The art of the "day-maker" is subtle...
December 10, 2008 7:21 PM   Subscribe

Share your clever ideas on how to make a stranger's day

I (along with most people) enjoy doing silly little things like dropping crumpled dollar bills from high places onto unsuspecting strangers.

Share your stories of clever day-makers you like to do, or ones that have been bestowed upon you. I'm always looking for new ones!
posted by nnevvinn to Grab Bag (59 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
Dropping crumpled dollar bills from high places onto unsuspecting strangers?

Me, I like to buy people drinks.
posted by box at 7:25 PM on December 10, 2008

Something as simple as admiring a part of their attire. I was checking in at the airport this afternoon and the gate agent told me that she liked my tie. Put me a better mood for the rest of the day.
posted by mr_felix_t_cat at 7:32 PM on December 10, 2008

I agree re: compliments. It sounds corny, but I figure it this way: As the previous poster noted, if you pay one person a compliment, you can often see it brighten his/her up immediately, which may make them more likely to be nicer to others in turn. Yes?

Aside from that, I am amazed at what a big difference is made by doing tiny things like holding doors open and saying "good morning", "please", and "thank you". Your mom told you they were magic words for a reason.
posted by anonnymoose at 7:37 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I smile, make eye contact, and say hello. This seems to really be significant to the predominantly older, predominantly isolated folks who live in my neighborhood, even though they often don't reciprocate.
posted by arnicae at 7:38 PM on December 10, 2008

There was a guy (Joseph Charles) in Berkeley who would stand on Martin Luther King Jr Way waving and smiling at the rush hour commuters. He was great.
posted by Echidna882003 at 7:44 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

"or ones that have been bestowed upon you"

Sympathy sex.
posted by orthogonality at 7:51 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @orthogonality: ...If only you knew how close to home that one comes :)

@others: I like what you all are saying, and I think I'll take it to heart; sometimes for me it's harder to do something nice when the person on the other end is right in front of me and we actually interact.

Still, though, there's something fun about the anonymous dollar-toss that gets me. Ideas in this vein are encouraged as well!
posted by nnevvinn at 7:56 PM on December 10, 2008

Best answer: When I was a kid it was awesome to find 50c on the ground to spend on a bag of mixed lollies at the corner store.

I like to leave my spare change on the waist-high sandstone wall that encircles my local park, sometimes just lying in the middle of the footpath (pavement to non-australians).

The best one was one dreary Monday morning, waiting at the bus-stop, someone had stuck a little post-it note on the bench with the words "Notice your next breath". I don't know why, but that did it for me.
posted by robotot at 8:23 PM on December 10, 2008 [12 favorites]

Leaving post it notes with little pick me up messages on car doors, back of movie seats, above urinals, at bus stops, next to drive thru windows, etc.
posted by woolylambkin at 8:24 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

bah, should have previewed
posted by woolylambkin at 8:25 PM on December 10, 2008

Always tip really, really well. And if someone is wearing something you like, smile and compliment it.
posted by MadamM at 8:46 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like to pay for the car behind me when going through a toll booth.
posted by veronicacorningstone at 8:55 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

I work in retail, and I always appreciate it when people take the time to say "hello" instead of launching into "I WANNA RETURN THIS" right away. So I make a point of saying hi and thank you to the bus driver, coffee drive-thru people, etc.

Once, in the dorms in college, I forgot about a load of laundry in the washing machine for a few hours. I went back to the laundry room totally expecting my damp clothes to be wadded in a corner somewhere. But instead they were tumbling around in a dryer. Some stranger had done me that kindness, and it was only 75 cents on their part, but it meant so much to me.
posted by jschu at 8:58 PM on December 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

I've been stuck in a hotel suite for the past two weeks. We've been slightly freaking out all the various housekeeping staff because we actually say hello to them when we see them in the hallways on our way downstairs to breakfast. We also actually initiate conversations with them when they come into our room to do their work and thank them on their way out.

