Updated Jan. 8, 2019
I’d never seen him before — or since for that matter — but a stranger on an airplane gave me a gift I still treasure today.
And it didn’t cost him a nickel.
Heading from Chicago to Los Angeles on a four-and-a-half-hour, crowded flight with a 5-, 4- and 2-year-old in tow, I was desperately afraid of breakdowns, accidents, and disaster. And I don’t mean the plane. It was the first and longest trip I’d made alone with my three little ones and disturbing the peace was not part of my plan.
Of course this was years before iPads, cell phones, and, at least on this plane, in-flight movies. I had armed myself with puzzles, books, my full attention, and a carry-on bag chock-full of extra patience as we sat (excluding bathroom trips for diaper changes) for about four hours longer than wriggling little legs are made to sit.
After what felt like a month, no breakdowns yet — we touched down in Cali, and whew, almost… I stood up, ready to head toward the door to escape this ticking-time-bomb situation, otherwise known as my toddler (and our loudest child) not having slept on the plane — at all.
A passenger came toward me, an older gentleman with a knowing smile, and stopped at my row.
“I have been watching you with your girls the whole plane ride,” he said. “I wish I had a blue ribbon, but instead I made you this.”
He handed me a notecard. On it, he had written in fancy capital letters Most Fantastic Mom Award.
Oh, wow. This man made my day.
I’ll never forget this stranger and how he so simply and eloquently made a young mom feel more confident with a mere little notecard and 21 bumpily inked letters — a treasure now housed in a gold frame on my nightstand, by far my greatest trophy.
We all know a random act of kindness can make your day or lots and lots of days. It can be a simple but empowering gesture you hang on to as your kids grow into teenagers. It can be that answer to a silent (or not-so-silent) cry for help. It can be a hard stop to loneliness. Or a simple reminder that when you thought no one was looking, someone somewhere thought you were doing a good job.
So maybe this year, we can all look for little ways to spread kindness. Why not? Kindness is free and we all know a life without it can be costly. So arm yourself with these 35 easy-peasy ways to sneakily make someone’s day and start spreading the love.
1. Create an unofficial holiday to celebrate someone you love.
2. Surprise an elderly neighbor with a baked treat.
3. Leave unused items/clothes in good condition for your cleaning lady.
5. Leave money on a vending machine for the next customer.
6. The next time you see litter, pick it up.
7. Feed a stranger’s parking meter.
8. Give up your seat on the train.
9. Make breakfast in bed for a family member who had a tough week.
10. Feed birds in the park.
11. Let someone catch you saying something nice about them behind their back.
12. Remember a friend who lost a parent on Mother’s and Father’s Day with a picture of their loved one they’ve maybe never seen before.
13. Shovel a neighbor’s driveway.
14. Deliver library books to someone who’s homebound.
15. Surprise the mailman with a steaming cup of hot chocolate in a to-go cup on a cold winter day.
17. Send a funny comic to a friend who could use a laugh.
19. Anonymously scrape a co-worker’s car windshield.
20. Listen to someone who needs to talk.
21. Stop gossip. Say something nice about the person being vilified.
22. Post positive notes, big and small, around the house, at the office, or in your child’s lunchbox or backpack.
23. Join the Kindness Rocks Project: Paint small rocks and put inspirational words on them, then place where others can find them. Recruit others to do the same!
24. Carry around a care package of food or toiletries and give to a homeless person.
25. Hold the elevator.
27. Offer to take a picture for a tourist.
28. Plant a tree in honor of a lost loved one.
29. Take out the trash for a single mom.
30. Reach out to a former teacher with a note of thanks.
31. Make a playlist for a friend who’s starting a new exercise routine.
32. Do laundry for a brand new mom.
34. Send anonymous flowers to someone.
35. Find a young mom trying her best and present her a Most Fantastic Mom award!
You’ll quickly find that performing random acts of kindness makes you feel as good as the recipients of your gestures. Get even more ideas from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
Has someone made your day with a random act of kindness? We want to hear about it! Tell us about your experience and share how you paid it forward.
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Donna Bozzo is author of the book “What The Fun?! 427 Ways To Have Fantastic Family Fun” (Penguin) and is a frequent TV contributor appearing on Chicago TV stations, TODAY, and shows across the country. Next fall, look for her new book on the power of sensory play, “Fidget Busters” (Countryman/W.W.Norton).