Pay It Foward
I vividly remember the days after my first child was born. It was exciting and amazing… and terrifying. Suddenly our entire lives had shifted to be focused around this tiny baby, and despite all the preparations we felt unprepared.
I was reminded of that recently when I got a second-hand report about a cousin, whose first baby was just born. “We have no idea what we’re doing,” he told his mother, and I felt that down to my bones.
I think it’s an excellent time to pass on some of the support that we received when we were first wading into that new territory. If we lived closer I would drop by with dinner; since that isn’t feasible, I’ve put together a small care package of books and baby clothes and good wishes for them.
This exercise is non-trivial for my introverted soul. It isn’t that I expect myself to express deep, profound gratitude every time this exercise comes up (roughly every three weeks). I consider it entirely legitimate to express minor gratitude to a stranger. But I feel it ought to be more than a routine “thank-you,” that I ought to at least make an effort to give specific, meaningful feedback to someone about how they’ve made my life better.
This time I unexpectedly had an opportunity in the grocery store, where I found myself trying to check out with an overtired toddler. As she began to melt down into a sobbing, thrashing heap of tantrum, I saw the cashier begin to move more and more quickly. It gave me the opportunity to tell him that I hugely appreciated his speed and skill in getting me out of there.
Pay It Forward
It’s all too easy to not get to things. One of the particular things that I’ve never worked out for myself is a really effective way to donate money. I feel I should; I do it sporadically; but I know that I’d donate more and feel better about my choices if I had a more defined process for it. I occasionally envision a process where I set aside a certain percentage of my income and, at a set time in the year, sit down to choose how to distribute it.. The fact that I like this idea probably says all too much about my methodical nature.
I won’t be tackling that project today, but I do intend to use some of my Pay It Forward days as a little extra nudge to donate money. Today my focus is on the famine gripping parts of Africa and the Middle East. I’m donating to the World Food Pragramme, and there are undoubtedly other applicable programs out there. I obviously can’t solve the problem, but I can help.
Last time I did this exercise I found it helpful to think of someone at the beginning of the day to whom I wanted to express gratitude. I tried to look for other opportunities as well, but since I can still be cautious of putting myself out there, it was useful to have a specific person in mind. That made it much harder for me to put it off.
Today I’ve decided to express gratitude to my children. I was reminded recently of how easy it is to overlook their contributions, and focus in only when they do something “wrong” (or, often, just something inconvenient for me). I don’t think I’m an excessively negative parent, but I am curious to pay greater attention to my positive responses to them.
Pay It Forward
Years ago, in that brief and heady time between finishing school and getting married, I was driving home from work one night when my car died. It could have been worse; I was only a block from my apartment, and would have plenty of time the next morning to deal with the matter. But I did need to get it over onto the shoulder for the night, and trying to both push and steer the car was… challenging.
It was after ten o’clock at night, but after only a few minutes of my struggling, a van pulled over beside me and a woman stuck her head out. “Do you need help?” she asked, and she and a friend got out. With their help it was trivial to move my car over to the side. When I thanked them, they assured me it was no problem. Then the woman, as she was turning away, said “Pass it on.”
Those three words had a profound impact on me. (I remember actually staring after the van as it drove away.) At the time I had never heard of the concept of pay it forward, but the simplicity and rightness of it was immediately apparent to me. I am the beneficiary of countless acts of generosity, some tiny and some profound, and most of them I can never pay back. But I don’t need to. All I need to do is to look for opportunities to pass them on.
I try to pass it on whenever I see someone who just needs a few seconds of help, whether it’s a parent struggling with two kids, three bags and a door; or the older woman I once discovered to have slipped and gotten wedged into the back seat of her car. But such opportunities are subject to chance, and hard to schedule as a happiness exercise.
But as I thought over the kindnesses done to me, I realized that there are plenty of opportunities to deliberately pay it forward – calling a friend, donating money, or inviting a struggling family for a meal. Just recently I received a wonderfully supportive note from a friend, and so today I plan to pass that on, sending a similar note to another friend.
Writing in a journal about gratitude is good. Today I want to try something which I find much more difficult: telling people how grateful I am to them.
I already had this exercise planned, but yesterday I received a powerful reminder of how meaningful it can be to express ourselves to others. A friend of mine wrote me a beautiful note in which she told me all the things she appreciated about me. It was unexpected and lovely and entirely made my day.
One of the things I noticed is that the qualities she highlighted were all specific and reasonable. She didn’t go over the top with superlatives, claim that I was the “best” anything, or say that I’d changed her life. I think this made the note feel more genuine; it certainly made me feel as though she’d truly seen me (although clearly she’d been looking at my best side!).
Today my goal is to tell at least one person how grateful I am to them. I have someone in mind, a person who has given generously of his time to help me on a project. But I’m looking for opportunities to tell others as well, even in small ways, about how they’ve made my life better.