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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

33 Effortless Ways to Celebrate National Courtesy Month

It's amazing how much better the world can be when everyone is just a tad more polite.

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Say please and thank you. To everyone.

It’s amazing how often we forget this little politeness and it seems like the ones we most often drop our manners with are our friends and family. So the next time someone does something for you, even something little like picking up your socks, show some gratitude attitude. This is how using good manners can change your life.

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iStock/Terry Wilson

Let something little go

Someone cut you off in traffic? Step on your foot in line? Take the last dinner roll? Steal your pen? “Forget” to pick up their dog’s poop on your lawn? Put the toilet paper roll on the “wrong” way? Instead of letting your anger fester over little things, make a conscious effort to forgive them and let it go. Sing it like Elsa if you have to! This is what science can teach you about forgiveness.

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Hold the door open for the person behind you

Have you ever had a door shut in your face? Exactly. Even if you’re running late, take a moment to make the next person’s day just a little smoother. Here are 24 little ways to be a good friend.

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iStock/Cathy Yeulet

Let someone cut ahead of you in line

We’ve all been the person standing at the end of the long grocery line holding just a gallon of milk. It’s so frustrating! But more often, we’ve all been the one with the full cart in front of them. So let that person and their milk go in front of you. It’ll take you two extra minutes but will likely make their day. Here are tips to make running errands less of a hassle.

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Smile at a crying child (and his parents!)

Crying kids can fray anyone’s nerves but likely no one is more at their wit’s end than their mother. So try giving the little one a smile, playing a quick peekaboo or making a silly face. Sometimes a little sunshine from a stranger is enough to make them forget what they were so upset about it the first place. (Bonus: Their mom will also probably be just as delighted.)

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Learn people’s names

Everyone thinks they’re bad at remembering names but most of us can be better at than we think — if we want to. Making the effort to learn someone’s name, whether it’s the barista at your coffee shop or the checker at the grocery store or your friend’s child, helps them feel important and appreciated.

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Compliment a stranger

Compliments from a mother or a spouse can sometimes feel a little obligatory. (“Of course you look great honey, can we go now?”) But when a stranger admires your outfit or your smile or your shoes, you know it’s the real deal because they went out of their way to tell you.

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Send a hand-written card

Think of someone you’re grateful to but haven’t told—perhaps a past teacher, boss, or your great aunt who bought you a graduation dress when your parents couldn’t afford one—and write them a card sharing your feelings. You can either send it through the mail or hand deliver it for extra smiles.

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Bring a favorite treat for no reason

We all expect treats around the holidays but nothing is quite as fun as an unexpected treat. So bring a plate to the office or a bar of chocolate to your best friend—just because. If they insist on a reason? Make up a holiday. Happy best friend’s day! These cozy best friend quotes will warm your heart.

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Repeat gossip (the good kind)

Did your boss say something great about your coworker, but she wasn’t there to hear it? Let your her know. Normally repeating things you overhear about someone else is the opposite of courteous, but letting someone know they’re amazing and lots of people think so is never a bad thing. This magical text message can improve anyone’s day.

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Mail a drawing to a kid

Kids love drawing. Kids love mail. But little kids can’t read! So getting a drawing in the mail is basically the best thing to ever happen to them. Sketch something colorful and fun that you know they like and send it off. Don’t worry about being a great artist, children don’t care! This is perfect for grandparents who live far away. This is how doodling can even make you smarter.

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Check in with a loved one who’s had a hard time

When a tragedy happens oftentimes people are supportive and loving at first but over time they move on with their own lives, not realizing the person is still suffering. So take a moment today to give a quick text, or better yet, a call, to a loved one who not-so-recently got divorced, moved far away, lost someone close, or lost a job.

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iStock/Highwaystarz Photography

Visit a senior

Got an elderly neighbor or relative near by? Chances are they’d love a visit or a call and you can check in and make sure they’re okay. Especially keep these folks in mind after a big event like a storm or an accident nearby.

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iStock/Petar Chernaev

Call your mom

When was the last time you called your mom? Yeah, we thought so. Most moms love nothing more than hearing from their children so take a few minutes and give her a ring. She did give birth to you, after all! (And then call your dad.) These sweet short stories about moms will make you want to call yours.

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Help a charity while you shop

Retail giant Amazon has a nifty service that few people know about called AmazonSmile. It just takes a quick minute to pick a charity—you can choose anything from a local school to an international relief agency—and then every time you shop from the company will donate a portion of what you spend. It’s seamless and you don’t have to spend an extra cent.

