; I don’t want to be Oprah or Nancy Pelosi or Jennifer Nettles or Erin Doland or even Heather Armstrong, though I admire them all for various reasons. I’m talking about the parts of myself that I want to make better and the places where I want to direct my focus.

My idea is that if I can create a specific picture of the kind of person I want to be, then the actions will naturally fall into place. I haven’t completely worked out all of the details, but here are a few things to start with:

  • I want to spend time with my family without multi-tasking (i.e. “You all keep playing, I’ll be right back after I move the clothes from the washer to the dryer.”) My mind is constantly running off to all the other things I think I need to be doing. I want to spend more time in the moment.
  • I want to improve my efforts to live in a more environmentally and socially responsible way. I’m off to a good start, but there’s always room for improvement.
  • I want to live more simply, because clutter, both life clutter and physical clutter, add to my level of stress and reduce my level of enjoyment.
  • I want to be more mindful of my expenditures, both of time and money. It’s not so much about being restrictive as it is about doing less wasting, and more spending, on things that truly matter to me.

Soon, I plan to break these desires down into specific actions that will move me closer to the kind of person I want to be. I’ve often said that unless we know why we want to do something, the motivation is harder to come by. If I know that the things I do and the choices I make every day will lead me either towards or away from my goals, it’s much easier.

How about you? What kind of person do you want to be and how do you plan to get there?

Blog Action Day: An Open Letter to Climate Change Naysayers

From Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day on their own blogs with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance. Blog Action Day 2009 will be the largest-ever social change event on the web. One day. One issue. Thousands of voices.

7,331 Blogs
137 Countries
11,379,251 Readers

An Open Letter to Climate Change Naysayers

Dear Naysayers,

I am no scientist. I majored in English. I’m a reader and a thinker. Science was never a strength for me in school and it still isn’t. I cannot prove to you scientifically that climate change is real, but I believe there are people who can, and I believe that it is.

I know that you disagree with me.

Actually, I wish I could believe that you are right. That we could continue to pillage and plunder this planet while it keeps rising to meet our voracious consumption. That progress, and buying into that progress, with our money and our habits are what really matter for civilization to move forward.

But I cannot.

Because I cannot, I will continue to try to: reduce my own consumption, decrease my footprint, eat more mindfully and locally, and pesticide-free. I will try to drive less and grow more. All because I believe it is necessary and because I believe it will make a difference.

I know you think this is foolish.

But let’s suppose for a moment that you are right. That the planet is not changing, that we are not using up a limited supply of resources. Let’s assume we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want, with no global consequences. Even if this were true, what is the harm in living a life of less? If I, and many others, choose to take shorter showers, or choose to use public transportation, or choose to grow some of our own food — if we try to be good stewards of the planet by wasting less and giving more, where is the harm? If we come to the end of our lives and have done our best to reduce, reuse and recycle, is anyone really worse off for our efforts?

I get that you don’t think there is such a thing as climate change. What I don’t get, is why you so vehemently cry out against it. If the scientists are wrong, how does is hurt you if we try to save the planet in vain?

I realize there isn’t as much money to be made when people become more mindful of consumption and wastefulness. But truly, if money is the only motivator in life anymore, then I’m not only concerned for our planet, but for our sense of humanity.

To find out more about how you can help fight climate change, visit the Take Action Page at Also, check out all of the blogs participating in Blog Action Day 2009.

Please leave a comment below to tell us how you respond to naysayers.



Part of being ecologically and socially responsible citizens is giving back, either of your time or your money, or both. Helping others and helping the planet are both areas that I am interested in working on more. In the last couple of years, I’ve tried to become more deliberate about my giving — planning ahead of time how I want to give rather than handing some money over to each cause that pulls at my heart strings. Ultimately, this is the best decision for me. It allows me to give more to the causes I care about, which allows my gift to have more of an impact.

There are a few ways I like to give. Keep in mind that this is what works for me and it may not be the best option for you.

Large Organizations. There are a few large organizations whose work and vision are aligned with my own values. When possible, I like to give to them. A few of my favorites are Kiva, Environmental Working Group, and Healthy Child, Healthy World. Each of these groups can effect far more change than I can on my own. They are also devoted to truly making a difference, and less interested in lining the pockets of the people who run them.

Groups that provide a service I use. Public radio comes to mind first here. I regularly listen to NPR and believe I should contribute when possible because I get so much value from their programming. I also donate to the public library (usually in the form of books), because I’ve gotten a great deal of value from the services they provide as well.

