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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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ben Leon Guerrero September 28, 2009 at 6:34 am

Belinda I’m not sure if you remember me but we have actually met, years upon years upon years ago, on a little island…: ). Your website was forwarded from an old friend and read it and immediately fell in love. This post is the best so far, very uplifting but very hands-on as well. I like that you are offering things to ponder but not teaching down or condescending. I will return for more and compliment when I love it and challenge you when I do not.


2 Barb McMahon September 28, 2009 at 7:21 am

I love this post! I’ve been living this way all my life and I can attest that the kindness you put out really does come back!


3 Belinda Munoz September 28, 2009 at 9:22 am

Hafa adai, Ben!

Thanks for visiting. I really hope that, in addition to being uplifting, folks will be moved to practice a little kindness everyday by this post. I know from experience that when I’m having a doozy of a day, a little kindness from someone, anyone, goes a long way.

No, I’m definitely not coming from a teaching or condescending place. Thanks for noticing. I have much to learn…


4 Cee Populus September 28, 2009 at 9:31 am

Just read all about Kiva and lent some money as part of the Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious team. I didn’t know about Kiva, so thank you for the eye opener!


5 Bob Bessette September 28, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Tremendous post Belinda. You are truly a beautiful soul. I wish I was closer to San Francisco because I want to pay for all of your tolls! I tend to go out of my way oftentimes to help other people. Even if it’s just letting people in a line of traffic or leaving a tip for a maid at a hotel. A little kindness can go a long way. I appreciate the work that went into this post. It was so worth it!



6 Belinda Munoz September 28, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Great to meet you in the blogosphere. I’m so happy to encounter someone who’s been living like this all her life! Thanks for stopping by.

I truly admire you for taking action so quickly through Kiva! Aren’t micro-loans the coolest way to help someone?!

Thanks a lot for the wonderful compliment! I wish you were my neighbor so we could carpool and take turns paying freebies at the bridge. I agree. I think kindness is oftentimes worth going out of our way to express.


7 Karlil September 29, 2009 at 3:34 am

Belinda, this is the best post I read for sometime now. I wish there’s more people who thinks like you. God bless you for your kind soul. Stumbled btw 🙂


8 Belinda Munoz September 29, 2009 at 5:30 am

Hi Karlil! Thanks for the Stumble, for reading and for appreciating the intention of this post. I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of kindness so I thought I’d put some suggestions out there and see what sticks.


9 Fr. Michael September 29, 2009 at 2:31 pm

You make some great points on your blog! Paying it forward is a great way to live. Me and my priest friends were out to dinner last night and some guy paid for our meal. We have no idea who he is!

Great design on your blog too. I wish I was better technology so I could create a more attractive look. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

God bless!


10 Belinda Munoz September 29, 2009 at 10:21 pm

Hi, Fr. Michael, that’s a great story! Another proof that kindness is everywhere. I really enjoyed the Nic Vujicic clip on your blog. I’ll be stopping by often for inspiration.


11 love October 1, 2009 at 4:33 pm

I love this post. Easy ways to manifest love. May this reach the eyes of millions
to create a more peaceful world.


12 Malo October 1, 2009 at 11:12 pm

I love this post! You know a good writer when they move or inspire you to action. This post is full of potential to do just that. 🙂


13 shefali October 11, 2009 at 7:30 pm

dearest belinda, this is so beautiful, selfless and educational. i 100% believe in this way of living, and to the best of my ability, attempt to live it every single day. the beauty of what you are doing is opening up the circle of love and help teaching those around you the internal bliss which comes from the act of giving, with expecting nothing in return. to give, for the sake of giving, and how through kindness, one person can begin true movement in the world towards a land of bliss…so similar to what God may have had in mind for all of us to achieve. i am so thrilled to learn of your blog and i will be tuning in often. i live for positive thoughts which can help progress me to ascending frequencies. with affection, shefali


14 Belinda Munoz October 13, 2009 at 5:32 am

Shefali, how nice to hear from you! I completely agree. This way of living is so fulfilling in so many ways one has to wonder why we’re not all doing it.


15 Vanessa January 13, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I am such a fan of paying it forward. One thing that I have vowed to do this year is to do something nice for someone without them having to ask you to help them. If you really just listen when people talk, nearly everyone communicates some kind of need. Really listening and seeing if there is a need you can fill is such an awesome way to engage more with people and in conversations. I makes me feel good and all warm and squishy.


16 Tina Magee January 26, 2010 at 6:17 am

I have always been a believer in Pay It Forward. I so strongly believe they should play the movie on ABC during primetime. Just by showing the movie, it will start to make changes in the world. That is exactly what we need.


