Feeding someone hungry. Picking up a piece of litter by the side of the road. Helping someone who needs a hand getting down a staircase. These gestures take mere seconds of your time, but they can make all the difference to the person on the receiving end of them. And while they may not make a major dent in your day, they can lead to some serious benefits for you, as well.
According to researchers at the University of Oxford, acts of kindness—from smiling at a stranger to helping dig someone’s stuck tire out of the snow—can yield major improvements in the mood of not only their recipients, but the individual doling them out, as well. That’s right: every seemingly minor thing you’re doing to make someone else happy can fill you with just as much joy.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up 33 small acts of kindness you can do today without spending a single dollar. So give one—or all of them—a go, and realize how infectious and mood-boosting being a nice and thoughtful person really is.
Gift your leftover food to someone in need.
Instead of throwing out your perfectly good lunch leftovers, consider boxing them up and handing them out to someone in need of a bite to eat. You’ll feel better knowing that you didn’t waste any perfectly good food, and a human being will greatly benefit from your small but significant act of kindness.
Hold the door open for someone.
This might not seem like that remarkable of a gesture, but strangers will certainly take note of the fact that you went out of your way to hold the door open for them—especially if you live in a busy city where it’s constantly every person for themselves.
Compliment strangers on the street.
Do you see someone on the train whose purse you adore? Then tell them! Compliments coming from friends and family are one thing, but nothing feels better than receiving a compliment unexpectedly from a stranger in passing. And who knows: If all goes well, you might even hit it off with this stranger and make a new friend. Win-win!
Donate old clothes.
Make room for many a new frock and give garments to those in need all in one kind gesture. You might no longer have a need for your old sneakers or former favorite puffy jacket, but that doesn’t mean that someone else can’t get good use out of them for years to come.
Surprise the office with homemade baked goods.
Take a second now to look at all of the dry goods you currently have sitting in your pantry. If you happen to have the right ingredients to make homemade baked goods, like cookies or muffins, then whip up a batch. Not only will using up those ingredients that might otherwise languish in your pantry cut down on food waste, but it’s also a cash-free way to make a lot of people happy with little effort.
Leave unused coupons on a shelf at the store.
If you have a coupon that’s about to expire and don’t have any use for it, just leave it on the shelf at the store next to the item it corresponds to so someone else can benefit from it. Sure, a $1 off coupon isn’t much in the scheme of things, but the kindness and generosity you’re spreading around is priceless.
Fill out a customer satisfaction survey and rave about a great experience.
Should you happen to have a particularly pleasant experience with a customer service representative, take the extra few minutes to fill out the customer satisfaction survey and praise that person for their kindness and helpfulness. Nobody actually enjoys filling out those surveys at the end of a phone call, but doing so could make a huge difference in someone’s career.
Babysit a friend’s kids—free of charge.
That couple in your life with young kids would appreciate nothing more than a night out sans the little ones—but babysitters these days are expensive. That’s where your act of kindness comes in. By offering to babysit completely free of charge, you can give your friends the night out they’ve been longing for and they won’t have to sacrifice a single penny.
Return shopping carts at the grocery store.
The next time you see a shopping cart out of place, take a few seconds to return it to where it should be and make someone else’s life easier. Those shopping carts that people leave in the middle of the parking lot don’t magically just return to their designated spots—when customers refuse to put them away, hard-working employees have to take precious time out of their day just to put those carts where they’re supposed to be. And for every shopping cart you put back in its proper place, you’re lowering the risk of someone’s car getting dinged, as well.
Throw out litter on the sidewalk.
Do a small act of kindness for the planet and throw out any litter you see while walking down the street. According to the Department of Environment and Conservation, something like a piece of cardboard can take as long as two months to breakdown, and so every piece of garbage that you put into a proper receptacle makes a huge different for the environment.
Leave uplifting comments on friends’ social media accounts.
It’s not easy posting pictures on the internet and leaving yourself vulnerable to the scrutiny of strangers who never seem to have anything nice to say—so the next time you’re scrolling through Instagram and notice that a friend has just uploaded a selfie, make sure to let them know how wonderful they look.
Leave your partner a love note.
Show your partner how much you care by writing them a secret love note and leaving it in their purse or briefcase to find later. In the middle of the day, your significant other will be pleasantly surprised by your sweet act of kindness (and they never have to know that it required minimal effort and zero money on your part).
Volunteer at a local animal shelter.
Reach out to your local animal shelter and see if there’s anything you can to do to help out. Most shelters are severely understaffed, and they’re usually more than happy to take any and all volunteers they can get! And what could be better than spending time with adorable animals all day?
Instead of birthday gifts, ask friends to donate to charity.
When your friends and family ask you what you want for your birthday this year, tell them that instead of birthday gifts, you’d prefer that they donate to charity in your name. Facebook even has a feature that allows you to start a fundraiser for your birthday, so it’s as easy as just clicking a button to perform this simple but significant act of kindness the next the time your big day rolls around.
