Some of Ben Franklin's best ideas came from these 9 questions. Maybe yours can, too.

Ben Franklin: He was a Founding Father, he loved to party, and he's on the $100 bill. But you might be surprised what else he's left behind.

Image via Ervins Strauhmanis/Flickr.


Most people have no idea he created the civic triumphs that formed the foundation of American culture.

He and his friends created the first volunteer fire department, the first post office, and the first lending library.

Images 1 and 2 via Library of Congress/Flickr. Image 3 via Mennonite Church/Wikimedia Commons.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

How'd he do it? He had the right attitude and a great group of friends.

Image (modified) by Howard Chandler Christy/Wikimedia Commons.

And I'm not even talking about his Founding Father friends. This is a totally different squad.

At age 21, Franklin got his friends together to form the Junto.

The Junto was a weekly meet-up or "mutual-improvement club" where he and his friends talked about how they could make both themselves and the world cooler.

There were certain questions Franklin asked his friends at these meetings. High jinks and civic innovations ensued.

The folks at 92nd Street Y, Stanford's Hoover Institution, and Citizen University are set on proving that Franklin's approach can be brought into the modern day. Out of the questions Franklin posed, the folks behind a new form of the Junto, called Ben Franklin Circles, have chosen the most effective — just nine simple prompts:

1. Is there something you need help with?

2. Is anyone here starting a new project and is there a way we can help?

3. Anyone who’s doing innovative work?

4. Is there anyone whose friendship we want?

5. How can we use our networks to help each other?

6. Is there anyone we can mentor and encourage?

7. Can we give one another any personal/professional advice?

8. Can we improve anything about the circle itself?

9. Are there ways the circle should be connecting with and contributing to nearby communities?

As you can see, there are a lot of hive-mind, lifting-each-other-up vibes. Honestly, I feel kinda good just reading these questions.

But what's really interesting is what Franklin did more than 20 years after starting this improvement club.

At age 42, Franklin took the Junto to the next level. Believing he already had enough money to last the rest of his life, he retired from work and dedicated himself 100% to his community.

As a profile of Franklin's uniquely non-monetary definition of success in The Atlantic states, "rather than cultivate the fine arts of indolence, retirement, [Franklin] said, was 'time for doing something useful.'"

Useful like a volunteer fireman creator. Image (modified) via Charles Washington Wright/Wikimedia Commons.

Not a bad way to spend retirement. Or life. One way to create that energy in your life is now available to everyone in the form of the Ben Franklin Circle.

Ben Franklin Circles are starting to pop up, and they're creating an amazing difference in people's lives.

Asha Curran, who's on the staff at the 92nd Street Y, says that her Ben Franklin Circle was one of the most profound parts of her past year.

"It is so rare to have an opportunity to be in a room of smart, thoughtful people where the focus of conversation is solely on our ethical selves. ... I was challenged to face things about my own habits that were painful but constructive, and I came out absolutely the better for it both personally and professionally."

Creating a sense of belonging can affect more than just happiness and well-being — it can even improve health as well. Sometimes for years!

Social psychologist and Stanford professor Greg Walton created a "belonging intervention" — basically an exercise that gives participants a sense that they’re not alone in their struggles —and found that it "increased subjects' happiness, improved their health and reduced cognitive activation of negative stereotypes for several years after the initial intervention." The Ben Franklin Circles have the potential to create similar results in the lives of its participants.

We humans have immense potential inside of us, and through helping each other, we can do so much — more than Franklin ever imagined.

You can get more info below or by looking at the #BenFranklinCircles hashtag or heading to BenFranklinCircles.org.

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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Welcometoterranova and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Welcometoterranova-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.