They seem so pleasantly surprised by it all that most of them will now even wave or say hello first if they see us. I guess that so many people treat them as "invisible" most of the time that they appreciate being taken as fellow human beings. So, my tip? Notice the "invisible people" during your day; they are often the ones that could really use it; even if it is just a hello or thank you.
posted by Jade Dragon at 9:06 PM on December 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

I smile, make eye contact, and say hello.
posted by arnicae at 9:38 PM

People do this quite often here in Texas, and I love it.
posted by puritycontrol at 9:07 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just today someone made my day, randomly. I got on the bus and could not find my bus pass. I was rifling thru my purse and just as I had almost given up and decided to tell the driver I didn't have it after all, a young guy came up next to me and said, "Miss, you dropped this". It was a bus ticket, which I knew was not mine. He'd just given me his - likely, he was not going to use it anymore, and he thought to pass it on to someone who needed it. He could have ignored me or lost himself in his ipod or something, but he was paying attention and thought to do something lots of people wouldn't have. I was so pleased by that.

Small kindnesses like that are easy to give, and appreciated to a much larger scale than the effort they took. Just like the laundry room story above.

Also, complimenting people always, always works. I know it's a great pick-me-up whenever I get one, and I like to see the surprise and smile on people's faces when I give one.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:09 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Compliment parents on how well behaved their children are (if they are, indeed, well behaved).
posted by Joleta at 9:14 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

There are many people in the U.S. having hard times right now. This is a good moment to remember the golden rule. So, are you more interested in actively experiencing the follow-up of your good deed, or is it sufficient to act anonymously, knowing your generosity is helping your fellow citizen? Either way, compliment others, give the right-of-way, be courteous, pay it forward. Donate your money, or better your time and energy to a charitable cause. Act on your good intentions, and may we all do the same.
Personally, I like to put money in expired parking meters, especially when I see the meter maid just down the block.
posted by TDIpod at 9:21 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

When you deal with someone in a stink job who is even just competent, write an actual letter on paper to their supervisor saying what a great job they did. Give your actual name and contact info so that hapless person in stink job can't be accused of having friend/family do this for them.

Fast food workers. Coffee bar folks in your building. UPS guy. Etc.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:32 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Dollar Bill Origami left as a tip. More and some more.
posted by IvyMike at 10:38 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Mr. HotToddy once read an anecdote about a famous jurist --Oliver Wendell Holmes?--who used to leave pennies on the courthouse steps "for the little children to find." Now I am constantly catching him emptying the car's change holder onto the curb. "For the crack addicts to find," I say, but it's still kind of cute. Crack addicts need day-makers, too.

I make a big point of stopping for pedestrians, waving other cars through intersections, being the one to pull over when another car is coming and the road is too narrow, and letting people cut in front of me. I am singlehandedly neutralizing the negative impact of one whole asshole driver. It's like road rage offsets!

Whenever I'm in line at the post office, Starbucks, wherever, and the clerk is all harried and says "I'll be right with you," I always say "Take your time, I'm fine," even if I'm kind of in a hurry. I can see them visibly relax, and I do too.

Maybe the biggest impact you can make in someone's life is by taking the time to talk to an elderly person. A lot of them are pretty isolated, which tends to make people a bit longwinded when they finally get someone to talk to them, but it's a very good deed to take an interest in what they have to say. It's terrible to feel all alone in the world.
posted by HotToddy at 10:56 PM on December 10, 2008 [12 favorites]

Look up glamourbombing - they're not really specific to Random Acts of Kindness but you can take some of the ideas and make them your own.
posted by divabat at 11:14 PM on December 10, 2008

Best answer: I tip well, even if I'm not in leaving money in a tip jar. When I donate to a food bank I buy the kind of food that I'd buy for my family--- not just Top Ramen and store brands. Same with buying Christmas gifts to donate. I give things I'd like to get or things I'd give to my own family, not just discount store stuff. I like to show appreciation for good service people, for just anything I can think of, like their patience, helpfulness, quickness waiting on's amazing, when you engage them in conversation on the subject, how much grief they get throughout the average day from impatient, mean-spirited, demanding and ungrateful patrons. It's very draining, and an appreciative customer can fill their tank up again.