17 Annette Renee White February 19, 2010 at 10:41 pm

I just paid the bridge toll for the person behind me for my 40th Birthday Bucket List! It felt so good, I hope the other driver will pay-it-forward the next time they go across that bridge!!


18 Ann June 8, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Great post! If more people followed these examples, imagine what a happier place the world would be?!
Couchsurfing (couchsurfing.org) is all about paying it forward. This community has really revived my faith in humanity and kindness.


19 Belinda Munoz June 8, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Thanks for telling me about couchsurfing.org. I’ve never heard of it until now. I actually believe that we are moving more toward a culture of kindness and paying it forward. Slowly, but still.


20 jean December 1, 2010 at 7:06 am

My daughter is an amateur photography and has a friend who is a professional photography. They had an appointment with a model for a shoot in the botanic gardens in Dallas but the model never showed. A lady was using a small camera to take pictures of her future daughter-in-law who was dressed in her wedding gown. My daughter and her friend offered to take pictures with their cameras which were equiped with large professional lenses. The lady and her future daughter-in-law seemed very happy with their offer. My daughter then sent the cd to her and the lady posted a Cheers in the Dallas paper, thanking them. My daughter was really surprised because people don’t always remember to thank someone who has showed them kindness.


21 Kim-Possibility Diva December 20, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Pay It Forward has such a profound impact on your life when it is done from a place of geniune concern for the person you are helping. It is about learning how to give more of your presence to the world and filling the gaps, if you will, with all the perceived holes in the abundance of others. While paying it forward is about sharing in the generosity and showing kindness, it also helps you to look deep within your own soul and find that human-spirit that permeates with love. The gesture should be done in a ritualistic way and often as possible. This is a wonderful post! I thoroughly enjoyed it and will certainly re-tweet. Kim-Possibility Diva sharing possibility living principles.


22 Samantha March 1, 2011 at 1:23 am

Hi there! This is actually the first time I’ve googled something interesting instead of stumbling upon it, haha :]
I’m thinking of making a video about Pay It Forward for my youtube account, and was wondering if I could use this list as long as I link back to you?
I’m including my youtube in this post so that when I do make it, you can check that I have linked my information back here.
I thought I’d best ask before going ahead ^^
Oh, and I guess it’s obvious, but I love the list, it’s amazing :]
I’ve done a few things on it, but it’s okay, I have plenty of time to complete more. I’m only 18 ^^


23 Belinda March 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

Hi Samantha. Absolutely. Feel free to use it on your youtube vlog.


24 Samantha March 1, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Than you very much!
I’ll let you now when I post it, feel free to give it a look :]


25 Samantha March 12, 2011 at 12:41 am
26 keven April 16, 2011 at 1:22 am

Nice article


27 Angela Atkinson August 24, 2011 at 12:16 pm

LOVE this post!! I am ALL about paying it forward, and I’m always looking for new ways to accomplish it. What a great list, thanks so much!


28 Becky @ Ballistic Gypsy September 11, 2011 at 10:38 am

I am linking back to this in my blog post today. This is a great list. Thank You.



29 Kindness Challenge December 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I’m so glad I discovered this post – it’s wonderful. I feel the same way. In fact, I and some family and friends from Minnesota are launching a Kindness Challenge on 1/1/2012. Our hope is to inspire people around the world to “warm the world” through kindness through 1,000,000 acts of kindness during January, 2012. If you and your fans and followers would like to join us, we’re on facebook/kindness-challenge or our website is: http://www.kindness-challenge.org. We’ll follow you, also.


30 Marni Blythe February 8, 2012 at 5:43 am

Hi there! I shared this on my personal blog this morning! 🙂 thanks so much for posting!!


31 Larry February 18, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I enjoy going to a dance and paying for the next un escorted lady to enter.


32 Kimmie Rogers February 28, 2012 at 8:40 am

Any new ideas for paying it forward? I am working on a local community project and want to pay it forward. Thanks.


33 Melissa March 1, 2012 at 12:39 am

Someone on LinkedIn led me to this post when I needed to read it the most and it made me think of all the times that strangers helped me out and how I try to go out of my way especially when I’m on the phone with someone that’s helping me that I can tell is NOT having a good day – I try my very best to make it better for them. But this post just pushed it all right in front of me meaning I want to do more. I mean I smile at people and this and that but I want to actually make a positive change in someones life that crosses my path. You know we all are not strangers but that’s for a different post. I wonder how many of you know what I’m talking about or what you believe?


34 Andrew Moffat March 12, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Fantastic piece! I love the peace that comes from doing Good everywhere. It’s acts of kindness like these that will truly turn our world around. I’ve also started a community to help connect people who want to lead by example – not with money, but with love. We’re brand new, but you can find us at http://www.whowillstand.org or http://www.facebook.com/whowillstand. The world is waiting for people like you. Thanks for speaking out and doing Good!


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