Catch up with an old friend.
Make time in your busy schedule to catch up with an old friend whom you haven’t seen in a while. Both you and your friend will benefit from the long-overdue get-together—after all, nothing makes for a good mood quite like reminiscing with someone who remembers you from way back when.
Surprise your family with a home-cooked meal.
Put that overused takeout menu back in the kitchen drawer and surprise your family instead with a thoughtful home-cooked meal that they’ll never expect. Even if you aren’t a master chef, simply the thought and effort you put into cooking a meal yourself will be enough to make your family feel appreciated.
Write a letter to someone serving overseas.
Show your thanks for those risking their lives overseas by writing a letter via Operation Gratitude. Being in a foreign country in the middle of a war can get lonely, and the soldier on the receiving end of the letter you write will definitely appreciate hearing that his or her efforts aren’t going unnoticed.
Hospitals and emergency centers are always in need of more blood donations, especially when tragedies and natural disasters strike. If you meet the qualifications for giving blood, then registering for a local blood drive is an easy and effective way to help those in need. (Oh, and did we mention that you usually get a delicious snack at the end of your donation?)
Donate your hair.
Looking to switch up your signature look? Consider killing two birds with one haircut by donating your ponytail. Each organization has different requirements as far as what it will and won’t accept, but typically your hair has to be anywhere from 8 to 10 inches before you can donate it. Once the hair that you want to donate is chopped off, you can have fun playing around with a new, much shorter ‘do!
Make a habit out of smiling at the strangers you pass on the sidewalk. You never know what other people are going through, and your smile could turn that stranger’s entire day around.
Praise your coworkers for a job well done.
If your coworker did a particularly good job on a project or presentation, don’t hesitate to let them know about it. Even if your coworker already knows deep down that they worked hard and performed well, sometimes a little bit of recognition is exactly what we all need in order to feel good about ourselves.
Organize a food drive.
Get your entire community involved in your act of kindness by organizing a food drive. Everyone—including yourself—can feel good about doing something to help those in need of something to eat, and canned goods that might not ever be eaten otherwise will go to good use. It’s a win-win!
Offer to pick up a neighbor’s groceries.
You’re already going to the grocery store anyway, so why not offer to pick up a few extra items for your neighbor as well? Your pal next door likely has as much on their plate as you do, so any help they can get will be much appreciated.
See a lost phone on the ground? Help return it.
Imagine for a second how lost you would be without your smartphone. Pretty helpless, right? Hold onto that feeling, and remember it the next time you see a misplaced smartphone sitting on the street. Someone out there is looking for that lost phone, and returning it to a local store or police station can not only brighten their day, but save them thousands of dollars, too.
Spend some time at a senior living home.
Senior living homes are always looking for volunteers to just sit and chat with their residents. Even if you only have an hour or so to spare, those 60 minutes will make a huge difference in a lonely person’s life.
Tutor local kids completely free of charge.
Offer up your math, English, or history skills to the kids in your neighborhood who need help with their schoolwork. Tutors don’t come cheap, and so helping out even for just a few hours every few weeks could eliminate financial stress for many a family.
Compliment a parent on their child’s behavior.
Parents with young children are all too used to hearing complaints about how their child is too loud, too rambunctious, or is just being too much of a, well, child. However, when kids are well-behaved and sitting quietly out in public, parents never hear anything about how good their kids are—and so just hearing a little bit of praise from you might give them hope that people are taking notice of their hard work.
Put a quarter in an expired parking meter.
Okay, so technically this one isn’t free, but what’s 25 cents compared to the $100 fine that car could get should a cop see their expired meter?!
Listen when someone else is speaking.
Given how often people pretend to listen while zoning out or scrolling through their phones, it’s perhaps one of the greatest acts of kindness out there to actually listen when someone else is speaking. Sure, it might be tempting to check the clock or look at that Twitter notification, but the person with whom you’re chatting will appreciate that you value their time and words enough to ignore your urges.
Let a merging car into your lane.
Traffic is stressful enough as it is without having to fight your way into a lane—so the next time you see someone struggling to merge over to your lane, make some room and let them in!
Help a struggling parent carry their stroller down the stairs.
Don’t just ignore that mom or dad struggling to carry their stroller down a flight of stairs. Help them out! Lending a hand won’t take more than a minute, and that stressed parent will be eternally grateful for the assistance.
Call your mom!
Stop making excuses and just pick up the phone and call your mom! Sure, she might drone on sometimes about the drama in her book club or how the grocery store was out of her favorite cereal, but nothing makes her happier than hearing from you—and that’s all that matters.
Make your partner breakfast in bed.
Surprise your partner this Sunday with a delicious breakfast in bed. Even if it’s just some scrambled eggs and coffee, your significant other will love that you put effort into making their morning that much sweeter.
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