My husband made friends of some street people; he stands with them while they use his cell phone to call family to say hello, or he takes them to lunch and lets them use the phone then. He's also given his bus pass away at the end of the month when there's still a weekend left to use it. An old fellow he befriended enjoyed using the pass to go visit his sister who was three zones away. My daughter met a young man at a coffee shop who was learning disabled and out of work ---she set him up on her laptop to take some learning styles and aptitude tests while she had her coffee...then they discussed the scores and what they meant, and he went away with hope and some new ideas for a direction in his job search.
posted by mumstheword at 11:23 PM on December 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

The biggest thing I can think of is to stop and help people who look like they might be in trouble. I ride a scooter and I've crashed it a couple of times, and I can't even say how glad I've been when people have pulled over, helped me pick it up, and given me first-aid stuff for cuts and bruises. (Maybe put a first aid kit in your car for if you see stuff like that?)
posted by NoraReed at 12:06 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Here in WI it is fun to help a random stranger dig his or her car out of the snow and say "No problem!" when the task is completed.
posted by mcbeth at 12:18 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I work in a service industry. Granted, it's computer-related and at a university, but it's still a service job. The nicest thing for me on a daily basis is to hear the words Thank You with eye contact and to be able to say You're Welcome and mean it. They acknowledge my presence and work and I get to feel somewhat generous. That helps fuel the rest of my day. I've also found things like chocolates and other random gifts left for me on my keyboard when I've been out helping other people.

There was a play showing in town last weekend that I wanted to see, but couldn't really afford tickets for both me and my husband. I mentioned this to one student I see often. Shortly after, he randomly ran into and told the grad student who was the lead actor in the play, who showed up an hour later with a pass for me. Granted, I knew the grad student actor, too, so this wasn't just a stranger, but he'd been given two passes and I was given one of them. I did such a happy dance. We thoroughly enjoyed the play. It was a joy when he stopped in Monday just to find out if I'd seen it.

My husband and I tend to go to the local dive bar for inexpensive beer and pool. We get a pitcher even if we aren't particularly thirsty. There's always someone happy to have more beer, especially if you're in a dive bar.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:48 AM on December 11, 2008

If you're stuck in a line at a cafeteria or lunch-counter, and you strike up a pleasant conversation with someone before or behind you, pay for their lunch. Don't offer; just say 'I'm getting both of these' and gesture to your line-mate: it's been my experience that the cashier will ring up the total before your line-mate can object, and you can finish paying before they've really had time to raise a fuss. When they do raise a fuss, say 'That fiver you were going to use? Buy yourself a good book/pretty flower/etc.' Bonus points when you can connect it to whatever you were conversing about before you completely discombobulated their day.
posted by eclectist at 12:55 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Don't know if this applies to everyone, but in England you get an all day pass for trains/buses. Some people give them out to others who are about to buy tickets, saying they are not going to use public transport for the rest of the day. I was the recipient one day, and ever since I try to do the same. Not as easy now that I have an oyster....
posted by slyrabbit at 1:03 AM on December 11, 2008

Best answer: I think Ask Metafilter, and the internet, itself is a "make someone's day" because of how people gladly and kindly answer and advice random strangers questions.

My best real-life "samaritan" act:

When touring (I'm a musician) we get lots of beer and drinks backstage, which we then bring to the hotel, to party, but we pass out and never manage to drink up, and don't bother to take with us, so we re-stock up the minibar with free items (which I am sure the maid grabs but anyway someone gets to party)
posted by gmm at 2:12 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, I feel silly marking any of these 'best,' since almost every one seemed like a good idea. I went with ones that seemed particularly meaningful or clever, for the sake of the late-comer without enough time to read them all. Thanks MeFites for the stories and ideas; you've made my day :)

As a side note: After posting this question, my room mate gave me the movie "amalie" to watch, and I just did. Great inspiration for these kinds of things, not to mention amazing cinematography.
posted by nnevvinn at 3:16 AM on December 11, 2008

Along the lines of giving small amounts of money away, I often leave my change in vending machines for the next customer to find; I work in a children's hospital so I like to think it is some unsuspecting kid who gets the 75 cents or whatever.
posted by TedW at 4:53 AM on December 11, 2008

Best answer: Simple acts of courtesy-- holding the door, smiling when you make eye contact, saying hello to store clerks, etc.-- are not "clever ideas for making a stranger's day." They are social necessities that keep life bearable. These behaviors are the baseline, not the fillip.

/your mother
posted by nax at 5:32 AM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

OP, I like your idea of "extras," I just wish people didn't think of extra as those things that should be normal. sorry for the double.
posted by nax at 5:33 AM on December 11, 2008

I clip coupons regularly. There are times when a good coupon for a name brand item doesn't bring the price down below the store brand item. For those items that I don't mind the store brand, I'll leave the brand name coupon for the next customer to find. I've also been known to pass coupons to other customers when we're in line or if I see them picking an item for which I have a coupon I'm not going to use right them.

