The world could use a lot more kindness right now, don’t you agree? That’s why we’ve got psychologists to reveal the most powerful — yet simple — ways you can make others feel loved, valued, and appreciated. Stepping in for a random person, a close friend or a colleague in their time of need can be a no-brainer for you, but it doesn’t just help them; it can do wonders for you and the world.
“It feels good to do something nice for someone. It boosts your self-esteem, it makes you feel like a better person, and it can help you overcome any negative feelings you are experiencing in the moment,” says licensed clinical psychologist, Sarah Schewitz, PsyD. “If you’re feeling down, a surefire way to feel better immediately is to go do something nice and unexpected for someone else.”
Psychologist, author, and relationship expert, Dawn Michael, PhD, adds: “When you are kind, that energy goes a long way, as the person you were kind to will feel better about themselves and perhaps do something kind for another person. I see kindness as a positive energy that, when passed on down the line, creates more positive energy in the world.”
Here are several ways to be a force of good in today’s society.
For your significant other
While you may be the first to send a funny meme or listen quietly when your bestie needs to talk, or you’re always on a call for a colleague working on a difficult project, you may not even think of your significant other as someone who needs a random act of kindness.
Dr. Michael says that simply understanding the advantages that your partner brings to your life is a simple way to bring thoughtfulness to your partnership. “It can be a simple thank you to ‘I really appreciate you when you do…’, she explains. “Letting the person you love know that you notice them is a positive act of kindness.”
Does your partner genuinely hate doing laundry, but still does it to make sure your household is running smoothly? Or would they prefer to do anything except work in the garden? These are the chances to be thoughtful in your relationship. As psychologist Nikki Martinez, PsyD, LCPC, advises, “Do a chore that your partner hates without being asked to do so, and without the thought of being thanked for doing so. Do it simply because you know your partner hates it, and that doing it will be a welcome surprise.”
For your circle of friends
Friendship is always a shared responsibility, but it’s a trick to know when to give. Although you might be raking in extra cash for a month, your beloved friend might be struggling financially.
Or, when you’re in a healthy relationship, your friend may have been dumped— again. Martinez says that showing up when it’s your time to help out a friend is an act of kindness that they’ll probably never forget.
“Send someone going through a tough time flowers,” she suggests. “Drop them a note and let them know you are thinking of them and what you appreciate about them. While small, these meaningful gestures will surely be appreciated by the recipient.”
Or, if you’re financially stable, psychologist Yvonne Thomas says you can pick up a tab when times are hard for your friend, or volunteer to help them out when they’re stressed or need guidance and support. Paying for your friend’s lunch if he or she is struggling with finances, becoming your friend’s gym buddy to help him or her lose weight, staying late to listen to a friend in trouble, taking care of your friend so that he or she can go out, complimenting your friend, etc., are all ways to display real kindness.
These actions can have a huge impact because they can strengthen the bonds of your friendships and make your friends feel genuinely cared for.
For your coworkers
Like it or not, you’re likely to spend more time with your colleagues than you do with anyone else in your life. (Let that sink in for a hot second.) These groups also become your place of vent, your source of mentoring and support, and even your pool of lifelong friends.
“In your weekly meeting, take time to acknowledge something that a coworker did that may have flown under the radar, or that others might not have known this person had done for the group,” Martinez says. “They will appreciate it, and perhaps others will start to notice ways in which they should appreciate this person on a regular basis.”
Another way to communicate with your colleagues is through their tummies, according to Schewitz. Since you’re usually sharing breakfast, lunch— and, sadly, sometimes dinner— with these people, you’ll get to know their eating habits pretty quickly. “Bring your coworker a latte and bagel on a random morning, or bake cupcakes for a coworker’s birthday. Everyone loves to feel special once in a while,” she says.
At the grocery store
Letting anyone who has fewer grocery items jump ahead of you in line, or extend the same kindness to senior citizens or people who are physically disabled, that demonstrate that you are aware of and sensitive to the world around you, according to Thomas. “These gestures can be very impactful because people often are tunnel-visioned and in such a hurry in their own lives that they don’t see the whole picture in the moment and miss these opportunities to act kindly without much, if any, cost to them.”
So if you’re willing to fork over some cash — so you can do it in a way that doesn’t make anyone feel worse about themselves or uncomfortable — think about offering the cashier an additional $5, $10, or $20 for the person’s groceries behind you,, particularly if you see them pulling out food stamps. You just don’t know what the issue is, and that one bill they didn’t have to pay in full might change the course of their month or even their year.
