I’d like my funeral to be one giant party, filled with people whose lives I’ve touched in some way.
(I’d also like a viking pyre with flaming arrows and a hand-crafted raft sending me out to sea, but that’s not really relevant.)
I’m always on the lookout for ways to become beloved. Stranger needs a kidney? Take one of mine (you don’t want the liver). Terrorists hijack a city bus? I’ll karate-kick one in the face and steal his gun. Your pet is trapped in a burning building? I’m on it! Yeah, okay, I have a bit of a hero complex.
The truth is, big opportunities to be a hero don’t come around that often for most of us, but we probably pass up a whole bunch of small ones every day. This year, one of my resolutions was simple:
Be a kinder, more helpful person.
December and January are always the two worst months of the year for me. Now that I’m finally starting to emerge on the other side of some nasty seasonal depression that had me swimming in circles of self-indulgent apathy, I’m ready to do my part to make the world just a little more awesome.
Here are 15 super easy, mostly free random acts of kindness we can all do to start being the change.
1. When someone does a good job, take a minute to tell their supervisor
As anyone who has ever had the misfortune of working in customer service knows, most people only go out of the way to report a problem. Be the person who takes the few extra minutes to say something nice about someone. You’ll brighten three peoples’ day – the employee, their boss and yourself.
2. Send a random encouraging message to someone
A few sentences can brighten someone’s day or even give them the boost they need to keep going. You never know what someone is going through and how much that might mean to them. Send a Facebook message to that person you’ve been thinking about but ‘didn’t want to bother;’ chances are they’re thinking the same thing.
3. Compliment a parent on how well-behaved their child is
Parenting can feel like a thankless job at times (so I’m told). If you’re out grocery shopping and you see kids who aren’t tearing through the aisles and knocking things off the shelves, smile at the adult-figure and let them know you think their kids are great.
4. Silence your phone and put it away when you’re out with someone
If you’re with someone, be with that person. Unless you’re waiting on a life-altering call or a potential emergency, make the person next to you feel important.
5. Pick up trash on the ground
You don’t have to scoop someone else’s dog poo off the grass, but if you come across a plastic bottle or cigarette box on the ground, toss it in a nearby bin.
6. Make eye contact & casual conversation with your waitress, barista, gas station attendant, etc…
Having spent years working in the service industry, I can tell you that an awful lot of people treat you like a minimum-wage robot. It can change your whole day when someone takes a minute to make you feel like an actual person.
7. If someone looks lost, go over and ask if they need directions
Don’t just pretend like you don’t see someone wrinkling their brow and glancing between their phone and the street sign; go see if you can help. Even if you don’t know the area that well yourself, sometimes just the gesture can make a person feel better.
8. Buy a coffee for the person in line behind you
Okay, this one’s not totally free, but if you have $5 to spare, it’s just a nice thing to do.
9. Give someone a book you think they’d like
I’m a huge fan of ‘paying forward’ books. If I read a book that I absolutely love, I almost always pass it along to someone else who I know would enjoy it. (Admittedly, this is slightly more challenging with eBooks.)
10. Return shopping carts in a parking lot
Few things are more annoying than thinking you’ve found a great parking space only to find it occupied by an abandoned cart. Except coming out of the store to find that an abandoned cart has rolled into your car and scratched it (both of which have happened to me). If you see an empty cart near you, take 30 seconds and return it to the corral. This will save someone a lot of cussing.
11. Be patient with people slower than you
I am not a patient person. I have to make a conscious effort to not roll my eyes at someone counting coupons or paying with a check in the self-checkout lane. Getting stuck behind a slow driver can bring out language that would make a sailor blush, but I try to take deep, calming breaths and remind myself that everyone deserves kindness and patience. Sometimes I succeed.
12. Donate a bag of dog or cat food to your local shelter
If you happen to see a great sale on dog or cat food at the store, pick up an extra bag and drop it off on your way home. If you have old towels or blankets, bring those with – you’ll make a lot of furry new friends happy.
13. Don’t write that mean, angry comment you want to write
Reading the comment section on most online articles is enough to make you lose faith in humanity. When I see how many people go out of their way to be nasty to a total stranger it makes me want to cry. Instead of criticizing the author, contribute. It’s fine to have a different opinion, but if you can’t express it without name-calling or shaming, well, remember what your mom told you. “If you can’t say something nice…”
14. Clean up a mess – even if you didn’t make it!
Creamer spilled on the Starbucks counter that the barista hasn’t gotten to? Grab a napkin and help them out. Clothes off the hanger in a store? Put them back on. Yes, the employees are getting paid to do this, but why not do something nice just because you can? They’ll appreciate it.
15. When you get that nasty, discouraging voice in your head, respond with something complimentary about yourself
We’re all just doing the best with what we’ve got. Some days (or weeks or months) suck more than others. Sometimes the negative voice drowns out everything else, but as soon as you can, shout right back. You deserve kindness too!
There are no more powerful tools to fight despair, depression, apathy, bigotry, judgment and hatred than small, simple acts of everyday kindness. Plus, making other people happy makes you happy and that is a scientific fact.