Small Ways to Pay It Forward

May 25, 2022

“The hardest thing about the road not taken is that

you never know where it might have led” (Wingate). 


Our society tends to favor individualism when it comes to challenges in life, which is often expressed through statements like “oh, I got this” or “I’ll figure it out sooner or later.”

It can be hard to ask for help and sometimes difficult to express your needs to people. As a result, it’s easy to stay quiet and fight battles by ourselves. While sometimes we need to take a step back and handle things by ourselves, our bodies and minds still crave to be part of a larger purpose and belong in a community.

The desire for community can come in waves during different phases of life and when facing unexcepted situations that we might not be as prepared or equipped for. For example, during childhood, children rely on their parents; during adolescence, teens rely heavily on their friends and peers, and then during young adulthood, it switches to our parents, spouse, and friends.

One time that is naturally opposite to this is when someone experiences the death of another person or when dealing with feelings related to grief. Instead, you will find that those in these categories have a decreased desire to socialize, feel isolated from others, and tend to hide their feelings from others as a self-defense mechanism.

Again, while everyone needs community at different stages, we all go through our own experiences, our responses can be unique, and that’s okay. All emotions, good, bad, and neutral, are OK. But it’s not good to go through those experiences alone and to devalue focusing on one’s mental health and wellness.

If you feel yourself drawn away from others or struggling to maintain closer relationships, a great option to start with is finding small ways to pay it forward to others. You could do something for your neighbors, a close friend, or even a random stranger at the grocery store. The University of California, Counseling and Psychology Services also stresses relationships and says through helping others, we build resilience, lower anxiety, and begin to feel more at peace and hopeful when discussing healing.


Do something different

The next question someone might ask is, where would I start, what would I even do, or what if I do something wrong and make someone mad? As previously discussed, we tend to embrace individualism, so that sometimes means that to help, you must go against the grain of society. Taking a step out of the normal can be scary, but after a while, you’ll begin to see the hidden benefits of helping others and how spreading positivity is contagious.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Do not wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, and you will fill yourself with hope.” (Obama).


Think about what motivates you to help

Once you’ve come to terms with wanting to help, being okay that it will take time to adjust, and that helping requires you to be different from others, it’s good to do some internal work. Have you found a safe and supportive person in your life? Are you able to share your experiences? What are some triggers for you when thinking about your own experiences and emotions?

It’s important to note that we cannot properly and healthy help others unless we first help ourselves. You do not have to know everything or be at a certain point in your healing journey. But you do need to communicate your boundaries and learn your expectations when it comes to helping people. How often do you plan to seek ways to help others, what motivates you to help others, or what are you going to do if someone does not want help?

“Help others without any reason and give without the expectation of receiving anything in return” (Bennett).


Be the light for others

Wanting to help others is a mindset, and often people who feel called to help have a specific reason or origin story. Maybe they were never able to do something; perhaps they want to show others that they’re not alone, or maybe they want to do something in honor of someone.

Overall, no matter the reason, helpers tend to be mindful of their why. Your motivation can be small and as big as you want or vary depending on how you want to help. That’s why we encourage small acts rather than something longer-term or requiring many steps to accomplish. Often, showing people that you see them and care about them can be a reminder that there is hope and light during times of darkness.

“Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance” (Bennett).


When unsure, be near and listen

Sometimes acts can be larger, such as offering to bring a meal over at dinner time, mow someone’s yard, go on a walk with someone, or even leave a gift card for an unspoken need that you learn about. But you can also do smaller acts like writing a letter of encouragement, sending them a poem or scripture, or offering to be a supportive listener over a cup of coffee.

“Sometimes, the best way to help someone is just to be near them” (Roth).


Do forget your own emotions

Again, it depends on the situation and your comfort level when offering help to others. Expect that the effort to help and the response to receiving support will vary. The unknown can be scary, but sometimes people need to know that they’re worth taking the risk because they’re valued and important. On the same note, make sure you remind yourself that as well.

Helping should have a start and stop point and know that it can be easy to get burned out and harden to wanting to help others. But if your reasons are right and you have a bad day or response, know that each day is a fresh start. Maybe someone wasn’t ready, or it just didn’t go as planned, and that’s okay.

“When you feel someone else’s pain and joy, as powerfully as if it were your own, then you know you really cared about them” (Brashares).


Reflect and encourage when you can

Helping is different, and it requires a certain amount of vulnerability to benefit both parties. When done purposefully, centered around others, and set boundaries, you can gain experiences and friendships that most will never know. The warmth of helping others can only be described as the warmth of the summer sun or a glass of water after a long morning run, refreshing and fleeting.

Began by watching and listening during your interactions. Ask when you hear something that you might be able to help with. Remind people that you can help if they repeat a certain struggle. Know when to step back and when to take the lead. Finally, please pay it forward when you can without wanting anything in return and enjoy the feeling of helping others.

“You open your heart knowing that there’s a chance it may be broken one day, and in opening your heart, you experience a love and joy that you never dreamed possible” (Marley).


University of California. (n.d.). Helping Others – Healing from Trauma. CAPS.UCSC.

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