We’ve all been there— you’ve got less than 20 minutes to get to work, and you’re caught in the slow lane watching everyone taking their sweet time to get off at your exit. Wouldn’t it be awesome if that person were to pull over so that you could zoom past? Martinez says you can do that service to others, get out of the way when you notice someone driving frantically.
“While this may just be their normal way of operating, they may genuinely have something they’re rushing to and will appreciate your noticing. Let someone cross in front of you, or wait to turn and let them cross the street,” she says. “This gesture of kindness unfortunately always, pleasantly, catches people off guard, which unfortunately shows us how rarely it happens.”
For a public servant
From the policemen and firemen to the postal carriers, and the man who picks up your trash from the sidewalk, there are so many professionals whose hard work is often unnoticed. We’re so used to having them always present that we ignore how important it is to express our sincere gratitude for everything they do to keep us all safe, informed, and pleased.
“Telling public servants something real and positive about how they directly helped you or our country can be very impactful since, too often, these people and what they do is undervalued,” Thomas says. Or if you feel extremely generous, consider buying a dozen doughnuts and bringing them to your local fire department.
Or try writing a thank-you note to your postman for always giving your dog a treat when he drops the mail. Any sign of gratitude can— and will— go a long way.
For your neighbor
Whether you live in New York City or Los Angeles, where knowing your neighbors isn’t always the standard, or in a small town where everyone knows your name, having good neighbors is a gift from god. Showing you care can not only keep your home safe while you’re gone, but it can also make your community’s energy even more positive and happy.
“Do you have a neighbor who perhaps does not get around as well? Shovel their walk, rake their leaves, drop a simple gift and gesture on their steps, thanking them for being a wonderful neighbor. The gesture will be greatly appreciated, and it costs you virtually nothing to make them feel special and appreciated,” Martinez suggests.
And what about someone who ‘s new to your neighborhood? Thomas says that bringing a bottle of wine, some flowers or freshly baked (or ahem, bought) cookies or banana bread will be nice.
The same goes for keeping a close watch on your neighbor’s house as attentively as you would be on your own. “Letting your neighbor know if you see any trouble related to their property is impactful because it demonstrates solidarity and genuine care for your neighbor’s welfare,” she says.
For your fitness instructor or trainer
Your personal trainer may not be your therapist or guardian, but they have seen you in some very challenging and stressful circumstances and encouraged you to work beyond your own limits.
By saying a simple “thank you” to your personal trainer or fitness instructor at your favorite fitness class, not only will you make their day, but help them understand why they signed up to inspire others to sweat it out.
“Tell your fitness instructor/trainer what you really appreciate about him or her. Whether it is about what you’ve learned from him or her or how the physical activity has helped you,” Thomas says. “These people frequently get told only what hasn’t worked or how slow everything is—like losing weight, building muscle, getting toned, and lean. It is very impactful to be acknowledged for the positive changes they are responsible for in your physical health and fitness.”
Schewitz suggests that giving them a shoutout on social media isn’t a bad idea, either: “Post a before-and-after photo of your progress on social media and thank your trainer publicly for their help. This will not only show your gratitude but also give their business a boost,” she notes.
For your family
Of all the people you’re likely to forget about giving a little love to, your parents, your siblings, and your extended family are close to the top for your list. It’s not that you don’t care about them because they’re the ones you love the most. But because they’re a loyal, trustworthy part of your life, maybe you’re not going the extra mile to make their lives easier.
Thomas says it’s the little gestures for your family that make an impact: “Random acts of kindness for your family can include taking your young niece or nephew out so your sibling who just had a baby can sleep; babysitting family members’ kids so your relatives can have a ‘grown-up’ date night out; visiting with an elderly relative in person if possible (or Skype/FaceTime) to talk about what his or her life was like and share memories and stories; giving a photo album or a CD of family photos or of a recent family event to the relatives who are involved or are being celebrated,” she suggests.
Or, for a nostalgic twist— and to make a memento that they’re going to keep for years — Schewitz recommends putting it into writing how much they mean to you. Write them each a little note with a memory the two of you shared. ‘Remember the time we laughed so hard, milk came out of our noses? I was just thinking about that and it made me smile so I wanted to share with you so you could smile too,'” she says.