The Think Smaller Blog is an eight-part editorial series that strives to change the world by empowering anyone to take small, yet potent actions in their community. Taken collectively, we believe these changes can add up to make an incredible difference. Check back every Monday for the latest update.

Put On Your Oxygen Mask

In the event of a mid-flight emergency, a flight attendant will always instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen mask before offering assistance to others. That small tether of breathable air is your lifeline. And it is the critical difference between your being a potential hero or a liability. With your mask on, you are safe, calm, and ready to help others. Without it, you’re panicked, confused, and likely to be the one in need of rescue.

If you think about it, the same principle applies in making the world a better place.

Everyone, at some point, has taken a mental inventory of the injustice and negativity in the world and wished there was something they could do about it. They’ve also wrestled with the feeling of being small and powerless amidst the enormous social, political, and economic barriers that stand in the way.

But how many of us have considered the difference it would make if everyone led with taking care of themselves, first and foremost? What might the world look like if everyone made sure to secure their own oxygen mask before offering help, as it were

What’s your lifeline?

When was the last time you took an inventory of your mental and emotional wellbeing? What stresses are you dealing with right now? What is your diet like? How much exercise do you get each week? When was the last time you unplugged your brain from the constant barrage of notifications and dreary current events?

When was the last time you enjoyed fresh air in your lungs and warm sun on your skin? When you listened to beautiful birdsong, a babbling brook, or a gentle breeze flowing through an aromatic forest?

When you took time to just be in and enjoy the company of friends and loved ones?

Are you pursuing the life of your dreams? Or are you fighting to just make sure your bills paid and food is on the table?

Are you spending so much time tending to everyone else’s needs that you are slowly finding your energy depleting? Are you taking the time to build it back up? Or do you feel yourself becoming more drained with each passing day?

A Positive Contagion

Have you ever considered how much better the world would be if every person put as much effort into their own health and happiness as we invest in curing disease, ending poverty, and fighting injustice? Or better yet, as much as we invest in media, entertainment, and consumer culture?

Have you ever stopped to think that — by caring for your personal wellbeing, you might be unconsciously giving others permission to take heed of theirs? What might happen if everyone took just an hour each day to do something that effected a positive impact on their own life?

When you feel good, it opens the floodgates of potential. Believing in yourself helps you see the good in others. Positive self-talk encourages you to speak well of others. And in striving for your best, you inspire those around you to do the same. You feel more driven and prepared to help when help is needed. You sleep better, you have more energy, you’re more creative, and you’re better able to focus on solutions instead of just seeing the problems.

Our attitudes and emotions are powerful filters that influence how we see the world around us. They’re also contagious. And there are few things we find as attractive as a man or woman who radiates with positivity, optimism, and happiness. Those are the people we want to be around, who inspire us, and whose example we aspire to follow.

So, in effect, by taking the time to make your own life better, the energy you radiate makes the world a little bit better for everyone around you. And as more and more people do this, the exponentially greater our collective experience becomes. Though for every one person, this may seem a small benefit — taken together, the possibility is profound.

In our never ending drive to see more hope and happiness in the world, we would all do best to first make sure our own oxygen masks are secure.

Jake Shapka is the Coordinator of Brand & Culture integration at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. He holds a degree in Communications Studies from the University of Calgary and is passionate about inspiring communities to come together to create a world where everyone feels a sense of purpose, connection, and belonging. You can find him on Twitter by following @jakeshapka.