If you've never heard of the concept of paying it forward, the idea is that if someone does something nice for you, without cause or expectation of repayment, you can pass along that kindness to others.

In the movie Pay it Forward a young boy, Haley Joel Osment, sets up an experiment to see how far his efforts in kindness will spread throughout his community, after being challenged by his teacher … And the results are stunning. Of course, you don't have to imitate the characters in this film to further a culture of giving back. But here are some ways anyone anywhere can pay it forward.


1. Exercise common courtesy

Smile at people on the street and say hello. Ask how a coworker's day is going and take time to listen. Open a door for others to walk through. Give up your cab for someone in a hurry or let someone go ahead of you in line at the grocery store. Put away your phone when people are talking to you. While some do these things without even thinking about them, when you set out with the intention of exercising common courtesy; you can make a real difference for someone having a bad day or questioning whether chivalry is dead. 

2. Pay a compliment

It costs you nothing to comment on how well a woman styled her hair or how nicely a man’s suit is tailored, and your sincere compliment could help brighten that person's day.

man with woman on his back

3. Pay someone's way

If you receive a bigger tax return than expected or you get rewards from your credit cards, use a bit of that extra cash to anonymously pay for something for someone else. Buy a coffee or movie tickets for the person in line behind you, or pay the tab for a couple at a nearby table when dining out. If you have the extra money, being extra kind brings dividends of its own.


4. Offer free babysitting services

You may have noticed that siblings or friends who have kids rarely get any time for themselves. Offer to fill in so they can experience that much-needed date night.


empty hangers on rod

5. Send a friend a housekeeper

Most people don't have the money to hire a team of housekeepers to make their home sparkle. You can give them a gift by hiring someone to do the dirty work for them. This is a great gift for anyone who has just had a baby, suffering an illness, or who is simply too busy for Spring cleaning. If they're too busy doing for others to attend to themselves, pay it forward with a service they're sure to appreciate.


6. Create a compliment jar

It's easy to get wrapped up in the demands of daily life and neglect the people we spend time with every day, so consider creating a compliment jar filled with slips of paper for your office, that everyone can contribute to and everyone can draw from when they need a little pick-me-up. You may even try this idea at home!


7. Deliver treats to public servants

Sure, policemen, firemen, and social workers get paid for their jobs, but most aren't in it for the money. They have a desire to help others, even if their efforts go unnoticed and unappreciated sometimes. Show these public servants they are valued in the community by delivering cookies, cakes, or even flowers to a local firehouse, police station, or community center, along with a note or card thanking them for their hard work.

8. Leave a big tip

Tipping is a customary way to show your appreciation for good service. In some countries, it is considered unnecessary to tip because the gratuity is already added to the bill. But in the U.S. tips are expected from restaurant patrons, and 15% should be added to the bill as a rule, unless the service was less than good ... In fact, tipping is expected for many kinds of services--food delivery, cabs, bellhops--and in most cases, it helps to supplement otherwise lower incomes. Don’t forget to tip when you can.


empty hangers on rod

9. Donate to charity

There are all kinds of ways of donating to charity, and signing a check is just one. If you don't necessarily have the money to donate, give of your time. You can volunteer to drive seniors, veterans, or cancer patients to appointments ... Or volunteer in a local homeless shelter or tutor underprivileged kids. Ever thought about becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister? Volunteering means giving of yourself, but the benefits of helping others can help change your life, as well.

You can also donate scarce products instead of money. Many animal shelters need blankets, food, and toys. Homeless shelters need clothing, sleeping bags, and personal care items. Nearly every city has a food bank. There is no shortage of ways to pay it forward to others in need.


10. Throw a surprise party

Why wait until people are turning a year older to celebrate their lives? When you plan a surprise party simply to celebrate the many things you love about someone, you're sure to give that person the surprise of his or her life. Or consider planning a party to coincide with the start of Spring or Summer to bring a bit of cheer into people’s lives. As well, a block party or potluck will have the same effect of bringing people together for the purpose of spreading smiles.