The concept of “paying it forward” has exploded in popularity within the last several years. Unlike other seemingly overnight trends, the catchphrase “pay it forward” seems to be here to stay. Initially seen as a fad associated with the drive-thru at Starbucks, paying it forward has expanded beyond buying a stranger’s latte, to something of a movement.
Celebrities sometimes reference the phrase, “sending the elevator back down,” in short, creating opportunities for those still climbing the ladder. While this is a large-scale example of what it means to pay it forward, acts of kindness can still be impactful — no matter how small.
A study published in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that kindness truly does indeed spread. Experts determined that those in the study who had been extended kindness in the form of a monetary donation were more likely to pass it on to others, creating a sort of wave effect. It even revealed that the amount of money passed on to others tended to increase as the wave spread. But not all acts of “paying it forward” need be in monetary form.
Extend a Helping Hand to a Neighbor
There are many ways to extend a helping hand to a neighbor. The next time you’re out mowing the lawn, consider offering to hit the one next door while you’re at it. Shoveling a snowy walkway, bringing in the newspaper, or sweeping leaves off the front porch are other services that your neighbor may appreciate help with. Do you enjoy gardening? Someone may enjoy a surprise bushel of fresh herbs or veggies; certainly beats the traditional cup of sugar.
Choose “Road Kindness” Over Road Rage
Traffic can be a huge source of stress. Long commutes, traffic jams, or a car taking a sudden turn without signaling is enough to get under your skin. Just like our speedometers, our tempers can easily go from zero to a hundred in seconds. With so many people eager to lay on the horn, taking a moment to let someone merge in front of you or stopping to allow a family to cross the street, are small everyday ways to be mindful of others.
Donate Your Books to Prison Libraries
Aside from monetary donations, when people think of the term “paying it forward,” their next thought is often some form of volunteering. If you’re short on spare hours, consider volunteering your items in place of your time. Books are items that many organizations are often in need of. In particular, consider donating your used books to prison libraries. With a little research, you may find a donation program right in your own city.
Books Behind Bars mails donated paperbacks to those incarcerated in New Jersey. They request books that fall into genres such as queer fiction, thrillers, mystery, sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, as well as books on the topics of astrology, activism, yoga, poetry, art, gardening, DIY projects, and more. They are also particularly in need of books written in Spanish.
The Women’s Prison Book Project (WPBP) in Minneapolis provides free educational reading material to incarcerated women and transgender individuals. They’re most in need of books pertaining to health, history, law, self-love, as well as coloring books, dictionaries, and instructional crochet books. They also accept GED and other educational preparation books.
Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners is another volunteer-run organization serving those in jails, prisons, and ICE facilities across the states of Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas. Their book wish list consists of Black history and literature, current and popular science books, LGBTQ+ culture, fitness, addiction and recovery, as well as books on the topics of specific trades or skills building such as home improvement, automotive, or business startups.
While every organization will have its own unique guidelines as to what kinds of books they can and cannot accept, as a general rule, refrain from donating hardcover books as most prisons do not accept them. The same goes for magazines, travel guides, encyclopedias, and religious texts. In addition, you’ll want to donate books of quality. Therefore, stick with books that are either new or only slightly used. Beloved books that are excessively worn or contain writing or highlighting are great for sentimental value but not advised for donation.
Leave An Anonymous Note
Words of encouragement, inspiration, motivation — even a friendly joke — can be scribbled anywhere and you never know who may stumble upon it.
A 2012 study conducted by the National Institute for Physiological Sciences found that individual participants performed better at assigned tasks after having first been given a compliment. So get creative and consider leaving a post-it note with a kind message in some unconventional places like the break room at the office, in a book at your local library, or even right there on your own bathroom mirror — extending kindness towards ourselves is just as important.
Next time you’re in line at the drive-thru, don’t sweat it if a stranger offers to foot the bill for your morning coffee. Enjoy it, knowing you have no shortage of unique ways to pay that small act of kindness forward.