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Go rogue with sticky notes

A pad of sticky notes can go a long way in bringing a smile to someone’s face. Try leaving a positive note, like on a bathroom mirror saying “You are beautiful!”; a friendly note, say, on a friend’s car windshield to tell them they’re awesome; or even a silly note, like on a grocery shelf, saying “The peas are spies, you can’t trust them! Signed, carrots.”

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Give someone a bright, genuine, eyes-light-up smile. It’s simple. It’s free. It never fails to make someone feel good.

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iStock/Johnny Greig

Share a happy memory

“Remember that time in high school we went skinny dipping, only to find the river was just two feet deep?” The only thing more fun than doing something funny, crazy, or adventurous with a friend is getting to relive the story for years afterward. So take a moment and share a favorite memory you have of them with that friend or family member.

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iStock/Catherine Lane

Thank a member of our armed forces

Operation Gratitude helps people send letters and packages to soldiers overseas. It just takes a few minutes to thank them for the sacrifice they are making and it will help them know they are loved and remembered.

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Give someone the benefit of the doubt

People can be jerks, it’s true. But many times what appears to be a jerk behavior may have a more innocent meaning. So the next time someone says something hurtful, or bumps into you, or makes a mistake, instead of assuming they mean to hurt you, give them the benefit of the doubt. Once they see that you’re in their corner, it may even inspire them to live up to your perception of them.

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Listen, without interrupting

Go a whole conversation without talking about yourself. Ask the other person questions about themselves and then genuinely listening to their responses. You’ll be amazed at how good it is for both of you. This is what all good listeners do in their daily conversations.

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Make a micro loan

Kiva is a site that allows you to lend small amounts of money to people in poorer countries to help them start a business. Even a small amount can change their lives and it’s virtually risk-free for you as 99 percent of all the loans are repaid in full.

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Refill the toilet paper

There’s nothing worse that realizing mid-bathroom trip that you are out of toilet paper. But this is a (minor) crisis that’s easily averted. Instead of waiting for someone else to notice the empty roll, just take the 30 seconds and replace it yourself.

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Plant something

Helping a tiny green thing grow can be incredibly fulfilling. You can start small, with a flower or herb in an indoor pot or go big and donate a tree to a local school or park. These are houseplant hacks for those who lack a green thumb.

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Invite someone new to dinner

Hey, you’re cooking anyhow, right? It’s not much work to add enough for a guest and you can get to know a new coworker or neighbor while making them feel welcome in their new place.

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Sign up to be an organ donor

Giving the gift of life is the ultimate act of courtesy we can do for each other and registering as an organ donor is one of the simplest ways to do that. True, it forces you to face the inevitability of your own death … but it’s worth it.

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Leave a big tip

People who work on tips depend on them to make a living wage so leaving a little extra can help a lot. Besides a Berkley study found that people who spent $20 on someone else felt far happier for far longer than did people who spent the money on themselves. It’s a win-win!

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Feed the starving

Okay, this sounds like a tall order at first but everyone can help a little by playing Free Rice, a website that donates rice to needy people around the world in turn for answering simple educational questions. You can answer as many questions as you want and the corporate sponsors donate 10 grains of rice for every right answer. Bonus: you’ll learn a lot of new things like vocabulary, math, and science along the way.

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Pick up someone else’s mess (without complaining)

We live in a dirty world but we can all help make it just a smidge cleaner. It doesn’t take much to pick up a wrapper, paper, or cup that someone left behind and take it to the trash or tidy up the break room that someone left messy.

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Don’t pop popcorn at work

Hot butter popcorn is one of the most delicious smells in the world so you’d think that people wouldn’t mind the fragrance of your freshly popped bag wafting through the office. But unless you’re sharing you’re probably driving everyone nuts with either hunger or envy. Save it for when you’re at home, curled up on the couch. These are the most annoying dining habits, according to science.

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iStock/Ben Harding

Offer your seat

Whether you’re sitting at church, in a park, on a bus, or any other public space, it’s likely there’s someone more tired than you nearby. It doesn’t need to be a pregnant woman or an elderly person (although those are great choices) but anyone who looks worn down and like they just need a break.

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Cover your sneeze

It’s everyone’s least-favorite season: cold and flu. So do everyone a favor by coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue. It’s a small thing but consider it an act of public service! Absolutely no one enjoys feeling a moist mist settle over them while a person nearby snorts and sniffles. This cold and flu season etiquette will help you navigate yucky situations.

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Clean up after your pet

Pet “presents” are the gift no one wants to get, especially when it’s stuck to the bottom of their shoe. Bring baggies and clean up after your pup, even if no one is watching.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.