A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

35 Small Acts of Kindness to Brighten Someone’s Day Instantly

Here are inspiring ideas to brighten someone's day in 120 seconds or less. Pass it on!

Random Act of Kindness
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Acts of kindness

An act of kindness, no matter how small, can go a long way. Reader’s Digest is seeking stories of random acts of kindness that you’ve witnessed in your community for our search for the Nicest Places in America.

From helping a parent carry a stroller up a flight of stairs, to cutting through the plastic pack rings around your six-pack of soda so that it doesn’t get caught on an animal, small acts of kindness can be just as meaningful as big ones. Helping out a fellow inhabitant of our planet has so many benefits, both for you and for others. Keeping an eye out for the opportunity to be kind can work wonders for a stressed-out mind, moving the focus from yourself to your place in the wider world and giving some much-needed perspective. So many things are outside of our control, but brightening someone’s day through random acts of kindness is definitely not one of them.

Studies show that being kind actually makes you happy: kind acts increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in your brain, the neurotransmitters which give you feelings of well-being, releases endorphins (the body’s natural painkiller), and lights up the pleasure and reward centers in your brain. From small acts of kindness to sharing kindness quotes, doing good makes you feel good! Sounds like a win-win to us. Take a tiny portion of your day to put a smile on someone’s face or give someone an unexpected surprise with these kind gestures.

Modern cafe business
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Pay it forward

If you’re not in a rush while grabbing your morning coffee, offer to pay for the person behind you as well. This simple act of kindness might inspire them to pass along some good in the world as well. As these stories on kindness show, the actions of strangers can make a person’s whole year.

Sticky note on a windshield

Leave a letter

Carry around a stack of sticky notes with you, and if you’re feeling inspired write an encouraging note and leave it on the mirror in a public bathroom or on the window of someone’s car. You never know who might need some inspiring words to put a smile on their face. Sometimes, to say something nice is one of the greatest small acts of kindness you can do.

People Hands Cupping Plant Nurture Environmental

Plant a tree (or 100!)

Say thank you to the earth by planting a few saplings in your local park, or in your yard. If everyone took the time to do this think of all the greenery we could enjoy, not to mention the amount of carbon we could remove from the atmosphere. Trees provide shade in summer and food and habitat for many animals.

helping elderly

Help an elderly neighbor

If you notice an elderly person struggling with their groceries or bringing their trash can in from the curb, offer to help them. Chances are, they will be very appreciative, and this is one of the small acts of kindness that anyone can do to help out their neighbors.

Hungry workers grabbing muffins in the office

Bring in treats for your co-workers

Pick up a few extra goodies with your morning bagel and bring them in for your co-workers to enjoy. This can be a great mood booster during a stressful time at work. Take a few minutes to chat about your day and eat with them to take some of the pressure off, and maybe share some kindness memes to spread the love!

loose change on wood table
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Help someone find loose change

Leave a stack of quarters on a laundromat washing machine with a note saying they’re free for the taking. This super simple small act of kindness will prevent tired parents from having to search for change, and also works at the gas station air pump to save the next motorist a headache. It’s also a teachable moment of acts of kindness for kids.

WROCLAW, POLAND - MARCH 28th, 2017: Man scratches Polish lottery scratchcard. Scratchcard is a small card, where areas contain concealed information which can be revealed by scratching off.
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Pass on some luck

Give a lottery ticket to a stranger on the street. Win or lose, just receiving the ticket will surely brighten someone’s day. And who knows, your kind action may have just created a new millionaire!

Transportation, winter, weather, people and vehicle concept - man cleaning snow from car with brush

Help clear off a car

When you’re cleaning snow and ice off your car in a parking lot, clean off the next car as well. Not only are you helping out another driver, but you’re also making the roads safer for everyone. A lot of kindness is spread in the 50 nicest places in America.

A woman is drinking tea and reading a book, female hands are holding a glass beaker with a drink. Lifestyle, relaxation

Help a friend practice self-care

Slip an envelope containing a tea bag into a friend’s purse with a note inviting her to take some relaxing time for herself. Your kind action is now causing another—your friend can be kind to herself.

