It’s easy to find things wrong with your life. Innumerable things need improving, changing, throwing away, or are boring. It’s these things which stick out as flaws in the perfect life YOU deserve to be living, where you’re totally content and happy with all aspects of your existence. Never fear! There’s a fix for everything nowadays, right!? Weight loss programmes, self-help books, the benefit, and, um, did I mention the internet? Our modern, technology-infused society has every handy hint, app and opportunity you could ever dream of taking up to make Your Life Better in bullet point format.
Ok, obviously it’s not that simple. Unless someone wants to prove me wrong, (and I would love to meet you if you can), there’s no one grateful and optimistic enough to be totally content with themselves. There’s no denying that we all have our own demons to wrestle with. But when you compare this to the fact that 842 million people do not have enough to eat (according to the World Food Programme) our Western problems pale in comparison.
We joke about ‘first world problems’ when we realise that people living in poverty wouldn’t even have the things we’re having trouble with, like ipads or internet connection. Even though we have all these luxuries that people in Third World countries never will – we still want more. It seems that when we have met all our physical needs, we begin to pursue a holistic self-fulfilment that is always slightly out of our reach. This, of course, is instead of being grateful for what we have and looking for opportunities to help others.
Whenever images of war, disease, poverty or disaster stricken countries flash across one of my multiple screens; I feel a pang of simultaneous guilt and sympathy for their plight. I’d like to say empathy too, but I think it’s a bit presumptuous to say I can imagine what it’s like to be responsible for keeping a large family healthy, let alone educated on less than $1 a day, or having hungry as the default status of my stomach.
Many of us here at University are the definition of privileged. And recently it’s been bothering me, that if I was born into the body of a young woman in a war-torn country like Syria, I’d be fully aware that 18 year olds in countries all over the world are doing shit all about the fact my education has been ripped out of my hands.
It’s hard to admit, but on a daily basis, my actions are nearly always purely to benefit myself. Studying, seeing friends, exercising and work all either make me feel good or earn money, (that I’ll most likely spend without thinking twice on something that’ll be obsolete by the end of the day). If I’m honest with myself, I could be doing a lot more. Most of us could, actually.
As students, we complain about being poor – and it’s true many of us can’t afford to buy many of the things we’d like. However, it’s safe to say that most of us do find some spare cash and time to spend on having fun. This isn’t a bad thing at all – it’s important to give yourself time to relax. Just remember, that there are others out there who don’t have the luxury of even a day off work – something the majority of us see as our god-given right.
It’s incredibly easy to put blinders on when the problems of others seem overwhelming. We have so much on our plates; how could we possible find the time or energy to help others? I’m not saying that you should drop out of uni to go and make soup for the homeless. I’m simply suggesting that you question your priorities. Many studies have shown that people who begin to volunteer whilst young, continue to do so their whole lives. It’s about a mindset of doing what you, personally can do to lend a hand.
On top of all this, I strongly believe volunteering is the best form of self help there is. It makes you feel good about yourself, and studies have shown that it leads to increased happiness for people of every background who partake in it. It results in lower levels of depression, and makes you more likely to live longer. Not only that, but you’ll learn new skills that will make you a more employable and well-rounded person. If you’re feeling a bit ‘I don’t know where my life is going,’ volunteering can be a way to find the meaning and rewards that may be lacking.
If you do want to start volunteering but don’t know where to start, the University of Auckland has loads of groups and charities on campus; political, human rights, environmental – the list goes on. One hour, or a few dollars a week is doable for nearly all of us in this privileged position we occupy as students. It’s a great way to meet likeminded people passionate about similar causes as yourself, and it just gives you awesome karma! Imagine if everyone had the mindset that we would give up what time and resources we could, for the greater good. Yes, the problems out there are massive, and it doesn’t seem like something as small as buying a keep-cup will halt climate change in its tracks. However, when helpfulness is a habit, you never know who you could inspire, what amazing positive changes you could make, or whose life you could help to turn around.