Also, at the grocery store, if I notice a person behind me has a few items and I have a full basket, I'll invite them to go before me in line. I'm rarely in much of a hurry and people seem to really appreciate it.
posted by onhazier at 6:07 AM on December 11, 2008

My list probably includes a lot of the above, but here's the first few that come to mind...

1. Tipping. I never tip less than 20% unless I got really spiteful service (even then its kind of hard because hey, they're clearly having a bad day) - but this may be simply because I'm really lazy at math. In America this is pretty standard but it can turn you into quite the hero in other parts of the world. Also, every once in a while, I like to leave a tip that's about 5 times the standards. I of course can't afford to do this often, but when I notice a server / bartender who appears to be having a tough day, I try to do so. I did this Saturday night for a bartender and made sure to be on my way out before she could have seen my receipt. I have a cousin who got a $150K tip (made the news and everything) from a regular customer of hers at a restaurant she worked at as a teenager - let's just say he kind of inspired me. I also always try to tip the buskers in the subway, regardless of how good or not their performance is - hey at least they're trying. I also always, always leave a tip in my hotel room for the cleaning staff.

2. Asking how someone is doing - earnestly. I try to start each business transaction / interaction with an earnest inquiry into how that person is doing - how their day is going. 90% of the time you get the standard "I'mfinethanksandyou?" but every once in a while somebody opens up and tells you how close they are to the end of their shift, or how crappy their last customer was. Its theraputic. I can sympathize while they get their job done, and we both feel better afterwards.

3. Being aware of your surroundings. This one may sound weird but its a bit related to #2 - I'll explain with an example. Monday night I was like 2 flights late for the one I had actually booked when I got to the airport in Boston. While she was trying to put me on the next flight I noticed a big pile of those paper snowflakes strung together on the counter. "Making Christmas decorations huh?" Which led to a whole joking conversation about how they could make extras for me to take home and what their prices were and on and on. Its nice if you can make people laugh about the small stuff.

4. Compliments. I don't do this nearly enough but its so incredibly simple. How somebody did their hair, what they're wearing, something they've said or done, their makeup, their perfume, whatever. I once complimented an ER doctor on how great she smelled while I was being treated for a concussion. OK so I might have been hitting on her. But getting hit on is sometimes nice too.

5. Spare change. I refuse to carry pennies. Leave them on the first flat surface I come to outside of wherever I got them. Other change I put in a big empty candy container I keep under the stairs. At christmas time its always fun to find a Salvation Army bell-ringer and surprise them by filling up their bucket with ~$100 in change - the look on their face is priceless. I used to keep a "swear jar" at work and do the same thing with that. Also, there's a few places in Grand Central Terminal where there's long lines of phone banks. One random Friday I was goofing around there with a friend and we decided to get a bunch of quarters from the newstand and put one in each of the change slots for the phones and see how long it took someone to check them for change. It was sure fun to watch someone hit 10 phones in a row with money in them.

5. Asking for the manager. Whenever I get great service I always ask to speak to their manager and then I tell them so - whether its on the phone or in person. I fly constantly for work, and United gives me these little forms I can fill out and give to the flight attendants that give particularly great service. I fill them out very often and give them to them, they must be worth a lot because they always freak out and thank me profusely. I wish I could get those forms for everyone.

6. You know how when you're walking on a sidewalk and a person walking towards you veers to their right just as you veer to your left, and all of a sudden the two of you are face to face and trying to go around each other but you both keep picking the wrong direction? Well one time I did that with a kind old man who did something that I now repeat regularly - I stop, smile, say "Shall we dance?" and wait for them to make the next move. They usually laugh and walk around me. Its a nice way to ease the situation.

7. Basic manners. Holding doors for people. Offering a chair when a bigger party is at the table next to yours. Pleases and thank yous. Have a nice days. Never sitting on the subway/bus when a woman/older person/someone with kids is standing. I remember once I had to use a cane and a funny orthopedic shoe for about 3 months as I was recovering from a hairline fracture in my heel. 3 months of riding the train to work every day and only one time did anyone offer me their seat - I can't remember one other person on the train from those three months but I still remember that guy.

8. OK so sometimes I break down and have to go get McNuggets at McDonalds. I know its not healthy but there it is, I said it. I figured out a way to beat the system though - you buy a bunch of the 4-pieces from the $1.00 menu - that's your cheapest price per nugget, the other sizes are a ripoff compared to that. Problem is that the closest McD's to me is a couple avenues away, and through a part of town where a lot of homeless people stay. So I grab a few extra 4-pieces and hand them out on my way back. I think the McD's people get annoyed with the guy who buys a whole bunch of 4-pieces but who cares.

