An important part of our growth and motivation as people lies in contributing to the greater good, being part of something greater than ourselves. While “making the world a better place” often calls to mind images of great leaders at the head of mighty social movements, white-coated researchers developing new medicines or energy sources, or geniuses dreaming up theories that explain the world around us, there is plenty of room for less lofty acts that create small measures of happiness in the lives of those around us. Little gestures can create or strengthen our sense of community and of shared humanity, lightening our burdens for just a moment and giving us something to smile about. And that’s no small matter.
Here are ten little gestures, all of them easily within our grasp, that can spread goodwill in our own communities, as well as increase our own sense of mindfulness about the people around us and our relationship to them.
- Tip generously: As often as you can afford, leave a tip of 25%, 50%, 100%, or even more. (Obviously this applies mostly in countries where 15% tips are the norm.) Unless the service was simply awful – and even then, it might pay to consider what your server goes through – leaving as large a tip as you can afford not only puts a little extra extra money in your servers’ pocket, it tells them that they’re appreciated, a message that often slips our minds in our demanding, service-now society.
- Compliment someone: Tell someone how much you like the job they’re doing, their outfit or new haircut, their singing voice – whatever. Be honest and sincere. I like to practice “drive-by compliments”, sending an out-of-the-blue email to someone whose website, post, or comment on a post I really liked. Don’t expect anything in return, just let someone know that something they’re doing works and move on.
- Be totally open with someone: Let someone know exactly how you feel about something on your mind (though not something negative about them – there’s a different “protocol” for that sort of thing). We often keep too much to ourselves; letting someone into your confidence can be a great way to show your trust and appreciation of them. Of course, you have to judge what is and isn’t appropriate – it is possible to move past openness to dragging others into your problems, and that’s not making the world a better place.
- Give someone a book you’ve read: Making a gift of something you’ve read and enjoyed is more than just a nice gesture, it’s a way of showing someone that a) you think of them, b) you understand them, and c) you want to share something with them. The moment doesn’t end when they take the book – once they’ve read it, you can talk about your reactions together. Don’t do this with people around you who don’t read, though – you’ll build up an obligation that will be painful for them to discharge.
- Make something for someone: Bake an extra batch of cookies, draw a picture, decorate an extra Christmas ornament, and give it to someone for no good reason. Like giving someone a book, it tells them that you were thinking about them and wanted to do something nice for them, and that it’s something you made adds a nice touch. Give without expectations – whether they return the favor or not, whether they like it or not, whether they’re nice to you or not, these are all irrelevant.
- Send a letter, email, tweet, or text message out of the blue: Email someone you haven’t spoken with for a while, or text someone you see every day just to be nice. Maybe they’ll respond, maybe not – it’s beside the point. They just need to know that they’re important to you.
- Commend an employee to their manager: It’s one thing to tip or compliment someone for their service, it’s another to contact their manager and tell them what a great job they’ve done. If you don’t have time at the time of service, note the employees name and call, email, or write a letter later.
- Teach someone how to do something: Share your skill or talent with someone by showing them how to do something. Not so they won’t bother you with it, but so they can move a little bit towards improved mastery of the world around them. Have patience and respect for the person you’re helping – you’re giving them a gift, not compensating for some lack in their character.
- Let someone shine: Put a spotlight on someone else’s talents by letting them take over a presentation, deferring to their wisdom, asking them advice, or otherwise flex their “talent muscles”. Especially if they are junior to you, giving them a chance to strut their stuff shows that you trust them and appreciate them, as well as allowing them to get the attention they deserve (and which might often be obscured by your own shadow).
- Connect like minds: Introduce two friends or colleagues who you feel have something to gain from each other. You’ll be letting them know you value them – and maybe creating a partnership that will make everyone better off.
You’ve probably heard the saying “Practice random acts of kindness”, and that’s basically what I’m talking about here. Anything that shows people you care about them – something we can be mighty stingy about most of the time – has the potential to make the world, or your small corner of it, a better place.
Do you have anything to add? What little gestures do you do, or have others done for you, that have brightened the world even just a little bit? Let us know in the comments.