Real talk: The world is kind of a mess right now. And some of the struggles that we’re facing seem so monumental that it’s easy to feel down about the current state of affairs. But rest assured—there are things you can do to help those around you. You can sign petitions. You can donate money. You can practice social distancing to keep vulnerable people safe. And may we offer another suggestion? You can be kind.
Every time you do something nice for others—without expecting anything in return—you make the world just that much better. Are we saying that putting change in someone else’s parking meter is going to solve the world’s problems? Obviously not. But it will make someone’s day a little brighter. And here’s the funny thing about kindness: It’s contagious. That person might just pay it forward and do something considerate or charitable for somebody else, who might do the same and so on and so forth. (Also, being unkind is the opposite of helpful, yes?)
Here’s another cool fact about being kind to others. It doesn’t just benefit them—it will also do good things for you. “Most people around the globe want to be happier,” says Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, University of California Riverside Professor of Psychology and author of The Myths of Happiness. “And one of the most powerful ways [to do that] is actually to make someone else happier by being kind and generous to them.”
Here are three ways that being kind to others can benefit yourself, per Lyubomirsky. “First it can make you happier. Studies show that being kind to others can make you feel good as a person and helps strengthen your relationships.” It’s not exactly clear why this is, but researchers suspect that being generous gives people a sense of doing something that matters. This in turn boosts their mood. “Secondly, practicing kindness can turn your genes on and off. A recent study suggests this can be linked to a stronger immune system.” And, thirdly, in case you need further convincing to just be nice to people, acts of kindness can actually make you more popular. A study of kids aged 9 to 11 showed that simple acts of generosity made them better liked by classmates.
So if you want to be happier, healthier and better-liked, do a good deed for someone else. Hey, don’t take it from us—take it from Mr. Rogers. In the words of the iconic children’s show host: “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” So with those words of wisdom in mind, here are 25 ways to be kinder.
1. Be kind to yourself
Wait, isn’t the whole point of this list to learn how to be kind to others? Hear us out. “The root for most human behaviors, emotional responses and dispositions are internal and within our personal psyche,” says Dr. Dean Aslinia, Ph.D., LPC-S, NCC. “It is therefore no surprise that if we want to be more kind to others we have to start with ourselves first,” he adds. “In over a decade of clinical counseling practice, I noticed so many of my clients were first and foremost unkind to themselves. Whether that started with not giving themselves permission to experience certain thoughts or feelings, to beating themselves up for how they may have failed a friend or a loved one. This can lead to frequent feelings of guilt, shame, and self-doubt. In order to be more kind to others you need to start being more kind to yourself.” Got that?
2. Pay someone a compliment
Remember that time you were walking down the street someone told you that they liked your dress? You were basically on cloud nine for the entire afternoon. Giving someone a compliment is typically pretty low effort on your behalf but the payoff is huge. In fact, studies have continuously shown how compliments can positively affect our lives. Professor Nick Haslam of the University of Melbourne told HuffPost Australia, “Compliments can lift moods, improve engagement with tasks, enhance learning and increase persistence.” He went on to explain, “Giving compliments is arguably better than receiving them, just as giving gifts or contributing to charity has benefits to the giver.” But here’s the catch: The compliment absolutely has to be genuine. “Faux compliments are likely to have the opposite effect as genuine ones. People who receive them will often feel they are insincere and not well-intentioned, and that undermines any positive effects they might feel about being praised,” Haslam said.
3. Give money to a cause that you care about
A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving money to someone else lifted participants’ happiness more than spending the money on themselves. This occurred despite people’s predictions that spending on themselves would make them happier. So think about a cause that’s close to your heart, do some research to find a reputable organization (a service like charity checker can help with that) and set up a recurring donation if you can. Need some ideas? Donate to one of these 12 organizations that are supporting Black communities and furthering the Black Lives Matter movement. Or you can give to one of these nine organizations that support black women or donate a meal to a frontline healthcare worker.
4. Give time to a cause that you care about
Money isn’t the only way to help those in need. Many organizations and charities need volunteers to help spread the word and reach their goals. Give them a call and ask how you can help.
5. Pick up garbage off the street when you see it
Don’t you just hate litter? Well, instead of shaking your head at that water bottle at the park, pick it up and put it in the recycling bin. Same goes for stuff left behind on the beach—even if there isn’t a trashcan nearby, take that junk with you and dispose of it when you can. Mother Nature will thank you.
6. Make ‘em laugh
Haven’t you heard? Laughter is good for the soul. But seriously: Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. So whether you’re on the phone with your bestie or trying to build an IKEA dresser with your S.O., see if you can get them to crack a smile. But don’t sweat it if you don’t have any actually funny jokes up your sleeve. Even watching a funny clip (this one’s a classic) can boost their mood and even relieve pain, according to this University of Oxford study.
