Pay it forward

Created By: Shona Curvers Shona Curvers

One good deed can go a long way. Shona discusses the idea of 'paying it forward' and why it's actually pretty excellent.

City at night with lights
As a result of one tiny little act, my day was entirely changed.

The idea of ‘returning the favour’ is an interesting one that I’ve never fully understood. As far as I’m concerned, a favour is a random act of good will that, by definition, doesn't require anything in return. And yet, we see people returning favours all over the place. If someone buys us a birthday present, we often feel obliged to give them something equally as excellent when their birthday rolls around. When our buddy buys us a cup of coffee, we insist on paying the next time we catch up. It’s not that these ‘rules’ are written anywhere, so much that they have gradually become ingrained in us over time.

So, when I learnt about the concept of ‘paying it forward,’ I was excited to see the social norm of returning the favour explode right in front of my face.  Basically, when you pay it forward you do a good deed for someone else, who will then do a good deed for someone else again and so on. And all of this happens without expecting a single thing in return.

Why pay it forward?

One good deed can go a long way. Even if it’s just paying for the cheeseburger of the person behind you in the McDonald’s drive-thru, the benefits of this are much bigger than the cheeseburger itself. I agree that this is a difficult concept to wrap your head around – you've already got a free cheeseburger, and there’s MORE?


Paying it forward does all sorts of great things not only for your mood and self-worth, but also for the mood and self-worth of the person who gets to enjoy your cheeseburger/good deed. It helps to reconnect us to the people around us who are so easy to forget about when we’re completely absorbed in our own work, school, exams, friends, family, boyfriend, girlfriend etc. At the end of the day, who knows what effect a random act of kindness will have? Give it a go and find out for yourself.

Not convinced?

Still not convinced? Allow me to share with you a tale I like to call ‘The Day a Stranger Saved My Life’ (working title). One wintry afternoon in July I had spent 20 minutes driving around looking for a car park in inner Sydney. There were people, cars and chaos everywhere and I was just about to give up entirely when one upstanding citizen indicated that they were about to move their car. Not only were they offering me their spot, but it was in a prime position AND they gave me their parking ticket which had not yet expired. As a result of one tiny little act, my day was entirely changed. Mood = improved. I would bet anything they felt pretty great as well.

How to pay it forward?

There’s an infinite number of ways to pay it forward, but I've taken the liberty of making some suggestions to get the ball rolling:

  1. Next time you’re getting a take away coffee, pay for the next person’s coffee as well.
  2. Top up someone’s parking meter when you walk past it.
  3. Make dinner for your family or housemates – it doesn't have to be anything fancy.
  4. Make a small donation to a charity whose cause you’re passionate about.
  5. If you’re sitting on the bus and there are people standing, give up your seat.
  6. Leave your favourite book somewhere public with a note inviting passers-by to read it.
  7. Ask a friend how they’re doing.

If you’re stuck for ideas, have a think about some of the things that you would be glad to receive.

Let’s go boost some moods.

Last reviewed: 22 April, 2014
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