9. I try to hug my friends and family a lot, and I don't come from a touchy-feely family so this isn't natural for me. But I've been amazed to notice the ease that a friendly touch can bring to a situation - whether its a hug, a friendly arm on the shoulder, or a playful punch. I'm convinced most people in our lives (especially the single ones) don't get touched enough. This was really driven home for me, oddly enough, on safari, and noting how often most of the animal species are touching each other in one way or another.

10. Postcards in library books. Maybe I'm weird about this one, but being a world traveler, I pick up more post-cards than I can possibly send. So whenever I get a library book I make a point to leave a post card with a short description of where I was / what I was doing and maybe a note or two on what I liked about the book. It also works as a bookmark while I'm working my way through the book.

That's just 10, there's probably hundreds of ways to do these kind of things, but these are the first ones to come to mind. Its really more about your outlook on life and other people - its more of a matter of attitude. Frankly I think if you're asking a brilliant question like this, your heart is already in the right place and you're set up for success here anyway. Good on ya.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:18 AM on December 11, 2008 [30 favorites]

When I see kids playing around those quarter machines at the grocery store, I'll give them quarters sometimes (unless it's for candy, then I try to find a parent first to ask if it's okay).

Now that I write that, it makes me seem like I might be a creepy stranger, but somehow it never feels that way in the store, and the kids are always excited.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:18 AM on December 11, 2008

The laundry story reminded me. I've been the other side of that one. I found a load of laundry in a washing machine I wanted to use. I always thought dumping wet laundry on the floor was a pretty low thing to do, so I tossed the laundry in a nearby dryer and set it to go. When I came back, I wanted to use the dryer, so I took out the stranger's dry laundry and sorted and folded it. (Because a pile of crumpled laundry will fall on the floor and defeat the purpose - neatly folded laundry takes up less space and stays stacked and out of the way.) Hours later, I heard a girl gushing about how "the laundry fairy" had dried and folded her clothes.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:02 AM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I used to work the evening shift at our local video store where I was the lone closer at the end of the night. During the winter, I always dreaded walking out to my car in the freezing cold and having to scrape my icy windshield in the dark. One night, after a particularly bad ice storm had blown through, I walked out to see that some anonymous person had scraped my windows for me already. It was such a wonderful, kind gesture and I felt good about it for days.
posted by amyms at 7:24 AM on December 11, 2008 [7 favorites]

I make a big point of stopping for pedestrians, waving other cars through intersections

But you're probably making the day of the person in the car behind you worse, as they have to sit and wait for the person trying to turn left across two lanes of busy traffic (and none of the cars in the other lane ever stop, why should they, they can't see what's going on) so you're stuck behind Random Act of Kindness Person for three cycles of a traffic light because they decided to be helpful.
posted by Lucinda at 7:59 AM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Another laundry story: Once all of the washers were full, but there were two washers that had stopped and that I wanted to use. I didn't want to dump the existing loads on a table, so I put them in some empty dryers (but didn't turn them on). This was a pretty large laundry room, so I wrote a small note on the original washers saying "Hi -- sorry -- I moved your loads to so-and-so dryers!".

When I came back to put my load in the dryers, the note was gone, but in its place were two dryer sheets (like Bounce) and nothing else. I was touched, because it was a wordless gesture of 'thank you', a sort of dance of hospitality that we both did without really communicating. I guess I was struck by the way in which this was so casual, I did this for you, you thanked me in this way, and I was just suddenly very very grateful to have such exchanges occur.
posted by suedehead at 8:00 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I love doing things like this. I've given lots of 30% discounts to random bloggers that I really like, and twice have given users in need (who are struggling financially and whose blogs are doing a lot of good in their niche) a year of service free. I add quarters to expired parking meters and clothes dryers, and if I like someone's hair/clothes/shoes/personality, I tend to tell them.

I had a ($100 Gold Circle) 5th row ticket to see Garrison Keillor a few weeks ago, and it turned out that I wasn't going to be able to stay. The event was completely sold out, so with a few minutes to spare before I had to hurry on, I went down to the box office about half an hour before start time and waited for someone to try to buy a ticket, and then gave my ticket to him when he was turned away. Hearing that I'd made a complete stranger's night was worth a lot more to me than trying to recoup any of the money I'd lost.

