It’s been a tough couple of years. But for some, the desire to express gratitude for the good that remains — family, friends, life returning to some sense of normalcy due to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines — leaves them looking for a way to give back.
And who doesn’t love the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with showing kindness? Research tells us that those uplifting feelings are accompanied by health benefits, both physical and mental.
People who help others through volunteering have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, reduced stress and lower rates of depression than those who do not volunteer. Offering the gift of kindness through volunteering can enhance your social networks and provide a sense of purpose, leading not only to improved mental health, but also to increased physical health, by buffering stress and reducing your risk of disease.
However, even if you truly enjoy giving back, it’s not always easy finding the time to do so. What’s more, some remaining pandemic precautions mean that in-person service opportunities are not always possible.
Fortunately, you can get the benefits of volunteering every day simply by paying it forward with a moment or two of kindness.
5 quick ways to give the gift of kindness
1. Slow your roll.
Drive safely and keep your eye out for those in other lanes who may need to sneak into yours. Slow down, flash a smile and wave them in. Even if you don’t get a wave in return, you could be helping someone get to work or an important medical appointment on time, find their way in an unfamiliar area, or simply reduce the feelings of stress that often come with driving.
2. Support local businesses.
We’re not only talking about the mom-and-pop stores in your neighborhood, but also the ones most often found on street corners, run by local kids under age 12. Buying a cup of lemonade can make their day and inspire them to keep up the entrepreneurial spirit. And that kid-made drink might even taste good. But if it doesn’t, a big smile, “great job” and a quarter or two as a tip will still leave you both feeling grateful for the exchange.
3. How you doin’?
It’s the question that can lead to smiles, a great conversation, even a friendship. Taking a moment to look someone in the eye — the barista pouring your coffee, ride-share driver getting you to the airport or even the person next to you on an elevator — and ask how their day is going makes people feel seen. And feeling seen makes everyone feel good, especially after several months of smiling behind a face mask or connecting by computer screen.
4. Lend a hand.
The mom lugging a stroller upstairs, the older neighbor rolling trash cans up a steep driveway, the kid with a huge backpack and even more books in his arms trying to get through the door — they would likely appreciate your help, even if they may not ask. You can even double down on your kindness by offering to repeat the gesture on a regular basis or accompanying them all the way to their destination to ensure they get there with ease.
A friendly smile directed toward the dad with a screaming toddler, new employee nervously training at a local business or the anxious parent dropping off their child for the first day of school in a new town can turn a tough moment or day into a surprisingly good one. Even if you’re wearing a face mask in public to be COVID-safe, a smile can be seen in the sparkle of kindness in your eyes.
These easy ways to share your sense of gratitude, show a little kindness and pay it forward take just a moment and cost next to nothing or, at most, some spare change. However, they all offer an invaluable benefit to the recipient and, in return, to you.