Chloe: How everyday moments can change lives
Altruism is essential for mental well-being because it encourages us to put others first. Altruism helps us to build meaningful relationships and become part of something greater than ourselves.
People are at their best when they don’t just worry about themselves, but see themselves as a part of the greater good. In doing so, we begin to act as if our actions make a difference … because they do.
By being kind to ourselves and others, we can reduce stress, alleviate loneliness, and increase our feelings of optimism. Our actions can have a ripple effect, and our choices to be kind can have far-reaching impacts, beyond what we can even imagine.
Here’s how Chloe’s experience with altruism has improved her mental well-being.
I was always the smallest in my family. I have an older sister and a whole bunch of cousins who are more like siblings. Growing up, I often felt like I was running after them, playing catch-up. And I wasn’t even the youngest!
We used to visit my cousin’s farm in Windsor, Ontario, and they had this treehouse. Looking back, I’m sure it was just a regular treehouse, but I was only a small kid at the time, so I remember everything being bigger than it was.
In my imagination, that tree house felt like it was five stories tall with four bathrooms, three pools, two games rooms and a full-size basketball court. And even though it didn’t actually have those things, it might as well have, because I never really got to see what was up there.
I’m a lot quieter than the rest of my family, and when I was younger, I had trouble speaking up for myself, which led to me not being noticed. So one by one, my sister and cousins sprinted up to the treehouse, leaving me behind. And when they got up there, I could hear them laughing and playing and bonding… all while I sat outside, alone.
I went from BEING the smallest in my family to FEELING like the smallest in my family.
And this wasn’t the only time. For years, I felt the sting of rejection as kids continued to overlook me and leave me out of their fun. And if I was included, sometimes I’d wonder, would anyone notice if I wasn’t there?
But one person who always noticed me was my Nana.
I used to call my nana often, but I didn’t always know what to say, so instead, I would read to her. I read all kinds of books to her, my favourite being this series called Percey Jackson and the Olympians, which was a fantasy series about Greek Mythology. And to be honest, I don’t think she cared for these books at all.
But to her, it didn’t matter what I read–it didn’t matter who I was–she just wanted to let me know that I mattered; that I was seen.
Finding my place in the world
Flash forward a few years, and I was going on my first LiveDifferent International Build at 14 years old, with this crazy dream that I could change the world. We were heading to the Dominican Republic to help build a house with a local family, and I had no idea what to expect.
We drove to the community where we would be working in a large open-back truck and I was taken aback by everything I saw. We walked through the community, crossing over a rickety bridge above a black, dirty stream of water that had a smell that I will never forget. In this community, they didn’t have regular garbage pickups and there was trash everywhere. Their sewage system was also non-existent, and the stream of black water and all of the piled-up garbage permeated throughout the entire community.
At this point, I wasn’t sure how I could help. I was a teenager who grew up in Oakville, Ontario, and I felt completely unqualified to help people who were dealing with challenges I couldn’t even imagine. This community was facing poverty, unemployment, health issues and insufficient access to education, clean water and sanitation facilities, among others.
I wanted to make a difference, it was important to me, but what I didn’t realize was that altruism looked a lot different than I thought.
As soon as our bus arrived at the destination, we were bombarded by a swarm of kids who demanded that we pick them up and carry them around on our backs. They grabbed our sunglasses to try them on, playing and laughing with us as they led us into their community. I knew that on this trip, we were going to be building a house with a family, but what started to build as soon as I got there was this deep sense of connection.
There was this moment when surrounded by the community, all those feelings I had experienced as a kid with being left out and separated from everyone started to fade away. I didn’t feel like I was standing on the ground looking up at this mysterious, magical treehouse wondering if someone would let me in. I was already in, being welcomed with open arms. I finally felt connected and like I belonged.
How altruism can happen in everyday moments
Entering into a community and knowing that I may not be able to do much to help felt overwhelming. But I learned that sometimes just being there, showing people that they matter, and giving whatever it is that you have to give can cause a ripple effect that can change lives.
During my time in the Dominican, I realized that sometimes it’s the people who seemingly have the least to give are the most selfless and caring. People in the community would bring coffee to the worksite, share their scarce food with others, and go out of their way to say hello or give you a helping hand.
It reminded me of my relationship with my Nana. I watched her get sick, powerless to do anything to make her ailments go away. But I was able to sit with her and be there for her in a different way. I read Percy Jackson and the Olympians to her again even when she couldn’t respond … I was able to show her that she mattered and was there for her, the same way she was there for me when I desperately needed it.
We live in a big world, one that faces so many harsh realities. Making a difference can feel overwhelming or scary. But you don’t need to leave the country – or even your own community – to make a difference. Being altruistic can happen in small, everyday moments that can have a big impact on someone’s life.
For me, I’ve been able to shrink the concept of altruism down to the idea of being able to notice the people that need to be noticed. Many of us are simply looking for someone to show us that we matter, that we belong; that we too can climb all the way to the top of that tree house if we’re just given the chance.
Because when you open your eyes and really start to see the people around you, you notice just how many opportunities you have to show someone that they matter and that they belong too.
Mental health is an ongoing journey and it is important to make sure that we all take the time to check in with ourselves, our loved ones and our mental well-being.
LiveDifferent Circles equips young people with the skills and tools needed to build positive mental health. Through conversations on authenticity, empathy, growth, resilience, altruism and values, youth develop the self-confidence to deal with the issues they’re facing and take positive action in their communities.
Want to join people like Chloe and help youth across Canada build positive mental health? Become a Road Team Volunteer! Want to learn more about Circles and how it can make a difference in your community? See how LiveDifferent can help!