We all want to live up to Maya Angelou’s ‘know better, do better,” mantra, but sometimes we don’t know where to start. The good news is, it really only takes a few life changes to instantly make you a better person. You just have to be willing to try them.
Easy Life Changes That Instantly Make You a Better Person
Last week, we talked about how to raise kids to grow up and change the world. Like I said at the end of that post, though, we can’t just expect our kids to fix things. We need to do better now. So, with that in mind, here are some of my favorite easy life changes that truly do instantly make you a better person.
Consider other’s needs before your wants
If you want to be a better person, start by considering the needs of others before your own wants. While one particular current controversy over a piece of cloth comes to mind, here’s one that’s a little less politically charged: fireworks. My friend up north lives in a woodsy development. For the last two weeks, people in the development behind her set off fireworks late at night every single night, simply because they want to.
My friend, on the other hand, needs to sleep. She also needs to feel safe in her home and not worry that a stray firework will set the woods ablaze. Her neighbor with PTSD needs to feel safe in his own home and not worry that the constant barrage of booms will trigger an episode. The needs of everyone in the surrounding area are sacrificed to one person who wants to see pretty lights in the sky night after night.
Considering other’s needs before your wants doesn’t mean giving up everything you love. No one is saying you have to give your family vacation budget away to the less fortunate or feed the world before you can have a slice of pizza. It simply means being more considerate of others and not allowing your wants to put other’s life-sustaining needs at jeopardy.
Think before you speak (or write)
Too often, we blurt out hurtful things without really considering the damage we can do with our words. One of my favorite quotes by author Fran Lebowitz goes, “Think before you speak, read before you think.” Put simply, it means educate yourself and really think before opening your mouth or letting those typing fingers run wild.
We’ve become a society that feels like everyone needs to know every thought that runs through our head. We value our freedom of speech, and that’s a good thing. However, we need to learn that just because we’re free to say something doesn’t mean we should say it. Some things truly are better left unsaid. Which brings us to…
Never say anything online that you wouldn’t say in real life
Social media has done wonderful things for the world, but it’s also created a sort of disconnect in our minds. It allows us to think of people as bits and bytes inside our screen instead of real people with very real feelings. So, we often say brutal things we’d never consider saying to someone’s face. If we just stopped for a moment and asked whether we’d say something like that in real life, we’d all be much better people.
That goes for meme sharing, too. Before you share cruel memes mocking someone’s politics, ask yourself if you would say those say words to a family member on the opposite side. Same goes for anything that insinuates that all members of a particular party, job, etc. are bad. Ask yourself if you’d say that to a cousin or friend in that position. Always, always, always imagine saying your words to someone you love before you throw them out there for the world to see.
Own up to your mistakes
As we discussed in the past, everyone makes mistakes. You make them, I make them, even the smartest person in the world makes them. If we’re willing to own up to them, we can learn and grow into better people. Yet, that’s so much easier said than done for many of us. Rather than saying, “I’m sorry, I will do better,” we’re almost hard-wired to immediately launch our defense into why we’re not wrong, why it’s not our fault, and so on.
Imagine that you just discovered a phrase that you thought was harmless is actually quite offensive to others, and your friend points it out. You now have two options. You can thank her for letting you know, admit that you made a mistake, and promise to do better; or you can get defensive, declare the whole matter “stupid,” and keep on using it because to do otherwise would be admitting that you really were wrong.
Too many people choose option B because they don’t want to own up to a mistake. If you truly want to be a better person, though, choose option A.
Redirect your anger into positive action
Nearly every article or book about how to become a better person includes something about “letting go of anger.” We’re told over and over that being angry is bad and that we should do everything possible to squash it from our lives. Talk about setting yourself up for failure! You cannot completely remove anger from your life any more than you can remove happiness, sadness, or fear. Heck, even the nicest person can be scary when pushed too far. Anger itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s what you choose to do with that anger that really matters.
Rather than letting it control you and throw you into a massive tantrum, channel it into something positive. If politics make you angry, run for office (or help someone else get elected). Upset by a story on the news about abandoned animals? Volunteer at a local shelter. Even on a smaller scale, channeling anger into a positive action is always a good idea. Maybe your kids drew all over the walls and you’re about to lose your mind. Instead of screaming at them, recognize that they need a creative outlet and set up a family art studio. Just take a deep breath and ask yourself, “how can I use this anger to make me a better person?”
Let others change, too
I saved one of the most important life changes for last, mostly because it’s probably the hardest one to do. While you’re working on making yourself a better person, others are likely (hopefully) doing the same. You have to let them.
I notice this new trend of digging up people’s past to throw in their faces. Now, it’s one thing when the person clearly hasn’t changed and you’re trying to show a pattern of abuse or cruddy behavior. It’s another thing entirely, though, to dig up something someone said as a teenager and use it as “proof” that they’re a bad person today, even though they’ve spent years making up for it.
We’ve all done things we’re not proud of at some point in our lives, especially when we were younger. Goodness knows our parents did some really wacky things in the 60s that they’d never do today! Let people show you that they’ve changed. Let them live down their mistakes. If we refuse to allow people the opportunity to show us that they’re different, then they’ll just stop bothering to try to be better people. After all, what’s the point if all anyone will ever see is who you were rather than who you are?
As long as you actually want to become a better person, these changes aren’t all that difficult. You just need to make a commitment to sticking to them. Yes, you’ll falter because, like I said, no one is perfect. When that happens, just remind yourself that you’re not only becoming a better person for yourself, but for future generations. Remember, we all have to work together to leave a more peaceful and unified planet for our kids.