Girl hand drawing, blank paper and colorful pencils on old wooden table
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Help a child in a time of stress

Buy coloring books and crayons and donate them to your local police department. When the police are called to a home where there are children, one officer can engage the kids while the other handles the situation. This is a great way to calm and distract children during what can be a very frightening experience. Who knows, one of these small acts of kindness might even come back to you in the form of good karma.

Close Up Of Mother Cuddling Sleeping Baby Daughter At Home
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Praise a parent

Tell a parent they’re doing a good job. (They probably rarely hear that!) Especially tell them that if their kid is acting out at the time. Few things are more stressful!

Happy beautiful smiley girlfriends being photographed by a man.

Offer to take a photo

Whenever you see a stranger taking a family photo, offer to snap the shot so everyone can be included in the moment. You never know—that photo could be featured on their holiday card that year or become a treasured memento. And folks almost always offer to return the favor!

Close-up Of Person's Hand Putting Letters In Mailbox

Leave a welcome note

When a new family moves into the neighborhood, use chalk to leave welcome messages on the sidewalk in front of their home. It can be hard to settle into a new area, but people who go out of their way to be a good neighbor make it easier. Chalk messages are great ways to show how warm and friendly the neighborhood is and how excited everyone is to meet the new residents.

rain drops falling from a orange umbrella

Make someone’s rainy day

Buy extra umbrellas and keep them in your car. When you see someone caught in a downpour, hand one over. You could be saving someone from walking into an interview or an important meeting drenched.

A teenage girl holding a recycling container
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Put the earth first

Be kind to the earth! Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth, switch to paperless billing, recycle, use energy-efficient light bulbs, use a refillable water bottle, and bring cloth bags to the supermarket. Sharing Earth Day quotes can help people come together to keep our one planet clean and protected.

Selective focus on handwriting in spiral notebook creating to do list with targets on white page, cropped image of afro american female designer drawing sketches for project in diary with pen

Help a new homeowner

Moving? Tape a list with the names and numbers of local plumbers, electricians, and dry cleaners, along with other helpful information, on a kitchen cabinet for the new owners. The last thing a new homeowner has time for is researching reputable repair companies. Your list will eliminate a lot of hassle and stress.

Business deal handshake from above. Straight focus on the hands

Introduce yourself

Take the time to learn the name of someone who regularly helps you out— whether it’s a security guard, a doorman, or a cashier at your grocery store. Greet them by name. This seemingly small gesture will demonstrate how greatly you value your local service people and your interactions with them. Here are some of the things polite people always say.

home and leasure concept - smiling woman reading magazine at home

Leave reading material behind

Read magazines on a plane? Don’t dump them when you’re done—offer them to the flight attendants for their reading pleasure. These magazines can be great distractions for travel workers when they’re off far away from their loved ones.

Close up portrait of smiling young couple having fun outdoors. Man and woman enjoying themselves on a winter day at the beach.
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Make someone laugh

If you know someone who is having a hard time, text them a pun or a joke. You’ll brighten up their day and take their mind off difficult thoughts, even if it’s just for a moment. You can also text suggestions of funny podcasts for an added dose of comedy medicine.

Concept of support - man and woman holding hands in the room
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Forgive a debt

Money is so often the root of stress and shame. Canceling a debt can easily eliminate these feelings from a friendship and create a kinder, more loving relationship. If you can afford it, this is one of the best small acts of kindness to do.

Zero waste, plastic free recycled textile produce bag for carrying fruit (apple, orange, pear and a banana) or vegetables, a wooden surface. Bags are made with a sewing machine out of old curtains.

Bring extra bags

Besides remembering everything on your grocery list, make it your mission to bring extra bags to the supermarket to share with people who’ve forgotten to bring their own. Shoppers, as well as Mother Earth, will thank you!

Female hands holding gift box with red ribbon. Woman opening her present. Casual style.
Kate Aedon/Shutterstock

Invent your own holiday

You don’t have to wait until December to have fun! If you notice a pal is feeling down or your sister is stressed, create your own special occasion, like National Big Sister Day. Shower her with flowers and small gifts. Invite family and friends to get in on it too. (Here’s a hint: World Kindness Day is on November 13th!)