Individuals. In many ways, contributing to other individuals is the most rewarding. It’s much easier to see the direct impact of the gift. The beauty of helping other people directly is that there are so many ways to help. All it takes is the willingness to listen for what’s needed and the effort to find a way to provide it. Some examples: I have worked in a high school where several of us learned that a young lady wanted to attend her senior prom, but because of her family’s circumstances, she was unable to afford the required formal attire. Someone took the initiative to let other faculty members know, and after collecting a small donation from each of us, not only was the young lady able to buy a dress and shoes, but she had enough to enjoy a nice dinner as well.

Another example, one of my favorites, comes from Jason at Frugal Dad. He says that each year his family goes out to eat on Christmas Eve. They intentionally choose a very modest restaurant, usually Waffle House or something similar. Once they’ve finished their meal, they leave a $100 tip. His rationale is that anyone working at a Waffle House on Christmas Eve could probably use the money.

Random Acts of Kindness don’t have to be monetary, though. Simply being thoughtful enough to take care of something for someone else can make a considerable difference in a person’s day.

Sometimes the things other people need are very “big” to them because of the situation they are in. Depending on your own situation, it may be that what someone else needs is relatively easy for you to provide. I’d encourage you to listen for opportunities to do what you can for others. . . not only because it’s a decent thing to do, but because it does wonders for your own sense of well-being.

What do you think? How do you like to give?

Photo Credit: Mr Kris

Fair Trade. It Matters.

I’ve found myself in the middle of a fairly large project, so for the next few days I’ll be running some posts that appeared in the early days of this blog — I think only about 5 of you were reading back then. 🙂

This post originally appeared here on February 10, 2009.

The things I’m most interested in when it comes to food and drink are buying products that are free of chemicals and pesticides, and buying locally whenever possible. There are some items that cannot be purchased locally, and some of those, I’ve been unwilling to do without. Two of those items are coffee and tea. When spending money on items from abroad (or even close to home, for that matter) I believe I have a social responsibility to purchase from companies that promote fair wages and fair working conditions for their employees and suppliers. We’ve all heard about the sweat shop labor in China and in other countries and many of us changed our buying habits as a result. An issue that has received less press, but one that is equally appalling, involves the conditions of, and wages paid to, coffee and cocoa farmers. This is where Fair Trade Certification come in.

What is the problem?

According to Global Exchange,

The United States consumes one-fifth of all the world’s coffee, making it the largest consumer in the world. But few Americans realize that agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in what can be described as “sweatshops in the fields.” Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt.

What can we do?

Look for the Fair Trade label on the coffee and tea products we buy. According to Transfair, a nonprofit, third-party certifier of fair trade products:

The Fair Trade Certified™ label guarantees:

A fair price
The Fair Trade Certified label guarantees that farmers and workers received a fair price for their product. The Fair Trade price means that farmers can feed their families and that their children can go to school instead of working in the fields.

Quality products
By receiving a fair price, Fair Trade producers can avoid cost-cutting practices that sacrifice quality. The Fair Trade producers’ traditional artesanal farming methods result in exceptional products.

Care for the environment
Most Fair Trade Certified coffee, tea and chocolate in the US is certified organic and shade grown. This means that the products you buy maintain biodiversity, provide shelter for migratory birds and help reduce global warming.

Community impact
Empowered by the economic stability provided by Fair Trade, members of the COSURCA coffee cooperative in Colombia successfully prevented the cultivation of more than 1,600 acres of coca and poppy, used for the production of illicit drugs. In Papua New Guinea, the AGOGA cooperative, is investing in a medical team to meet the healthcare needs of its isolated rural community. In the highlands of Guatemala, indigenous Tzutuhil Mayans in the La Voz cooperative are sending local kids to college for the first time. Near Lake Titicaca, in Peru, the CECOVASA cooperative is assisting members from Quechua and Aymara indigenous groups in raising coffee quality and transitioning to certified organic production.

“The fair price is a solution. It has given us the chance to pay a good price to our farmers. Those who are not in Fair Trade want to participate. For us it is a great opportunity. It gives us hope.”
-Benjamin CholotĂ­o

Fair Trade coffees and teas can be purchased through a variety of companies. Two are:

Equal Exchange, offering coffees, teas, cocoa products, and snacks.

Green Mountain Coffee has an extensive line of Fair Trade Coffees including Newman’s Own Organics, as well as Fair Trade Teas and Hot Cocoa.

Fair Trade does not necessarily mean more expensive. I’ve been buying Nell’s Breakfast Blend, one in the Newman’s Own line, from Green Mountain for some time now. It costs no more than the non-Fair Trade coffee I’d been buying before. All it takes is a little time to consider where our purchasing dollars go.

Don’t forget to enter the business card giveaway. Deadline is Friday, 9/4 at midnight EST.