I really think that the more people in this world who are touched by simple human kindness, the more happiness there will be for everyone. Eventually, it all makes its way back to you.
posted by mewithoutyou at 8:12 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have also folded anonymous laundry for people.

Others: sharing your store discount card/"rewards card" with a person in line so they save some money. And leaving a pen at the ATM (so someone doesn't have to curse up a blue streak and leave to get a goddamn pen and come back just so they can deposit a check) is, I think, a underrated gift of kindness.
posted by oldtimey at 8:21 AM on December 11, 2008

If you live on a main thoroughfare and do something nice with your window or yard -- you've probably helped someone's mood improve. A house on a corner near my street always has a pretty garden, even in the winter, and seeing what they do with it cheers me up.

Story related to Lucinda's point: My husband almost had a bad accident with someone who quite suddenly decided to use their car to perform a random act of kindness. He had our then-toddler in the back seat. He was upset enough that he followed the driver to where she parked nearby, and informed her of what had almost happened -- she was a little too busy gesturing and smiling to have noticed, herself. She replied, at top volume: "I WAS JUST TRYING TO BE NICE, ASSHOLE."
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:36 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was at a cafe late one night in Boston's North End having coffee with two friends and talking about some pretty depressing things that had happened to us recently. Someone must've overheard and felt bad, and anonymously ordered us a slice of cheesecake with a big strawberry on top. Today I don't remember what negative thing we were talking about but I do quite clearly remember how lovely that cheesecake was.

Years later I was at a restaurant/bar at about 11:30pm on a Friday. There was a group of men sitting at a table drinking and carousing and next to one man was what must've been his 9 year old son in a local team basketball jersey. The kid looked completely dejected and bored and sleepy and at times put his face down on the table from tiredness. I ordered a slice of peanut butter pie sent over there to him anonymously and was surprised to find that sending the slice of pie was way more fun than receiving mine had been.
posted by RingerChopChop at 9:05 AM on December 11, 2008 [6 favorites]

I make a big point of stopping for pedestrians, waving other cars through intersections

But you're probably making the day of the person in the car behind you worse, as they have to sit and wait for the person trying to turn left across two lanes of busy traffic (and none of the cars in the other lane ever stop, why should they, they can't see what's going on) so you're stuck behind Random Act of Kindness Person for three cycles of a traffic light because they decided to be helpful.

I live in a small town, it's not like that. There are only a handful of traffic lights and you couldn't get stuck behind anything for three cycles if you tried.
posted by HotToddy at 9:22 AM on December 11, 2008

Best answer: A while ago I was walking home from work when I passed two people who were engaged in animated conversation about a problem one of them had. The friend was insisting that the problem wasn't bad. It seemed bad now, but it was going to be okay.

"It's going to be okay!" the friend said as I approached, and then she turned to me. "Right? Tell her it's all going to be okay!"

"Er, um," I said, looking at the problem-haver, "Don't worry. It's all going to be okay."

"Thank you!" the friend said, with a grin and a big "see?" gesture. I waved and walked past, perhaps just a little more briskly than before.

A little while down the road I thought about what had gone down, and how even the problem-haver smiled when all was said and done. Was the claim unsubstantiated? Was it an empty promise? Who knows? All I know is that I sure as hell have been in spots where I could've used a random stranger coming up to me and saying "It's all going to be okay." You know, whatever it is. It's gonna be fine.

I haven't had the ... nerve? ... to just stop random people on the street and tell them it's going to be okay, but maybe someone else will. Give it a shot. (I hope you don't get yelled at.)
posted by Spatch at 10:00 AM on December 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

I love this thread.

A few years ago, I read a quote by Gandhi that said something along the lines of, "Make the world you want to live in". That really hit home for me. Now, I try to be the kind of person I would want to meet. This includes basic niceties like;
- Saying "please" and "thank you".
- Smiling.
- Being patient as needed (in traffic, waiting on line, etc.).

But, all that said... Sorry. I have nothing to add to all the great answers here.

veronicacorningstone - I do that too! But it's getting harder what with EZ Pass.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:13 AM on December 11, 2008

@ObscureReferenceMan It's "Be the change you want to see in the world". Though I sort of prefer A Softer World's "be the trouble you want to be in the world", which is somewhat applicable to this thread, especially once Amelie is mentioned :)
posted by NoraReed at 10:39 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Not to be a parade-rainer, but I once had my day (and several months afterwards) ruined by someone trying to be nice and putting my laundry in the dryer for me. The particular load contained all of my nice, fancy, expensive clothes that I wash on delicate in cold water and hang up to dry, and I had hundreds of dollars of clothes ruined that I couldn't afford to replace by someone doing that "for" me.

