It’s not a selfish question to wonder what one would benefit from contributing to society. In fact, it’s one of the first questions one should ask when thinking about whether or not to get involved in their community.
Research has shown that when an individual contributes to society their physical and mental health improve as well as their overall social wellbeing. Community decision-making processes are also more effective when individuals get involved. As a result, their environments improve as well.
These benefits are by no means abstract. Research has shown that getting involved in one’s community can improve overall life satisfaction, lower stress leading to a decreased risk of premature death, and can help improve conditions such as depression.
Getting involved also helps strengthen social connections, which has similar and, perhaps compounding, effects on health. Studies looking at the impact of increased social connections, for instance, found that doubling the number of one’s friends has the same impact on happiness as a 50% increase in income.
Along the same lines, research from Columbia University demonstrated links between social integration and better recovery times for stroke patients. A Harvard study even found improved memory among elderly subjects who were more socially integrated.
An individual also benefits indirectly when contributing to society as their community improves through their engagement. Studies have shown that civic participation can improve things like public health, environmental management, safety, and even local education outcomes.
Below explores these ideas in more depth by answer three popular questions:
- What does contributing to society mean?
- Why is it important to contribute to society?
- What can you contribute to society?
What does it mean to contribute to society?
Before diving into how to get involved, it’s useful to take a step back and ask what we mean by “contributing to society.”
Contributing to society means to participate in community and self-development activities. For example, participating in community decision making processes, volunteering for and donating to charities, constructive involvement in social networks, or concerted efforts to enrich one’s own wellbeing and character.
In the context of everyday life, there is an infinite number of opportunities to contribute to society. The term could truly apply to any positive or meaningful engagement with oneself or others.
While some may be tempted to think of contributing to society as being completely altruistic, it’s worth noting that the individual also benefits as their community improves. Note too that the definition of “contributing to society” outlined above includes how an individual treats and develops themself. After all, society is only as well as each individual.
So, by each person developing themselves, society as a whole benefits. Everything from maintaining supportive and healthy relationships to learning new skills and cultivating personal interests can help build the foundation for a strong society.
Engaging with the community is, of course, the other end of the equation. Within the scope of these engagements, the importance of small interpersonal interactions cannot be overstated. Often called “weak ties” in sociology, brief exchanges and casual acquaintances have powerful effects. One study from the University of British Columbia concluded that,
…even social interactions with the more peripheral members of our social networks contribute to our well-being.
Building healthy and supportive relationships with family and friends is another important aspect of contributing to society. In some ways, these core networks are the primary mode for how an individual can give back. In most cases, relationships with core social circles are where individuals have the most influence.
Studies have shown, for example, that people can influence those around them on decisions ranging from travel destinations to tattoos. Engagements with family and friends, then, are a cornerstone of social contribution.
The final dimension to social contribution could be thought of as involvement with the “wider community.” These types of activities could be direct or indirect engagements. For example, volunteering at a soup kitchen or participating in local associations are direct engagements with other members of the community. On the other hand, things like donating money or giving blood indirectly engage other members of the community but clearly contribute.
Why is it important to contribute to society?
While the answer to this question may sound obvious, it’s an important question and one that deserves careful consideration.
Contributing to society strengthens fundamental human connections and decision-making processes. Individual contributions to the community are unique and, thus, irreplaceable. Giving back allows individuals to self-actualize as well as improve their community through their distinctive talents.
Again, it’s worth emphasizing that contributing to society doesn’t just mean selfless behavior in which the individual gains nothing or even loses something. That would be self-defeating; one cannot hope to improve society by harming one’s one security.
In some cases, of course, contributions may seem entirely altruistic like donating money or volunteering. However, the individual participating in these activities still gains by directing resources toward things they feel are important, and by gaining a “sense of purpose.”
This sense of purpose is something that researchers have shown to be crucial for mental and physical health. One study published in Sleep Science and Practice, for example, found that those with a higher sense of purpose showed better sleeping patterns. Sleep, of course, has massive effects on an individual’s overall health.
In the broadest sense of the term, an individual pursuing an inherent interest or talent is one important way of contributing to society. Each individual is so unique that their skills and talents cannot be reproduced by any other. And, that’s not just a nice platitude.
Mathematically speaking, the odds of any one individual existing is 1 in 10^2,685,000. To clarify, that’s 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeros. The probability of each individual existing then is almost zero and the probability of duplicating a single individual is even lower.
Each person possesses such unique characteristics that withholding individual talents and skills from society is practically an affront against nature. It is, therefore, important to contribute these skills to society for the benefit of both the individual and society writ large. As Roy T. Bennet wrote in The Light in the Heart,
You are unique. You have different talents and abilities. You don’t have to always follow in the footsteps of others. And most importantly, you should always remind yourself that you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing and have a responsibility to develop the talents you have been given.
What can you contribute to society?
Above outlined a number of ways in which individuals can contribute to society. It’s worth summarizing them one more time, however.
An individual can contribute to society by developing their own character, talents, and wellbeing; cultivating healthy relationships with family and friends; positively engaging with casual acquaintances and strangers; as well as, becoming involved in social networks and community development.
The activities that fall under the category of how an individual could contribute to society are far too numerous to list. So, if readers take away one thing from this post I hope that it’s the idea that social contribution is like an onion – beginning, at the core, with self-development and from there building on layers of community development with those in our closest circles and moving toward the larger community.
If you’re interested in contributing to society, I encourage you to check out some of the posts below which dive into more detail on how to develop those “onion layers” of social contribution.
- 18 Examples of Civic Engagement Activities
- Volunteer Work That’s Good For Your Resume & Your Community
- Civic Engagement Explained: Definition, Examples, & Models
- 15 Incredible Examples of One Person Making a Difference
- How Community Involvement Can Reduce Crime
- What is Community Involvement: Five Good Examples
- What is Social Wellbeing and How do We Achieve It?