7. Give an extra-large tip
We’re of the mindset that unless the service is totally appalling, you should always tip generously. But especially now when many service-industry workers are on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, you should be upping your contribution. Show people in consumer-facing industries (like the food delivery person or your Uber driver) that you appreciate all they do by tipping 5 percent more than you usually do if you can afford it.
8. Kill the road rage
There’s plenty of opportunities to be kinder to people on the road. Here are some ideas: Pay the toll of the driver behind you, put change in someone else’s parking meter if you see that their time is about to expire or let people merge ahead of you (even if you were there first).
9. Send someone a big surprise bouquet of flowers
Not because it’s their birthday or because it’s a special occasion. Send your bestie, your mom or your neighbor a pretty bunch of flowers just because. Come on, who wouldn’t be thrilled to receive these bright yellow blooms?
10. Call or visit an older family member
Your grandma misses you—pick up the phone and give her a call. Then ask her to tell you a story from her past—she may not have lived through a global pandemic, but we’re willing to bet that she has some lessons to impart on resilience. Or if social distancing guidelines will allow for it (say, if you can see your auntie through a window), swing by to pay her a visit.
11. Walk away from negative thoughts and negative people
It’s hard to be nice when you’re angry, upset or annoyed. So here’s a tip from psychologist Dr. Matt Grzesiak: Step away from negativity. “You can catch your own negative thoughts and turn your attention elsewhere,” he says. “It is sometimes best to physically remove yourself from the situation—leave the room, go for a walk. Sometimes separation is the key to becoming more objective and calmer.”
12. Bake a treat for a neighbor
You don’t need Ina Garten-level skills to whip up something delicious. From banana muffins to chocolate sheet cake, these easy baking recipes for beginners are sure to be a hit.
13. Be good to the environment
Hey, the planet needs kindness too. Here are some ways you can help the environment, starting today. Start carrying a refillable water bottle. Choose sustainable beauty and fashion. Start a compost. Opt for eco-friendly home products. Donate, recycle or upcycle instead of tossing in the trash. Here are even more ideas for ways to help the planet.
14. Support local businesses
Especially in these COVID-19 times, small businesses are struggling. Shop online, do curbside pickup or buy a gift certificate to your favorite local boutiques. Better yet, find Black-owned businesses in your neighborhood to support.
15. Buy coffee for the person behind you
And make it anonymous. (Bonus points if it’s from a local business—see earlier point.)
16. Donate blood
The American Red Cross is currently facing a blood shortage. You can make an appointment on their website.
17. Listen carefully
“People can readily tell you what it means to be a bad listener,” journalist Kate Murphy tells us. “Things like interrupting, looking at your phone, non sequiturs, that type of thing.” To be a better listener and make sure the person you’re speaking with actually feels heard, she recommends asking yourself two questions after every conversation: “What did I learn about that person?” and “How did that person feel about what we were talking about?” If you’re able to answer those questions, she says that by definition, you’re a good listener.
18. Forgive others
“Forgiveness is crucial to becoming a kinder person,” says Dr. Aslinia. “You need to learn to forgive others for their perceived transgressions towards you.” Can’t seem to get over it? Seek some professional help. “Whether it’s a licensed mental health professional or a life coach, find someone that you feel comfortable with and start letting go of your past pains or angry feelings that make you feel stuck. When you can forgive and let go of the past, you’ll naturally become a kinder person.”
19. Plant something green in the neglected areas of your neighborhood
Think how delighted your neighbors will be to wake up to some beautiful bushes or flowers one day, seemingly out of the blue.
20. Buy or make a sandwich for a homeless person
Cold and hot drinks (depending on the season) are also good ideas.
21. Appreciate other perspectives
You really want to be nicer to your neighbor, but you just can’t get over the fact that she once fat-shamed your dog. “Oftentimes, our rigid beliefs and thoughts get in the way of our best intentions,” says Dr. Aslinia. So what’s the fix? Try to remember that we all experience life differently. “One of the kindest things you can do is make an effort to understand the perspective of other people.” Ask questions and express an interest in people. Then genuinely listen to what they have to say. “Over time, listening will help you become less judgmental.” (Hey, maybe Mrs. Beamon once had a pudgy pooch, too.)
22. Read one of these books
Kindness starts at home. From The Giving Tree to Blubber, here are 15 books that teach kids kindness.
23. Leave a glowing review
You rely on other people’s reviews to decide where to eat or get your hair done—now it’s your turn. And if you happen to come across an outstanding waiter or salesperson, don’t forget to let the manager know about it.
24. Be a source of positivity on social media
There’s a lot of stress-inducing, negative content out there. Squelch the haters with kindness by posting educational, insightful and motivational content. May we suggest one of these positive quotes?
25. Pay it forward
By sending this list around.
RELATED: 9 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be a Happier Person