Soap Bubbles in front of the forest

Bubbles for all

The next time the kids want to go to the playground bring bottles of bubbles, large pieces of chalk, and stickers, and leave them in a central location for kids to help themselves. The kids will have a blast, you will get some well-needed rest and relaxation and other mothers and fathers on the playground will appreciate this small act of kindness.

Pile of newspapers on a wooden table.
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Leave it behind

Do you want an easy way to pay it forward? When you’re finished reading a newspaper or magazine on a bus or train, leave it in the seat pocket so the next person who boards can read it for free. What an easy way to put a smile on someone’s face and cure commuter boredom with free entertainment!

Cup of coffee with beautiful Latte art

Treat a long-distance friend

If you know someone special who is celebrating a birthday or promotion, send them money via Venmo to buy coffee or lunch for themselves, or order them a drink or meal to be delivered directly to them! This small act of kindness will demonstrate that you are thinking of them from afar and as the old saying goes, “the best ship of all is friendship.” No matter where your BFF lives, you can always share your movie night with these best movies about friends.

roll of toilet paper

Help a class stay healthy

On the first day of school, send your kid in with a bag of tissues, antibacterial wipes, and paper towels, which will help keep everyone healthy, safe, and clean. This is so important, especially after the year we’ve had!

African american person holding a tactile mobile smartphone - Black people
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Call your parents and grandparents regularly

The days are slow but the years are fast, which means you should check in with the people who matter to you most. Picking up the phone for a check-in is a nice departure from a quick text message. Set a reminder in your calendar for a regular chat.

Pizza in cardboard box on wooden table
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Send a pizza from far away

Order a pizza and have it delivered to out-of-town friends dealing with a birth, death, moving into a new house, or another major life event. A heartfelt and delicious food delivery will put a smile on the faces of people dealing with stress, who often don’t have time to sit down for a nice meal during a hectic period in their lives. It can be hard to talk about it, but there are some things you should say to someone who is grieving.

Art Supplies and Blank Sketch Pad

Donate extras

Is your household home to more arts and crafts tools than it can hold? As one of your small acts of kindness, donate your supplies to your local library for others’ after-school fun. After a whole day spent at school, there is nothing more relaxing for some children than drawing away the afternoon!

Preparing healthy vegetarian snacks on white rustic wood. Female hands making sandwiches and putting into take away plastic lunch box, top view. Eating right, picnic and food storage concept

Pay for a student’s lunch

Call your local school’s social worker and offer to anonymously cover the cost of a disadvantaged student’s school breakfast and lunch, or their books for the year. Besides taking the burden off of a family in need, just thinking about the smile on this child’s face is sure to brighten your day. Small acts of kindness can be just as life-changing as extraordinary generosity.

The gesture of the hands mean the promise

Keep your word

It’s simple: if you say you’re going to do something, do it. Although this sounds straightforward many people simply forget to keep their word. Keeping a promise shows that you took the time to think about someone.

Business people shaking hands.

Be the best boss you can be

If you run a business, go the extra mile for your employees by giving everyone the day off on their birthday. By leading by example, you will foster an environment of both generosity and kindness. It’s one of the golden rules to being a great boss.

Savings coupons and scissors shot on shopping bags with soft drop shadow
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Be a coupon fairy

The next time you are at the supermarket, leave a coupon on a grocery store item. The person finding it won’t expect it and it is a quick and delicious way to brighten their day or give them a treat!

Colorful set of baby romper on brick wall
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Donate baby clothes

You know those infant clothes that your baby outgrew in weeks? Pass them along to a new mom who will be grateful for the worn-in and heartfelt present. She can then pass it along to another new mother who can continue to pay it forward within the mom circle. Infant clothes are just one of the things that a new mom could really use.

Four hands with smart phones holding glasses with red wine, on wooden table background
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Be a professional matchmaker

Think about two people whose professional skills complement each other and introduce them over dinner at your house. This is a nice way to introduce people who may not have met otherwise. And who knows, maybe the next best-selling business or 50-year love affair will be born right under your nose.

Chloë Nannestad
Chloë Nannestad is a lifestyle writer covering crafts, holidays, beauty and amazing products for RD.com. When she's not scouring the internet or reading product reviews, she's planning her next backpacking trip and thinking about getting a dog.