One thing I try to do that I think makes people's days is to save coupons and free passes that I get and hand them out to people that will definitely use them. For example, I work for the zoo and we get employee passes and coupons and whatnot, so I'll sometimes swing by the entrance and hand out some passes to big families with kids that will end up spending a lot of money to get in the zoo while they're waiting in the ticket lines.
posted by booknerd at 11:14 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Something I do a lot that is easy and kind is to let other people ahead of me in line at the grocery store or wherever I am.

Because one day it hit me, "Why am I in such a hurry all the time?" I realized that I really wasn't in a hurry that day. I was just used to it I guess.

No one likes waiting in lines, but sometimes you can tell that someone is really in a rush. I just smile and say, "You seem like you're in a rush, would you like to go ahead of me?"

The look of first surprise that I would do something like that and then relief that they can go next is priceless and well worth the extra few minutes it will take me to finish my shopping.

I also do this if I'm at the drugstore and have a lot of stuff and the guy behind me only has two items.
posted by NoraCharles at 3:10 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

One that I haven't seen mentioned that I like to do... when I go to the county fair, where it takes individually bought tickets to ride (usually 4 or 5 of them), and it's the end of the night and I have 2 or 3 tickets leftover (not really enough for another ride), I like to find someone to give them to. Often I find someone with small children, since the childrens' rides often take fewer tickets.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:37 PM on December 11, 2008

#5-- brilliant. I'm hauling my penny jar to the bellringer at Walgreen's right now.
posted by nax at 4:35 AM on December 12, 2008

Lovely thread. A few anecdotes:

Once my husband and I were in line at a movie theater for tickets. The ticket seller, this elderly, hard as nails lady, had been horridly rude to customer after customer, barking at them and everyone barked back. People in the line were laughing about how rude she was to each person. When my then boyfriend got up there he was all please and thank-you and yes ma'am, gentle with her while she was still pretty rude back to him. And the most amazing thing happened. I watched this woman shift from being what looked like angry for years, relax a little bit. She looked up at my husband, she hadn't looked anyone in the eye, and said quietly: enjoy your movie. He smiled and thanked her, she smiled back.

It was such a simple and easy thing. I try to do this in my interaction with others. Sometimes you don't see the fruit of the labor but I like to think it comes out later anyway.

Another time in a restaurant in a small college town we were passing through, this large table of 10 left the waitress we shared $5 on a $100 tab. We heard them quietly mention it as they were cleaning the extremely messy table. We left extra to cover a 20% tip on that table as well as ours and snuck out before they could see it. That was fun.

Once on a bench outside a favorite shop I found a book that had a card inside that said: This book is free for you! Leave it somewhere free for someone else when you're done. I did.

My dad used to mow our neighbor's lawn when he did ours as a kid in the burbs. Nothing fancy with edging or anything, he just ran the mower over their grass too. They always came out, and the evening would turn into watching the kids play on the newly mowed lawns while the adults watched and drank beer until sunset.

Have a great day everyone!
posted by dog food sugar at 4:54 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Heard this on the news yesterday: Starbucks drive-thru customers buy the orders of person behind them for a few hours. Started by one woman who wanted to wish the person behind her a good holiday season.
posted by dog food sugar at 5:11 AM on December 12, 2008

Thanks, NoraReed!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 5:37 AM on December 12, 2008

We have a snowblower. Sometimes Mr. HotToddy snowblows the sidewalks on our entire block before anybody gets up. Sometimes we wake up and our neighbors have done the same for us. Pretty cool.
posted by HotToddy at 9:25 AM on December 12, 2008

When I lived in North Carolina, there could be really bad weather—be it a hurricane or an ice storm. Whenever that happened, everyone banned together. If a neighbor was going to the store, they would ask if we needed milk, ice, or anything else. Offering to cut up fallen trees, etc.

If I don't use up my parking pass, I fold it in half and stick it in the pass dispenser when I leave.
posted by Korou at 4:13 PM on December 12, 2008

Sort of a reverse to #2 from allkindsoftime. