The Internet is brimming with stories of people who have gone to a restaurant for a meal only to have a perfect stranger pay their bill, leaving behind a note that says little more than: “This one’s on me.” The generous stranger doesn’t necessarily even identify him or herself; they have simply performed an act of kindness and generosity for which there are zero terms, conditions or expectations.
This is one example of a random act of kindness. There are countless more stories of people taking the clothes off their backs or the shoes off their feet and handing it to beggars living on the street, people adding money to expiring parking meters to prevent a parked car from being fined, or leaving random inspiring notes in strategic places for others to come across: “You are amazing; you can do this.”
These kind and generous gestures are a part of the #payitforward movement and no matter how small, they inspire gratitude which encourages the growth of positive emotions: happiness, kindness, connection and even transformation. Here in South Africa, where poverty abounds and the news seems to consist of one negative headline after the other, we could certainly use some positive transformation.
How the #Payitforward Movement Works
The concept of Pay It Forward (#payitforward) is perhaps best known from the 2000 movie starring Haley Joel Osment, Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, although it was based on the novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. The idea is to perform random acts of kindness for three strangers without any expectation of reward or recognition. Each of those people, in turn, performs random acts of kindness for three other strangers and so on and so forth. If one good deed inspired three, imagine the exponential and positive impacts it would have on society as a whole!
The deeds themselves need not be extravagant but they could be exactly what someone needs to feel special, surprised, happy, grateful and if paid forward, this happiness and gratitude could inspire exponentially more. The positive effects felt by an individual could become the positive effects felt by the neighborhood, the city, the country... and the world. The potential for change out there could be enormous. But the potential for change within you is just as significant.
Making a Difference Out There and Within Yourself
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
- Winston S. Churchill
Humankind is inherently social. We gain emotional and psychological strength from connecting with other people, although usually those people are friends and family. When, however, we reach across the void and touch a stranger’s life, the potent feeling of having made a difference fills our hearts just as much as it fills theirs. This is one of the most powerful benefits of the #payitforward movement: it benefits both parties. You’ve left the world a slightly better place by leaving someone else’s world a considerably better place.
Making a difference to your society caters to an inherent need we all-too-often neglect: the need to be a part of and contribute to a community. So, take some time and think about how you can totally transform someone’s day: send an old friend a message telling them you’re thinking about them, donate all your old towels, blankets and linen to your local SPCA, buy coffee for the person in line behind you, leave a big tip for a kind waitron etc.
Make a difference out there and within yourself when you #payitforward.
Check out these lists for more ideas of random acts of kindness: