50 Simple Ways to Pay It Forward

by Belinda Munoz on September 28, 2009


Don’t wait for people to be friendly, show them how.  ~Author Unknown

Recently, I read a little paragraph in a fellow blogger’s post about paying it forward and it made me smile.  At a toll booth, he paid for his vehicle’s fee and the one behind him.  This is something my husband and I did often years ago when we would cross the Golden Gate bridge several times a month.  Not everytime, but often, we would pay our toll fee and that of the car behind us.  That car would then approach the toll booth to find out that their fee has been paid.

It’s a fun thing to do once in a while.  Sure, it costs a few dollars.  But the thrill of doing something nice and completely unexpected for an unsuspecting perfect stranger, who will never know who was ahead in line and therefore will never know who to thank or give credit to, is a great way to remind others that there is still a world full of kindness and generosity out there. 


Once, long after I first started paying it forward on the bridge, I experienced being on the receiving end of this practice.  It felt incredible!  I remember wanting to express gratitude, but my benefactor had sped off long before I found out I owed nothing.  Anonymous but never forgotten.  It got me wondering how many others commit this generous act on the bridge.  And if  it goes on on the bridge, where else can it be happening?  Buses?  Trains?  Ferries?  How far can we take this generosity?


I think the concept of paying it forward is so wonderful for a number of reasons:

1) It turns our focus away from ourselves.  Instead of the usual thought pattern of “How can I benefit from this?” or “What’s in it for me?”, the question of the day is more like, “How can I create a little happiness for someone?” or “How can something I do let someone know, with no strings attached, that kindness is still present in others?”

2) It’s centered around giving rather than taking.  I think taking is fine.  Taking or receiving is what we do when someone gives us a gift.  It’s certainly what drives most dreams — we go out and claim it, make it happen, both are forms of taking.  But giving — the ability to give — is a gift unto itself. 

3) It’s joyful both ways.  Doing something nice for a perfect stranger can generate an unmatched feeling of pure joy.  As well, being on the receiving end where you least expect to find kindness feels a lot like hot cocoa and a soft, warm blanket on a stormy day.


I think we all could use a little unexpected act of kindness once in a while.  I certainly welcome it.  It not only restores my faith in humanity but also leads me to believe that, with the right amount of effort and willingness, we can achieve harmony and (gasp!) peace.  For the most part, at least. 

For those who are skeptical, I pose these two questions to chew on: 

1) Do we not all want generally the same things (clean water, a bright future for our children, a little piece of mind for everyone, a healthy planet for all of us to thrive in)? 

2) Which is better, for everyone to have a piece of something, or for a small handful to have everything? 

I think most people would say yes to the first question and pick the first option to the second question.  Unless I’m competely out of touch.


Kindness, like a boomerang, always returns.  ~Author Unknown

I have learned from experience that when we commit an act of kindness for others, for strangers, it’s only a matter of time before that kindness comes back to us.  Being kind is a gift that gives both to the giver and the receiver.  Call it “what goes around comes around”.  I don’t even think we need to learn or listen to or engage in all this talk of universal laws and the law of cause and effect, the law of attraction, etc. 

I propose something simpler and more direct: how about we see for ourselves through practice?

So, what little, simple acts of kindness can we do to pay it forward today?

  1. put a quarter in a meter, any meter, that’s about to expire
  2. leave a copy of a really great book you’ve read in a cafe for someone else to enjoy
  3. be nice to the customer service people who are trying to help you with your technological difficulties
  4. tip your restaurant server generously
  5. thank the cooks, waitstaff and bussers personally
  6. say something nice or funny or goofy to the toll booth attendant (like, “Don’t drive too fast, now” or “Glad to have encountered you today”, or something less hokey)
  7. forgive a driver directing road rage at you
  8. buy or pack a meal for a homeless person (or give him/her your to-go box from a restaurant)
  9. give a warm coat to a homeless person
  10. offer to do pro bono work on a project where your skills are needed
  11. mentor someone
  12. make a donation
  13. say a prayer or whisper a kind wish for someone
  14. compliment a stranger
  15. send a box of donuts or bagels or muffins to a construction site
  16. next time you leave a foreign country, give all or some of what’s left of your currency to someone who resides in that country
  17. next time you’re at the airport, offer to pull the bags belonging to a woman or a mother with child out of the conveyor belt
  18. praise generously
  19. give local tips (re: restaurants, sights, etc.) to a tourist
  20. show respect equally to all human beings
  21. put a tip in a street musician’s jar
  22. let someone cut in front of you at the grocery store
  23. tell a funny joke to a stranger
  24. give someone a chance to prove him or herself
  25. encourage someone to pursue their dream
  26. allow someone to let his or her light shine
  27. show support to an artist or writer or musician
  28. hold the door open for someone
  29. tip a cab driver generously
  30. teach a child something you wish you knew at that age
  31. smile at someone who’s sad
  32. smile at strangers
  33. offer sincere, kind words to someone who’s hurting
  34. visit a hospice and spend some time with a terminally ill patient
  35. volunteer at a battered women’s shelter
  36. spend some time with a senior citizen living alone
  37. give up your seat on a crowded bus or train or ferry
  38. inspire someone to be the best that they can be
  39. give someone the benefit of the doubt
  40. offer to babysit for a single mother
  41. offer the FedEx, UPS or DHL delivery person something to drink especially on a warm day
  42. help a pregnant lady
  43. sit and talk with a homeless person and learn their story
  44. loan something to someone and forget about it
  45. loan money on Kiva
  46. contribute to a friend’s child’s education fund
  47. give blood
  48. show respect to a soldier regardless of your pacifism
  49. donate to or volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation
  50. replace an angry or bitter thought toward someone with a loving thought (or at least try)


Is experiencing a little unexpected kindness enough to turn us into believers that maybe, just maybe, there can be peace on earth?  Maybe, maybe not.

If we’re capable of small acts of kindness, can we go bigger?

I make no guarantees but, I’d sure like to find out.  Wouldn’t you?

Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.  ~Samuel Johnson

Image by *Darinka*

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 BK April 9, 2012 at 6:06 am

I definitely believe that if everyone just do a bit of kindness, these collective acts of kindness will continue to move around endlessly and there can really be peace on earth.


2 Sam Iyer June 28, 2012 at 5:42 am

It was really nice to read something of this stature, right in the middle of business work and time.

It actually relaxed my state of mind and feel much calmer, have added it to my favoraites list and will read it once every day, I am planning to do something generous later today.

Thanks for sharing.
Sam Iyer


3 nancy edwards-cogswell July 31, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I learned years ago from my mother that a gift is free.
That is the definition of gift. So, expecting the rebound
has not been a natural expectation for me………it does
creep in at times, but I have been successful in finding
the balance again. “Tis a gift to be simple….”


4 Elizabeth August 22, 2012 at 9:44 am

God be with each and every one of you, I’m reaching out to all of you knowing of your good and generous heart. My situation it’s so awful, I beg you please can someone please donate a $1 to my paypal acct [email protected] every donation will be greatly appreciated. My water and electricity services have been disconnected. Please have mercy of me and my children. God bless you.


5 Patricia Montgomery September 25, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I grew up in very poor neighborhood. I am the oldest of four. When my moms sister passed away ,my parents became the legal guardians of my 6year old cousin. Money was very tight but, my parents didn’t hesitate to take her in. My parents showed kindness and helped anyone who asked or needed it. We grew up watching and participating in these practices all our life. My dad was a butcher and he would on weekends get meat orders ready for local farmers. My dad never took money for his work. If the farmer had potatoes ,cauliflower,corn,etc.,my dad would bring the station wagon home filled to the brim with this product. Then he would get us kids to get bags and deliver what he brought home to our neighbors. Neighbors would come to thank my dad and he would say”that’s what neighbors are suppose to do is help each other out”. I am 55 and have a 20 year old son. Right from when he was young and seen me do something for a friend or stranger,he would ask why. I would always tell him to be nice to people we are all equal and sometimes people need a little help or sunshine in their life and we might be the only person to do this for them. We Pay it forward everyday, I didn’t realize how much my son does this until I hear from neighbors or from my sons friends parents about things he has done. When I mention it to him he just says he had great teachers in passing on kindness and making someone’s day! When my son had cancer (cancer free 2 years now) , we were so overwhelmed with the kindness that was bestowed on us. People making meals,cleaning our house,looking after our pets,coming and keeping us company while our son did 7hrs of chemo,cards and letters,prayers. So ,what goes around does come around. God bless everyone who practices kindness and shows they care! 🙂


6 Chitrarasu November 13, 2012 at 10:48 pm

This is Ultimate!!! I love it!!!


7 Helena Vasconcellos January 21, 2013 at 8:15 am

This year I decided to donate $3 for every Christmas gift, card, or e-mail message I received from friends and acquaintances.


8 Alicia Adrian March 13, 2013 at 12:57 pm

I have looked back to the past year to see myself, fail , not try and me just giving
up to everything.It’s all thanks to this website i;ve desited to change, the way i treat my family and friends. A big thaks !!!!!!!!!!


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