Do you get a strange jolt of pleasure when you find the perfect gift for someone? What about when you volunteer to work for a shelter or donate money to your favorite charity? If you’re not really the giving type, science says you should give it a shot.
I have always been fascinated by the Pay It Forward movement, a global initiative that exists to make a difference by creating a huge ripple of kindness felt across the world. The belief is that people pay kindness forward every day and make each day that little bit brighter. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people can literally change the world for the better. But why do people do it?
Over the past few decades, scientists have studied the health benefits of selflessness, often referred to as “helper’s high.” Those who volunteer have lower rates of depression, lower mortality rates, higher self-esteem, and greater functional ability than those who do not volunteer. A 2005 study showed that volunteers actually experience greater benefits than the people receiving their support. So what’s going on? In the simplest form, when we give to others selflessly (not expecting anything in return), our brains release dopamine, serotonin, and lots of other happy hormones that make you feel warm and tingly inside.
Of course, no one is 100 percent selfless, but one study shows that human brains are actually hard-wired for empathy and generosity. Our brains contain mirror neurons, which, as neuroscientist Marco Lacoboni explains to Six Seconds, are the cells in our brains that “allow us to understand other’s actions, intentions, and feelings.” When we see someone experiencing grief, for example, we don’t need to “think” about their feelings — our mirror neurons let us experience it firsthand.
How does this play into giving? Our brains are following a neural “Golden Rule,” so to speak. As neuroscientist Leonardo Christov-Moore tells Live Science: “The more we tend to vicariously experience the states of others, the more we appear to be inclined to treat them as we would ourselves.” So if you want to improve your generosity, you should work on feeling more empathetic towards others.
Giving Gets You High! Leaving you with 50 ideas to pass on the kindness.
50 Easy Pay it Forward Day Kindness Ideas:
- Pay it Backward: buy coffee for the person behind you in line.
- Compliment the first three people you talk to today.
- Send a positive text message to five different people right now.
- Post inspirational sticky notes around your neighborhood, office, school, etc.
- Tell someone they dropped a dollar (even though they didn’t). Then give them a dollar.
- Donate old towels or blankets to an animal shelter.
- Say hi to the person next to you on the elevator.
- Surprise a neighbor with freshly baked cookies or treats!
- Let someone go in front of you in line who only has a few items.
- Leave a gas gift card at a gas pump.
- Throw a party to celebrate someone just for being who they are, which is awesome.
- Have a LinkedIn account? Write a recommendation for coworker or connection.
- Leave quarters at the laundromat.
- Encounter someone in customer service who is especially kind? Take an extra five minutes to tell their manager.
- Leave unused coupons next to corresponding products in the grocery store.
- Leave a note on someone’s car telling them how awesome they parked.
- Try to make sure every person in a group conversation feels included.
- Write a kind message on your mirror with a dry erase marker for yourself, your significant other or a family member.
- Place a positive body image notes in jean pockets at a department store.
- Smile at five strangers.
- Set an alarm on your phone to go off at three different times during the day. In those moments, do something kind for someone else.
- Send a gratitude email to a coworker who deserves more recognition.
- Practice self-kindness and spend 30 minutes doing something you love today.
- Give away stuff for free on Craig’s List.
- Write a gratitude list in the morning and again in the evening.
- Know parents who could use a night out? Offer to babysit for free.
- Hold up positive signs for traffic or in a park for people exercising outside!
- Return shopping carts for people at the grocery store.
- Buy a plant. Put it in a terracotta pot. Write positive words that describe a friend on the pot. Give it to that friend!
- Write a positive comment on your favorite blog, website, or a friend’s social media account.
- Have a clean up party at a beach or park.
- While you’re out, compliment a parent on how well-behaved their child is.
- Leave a kind server the biggest tip you can afford.
- When you’re throwing something away on the street, pick up any litter around you and put that in the trash too.
- Pay the toll for the person behind you.
- Put 50 paper hearts in a box. On each cutout write something that is special about your partner or a friend. Give them the box and tell them to pull out a heart anytime they need a pick-me-up.
- Everyone is important. Learn the names of your office security guard, the person at the front desk and other people you see every day. Greet them by name. Also say “hello” to strangers and smile. These acts of kindness are so easy, and they almost always make people smile.
- Write your partner a list of things you love about them.
- Purchase extra dog or cat food and bring it to an animal shelter.
- Find opportunities to give compliments. It costs nothing, takes no time, and could make someone’s entire day. Don’t just think it. Say it.
- Take flowers or treats to the nurses’ station at your nearest hospital.
- Keep an extra umbrella at work, so you can lend it out when it rains.
- Send a ‘Thank you’ card or note to the officers at your local police or fire station.
- Take muffins or cookies to your local librarians.
- Run an errand for a family member who is busy.
- Leave a box of goodies in your mailbox for your mail carrier.
- Tape coins around a playground for kids to find.
- Put your phone away while in the company of others.
- Email or write to a former teacher who made a difference in your life.
- When you hear that discouraging voice in your head, tell yourself something positive — you deserve kindness too!