Go Green and Get Happy!

What is the key to happiness? Does happiness correlate with wealth, demographics, reputation, attitude, etc.? One quote, attributed to the Buddha, regarding how to improve one’s own happiness says that “Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others.” Based on this idea, that when our words and deeds are aligned with good and helpful intentions we feel happier, it makes sense that people who volunteer report feeling greater trust and connectedness to their communities.

So, just how can you lend a hand and go green at the same time? When it comes to pitching in and volunteering on behalf of the environment, opportunities are abundant. Here are a few fun ways to go green, help out, and get happy:

1. Become a stream monitor. If you’re aching to get outside to connect with Mother Nature and don’t mind getting your hands dirty (and feet wet), then working as a volunteer stream monitor may be a perfect fit for you. Many folks who work on behalf of the health of our watersheds start out with no knowledge or training about the chemical and biological aspects of streams and water; fortunately, many programs across the U.S. are sponsored by local governments who provide training to citizen stream monitors. Worried about a major time commitment? Working as a stream monitor is a flexible way to get active as an environmentalist with varying levels of involvement. To learn more about volunteering as a stream monitor, visit the EPA’s Assessment and Monitoring pages.

2. Adopt a Spot. Join or start a group that focuses on keeping a park, street, pathway, or garden clean and litter free. Enlist friends, businesses, neighbors, and concerned citizens to help out. Picking up litter will beautify your surroundings, boost your mood, and potentially lead to lasting friendships with other environmentalists. In addition, reducing and removing litter from the environment benefits our wildlife and the health of our streams, watersheds, and soil. To learn more about organizing a local litter clean up group, visit Keep America Beautiful and for more info on the ins and outs of litter pick up, check out “How to Pick Up Litter.”

3. Plant a Tree. How can you get active, build community, and go green way all at the same time? Join or organize a group to plant trees in your neighborhood, town, or county. Did you know that by increasing the number of trees in urban areas we can reduce the amount of ozone and smog and improve our air quality? Also, planting trees can reduce energy costs by shading homes and commercial buildings. Not to mention that trees absorb carbon and return oxygen to our atmosphere. Phew! The benefits of planting trees go on and on. To learn more about tree planting, visit CleanAirGardening and the Arbor Day Foundation.

4. Answer the Phone. Many wildlife, environmental, and natural beautification programs are looking for volunteers to support the work they do by taking care of administrative tasks. Volunteer opportunities for these organizations often include answering phones, doing basic computer work, writing, preparing mailings, etc. To find administrative volunteer opportunities at your local wildlife or environmental organization in the U.S. , contact Volunteer.gov and Volunteer Match.

5. Create. Are you a budding writer or artist? Nurture your inner muse and help our planet out at the same time. By crafting recycled art or art with a green theme and sharing it with others, you can raise environmental awareness. Also, if you have the opportunity, donate to or host a green art show that benefits an environmental or wildlife organization. If you have neat, green ideas and are looking to make something, just go for it! You’ll never know what you can make and do unless you try. Chances are that your work and ideas will resonate with more than just a few admirers.

6. Organize. Believe it or not, many schools, community centers, churches, neighborhoods, government buildings, and other places of work do not have recycling programs. The good news is that many environmentally minded citizens (or anyone who enjoys helping out) will want to help set one up, and it’s easier than you might think it is. When I noticed that my YMCA did not have a recycling program in place, I offered to help set one up and left weekly comment cards to encourage the staff to get started. A few weeks ago I happily observed that the Y had implemented a recycling program by simply taping recycling signs on former trash receptacles. For a step by step guide to setting up a recycling program in your community, visit the EPA and get started.

7. Give. When time is scarce, one may still feel the rewards of their benevolence and care for others and our planet by simply donating their money to a good cause. Several charitable organizations that work on behalf of our earth’s environment and wildlife are seeking monetary donations to continue operations and fulfill their green missions. Many groups offer memberships with educational benefits too. To learn about environmental and wildlife activist organizations, visit the Sierra Club, Green Peace, the Human Society, World Wildlife Federation, Environmental Working Group, and the National Audubon Society.

How else have you volunteered your time and helped our planet at the same time? What experiences have you had with volunteer work? Would you recommend volunteering as happiness inducing? We’d love to hear your thoughts on green volunteer work and giving. Please share!

Jessica Monte also blogs about natural parenting and the environment at Green Mamma and API Speaks.

Original 5 Minutes for Going Green post.

4 Responses to Go Green and Get Happy!
  1. Susan (5 Minutes for Mom)
    September 21, 2008 | 2:11 am

    Great ideas! There are so many ways to help… but I have to admit I am guilty of not volunteering enough. I can’t keep all my stuff going as it is… but hopefully one day that’ll change.

  2. Emily
    October 6, 2008 | 2:03 pm

    Great ideas, and very do-able! Another way to have a positive impact is to choose pasture-based meat, dairy and eggs. Go to the farm yourself, or look for the Animal Welfare Approved label (www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org). This seal, granted by the nonprofit Animal Welfare Institute, is awarded to high-welfare farms who raise animals on pasture in an environmentally sound manner. This cuts down on water pollution, a common problem in factory farming (which is sadly the way most of our meat and dairy is produced). Encourage the farmers you know to join the free program, and give the stream monitors in #1 some good results!

  3. Jessica
    October 6, 2008 | 3:45 pm

    Susan, I think that leading a life that sets a good example for our children and that is mindful of the earth’s environment is perhaps the most accessible way for those of us who want to contribute and make a difference for planet earth. Also, making monetary donations can help environmental organizations do great works for our earth.

    Thank you Emily for sharing the Animal Welfare Institute with me (and all of us at 5 Minutes for Going Green). I will definitely check out the site, especially for locating farmers who align with our family’s values and environmental efforts.

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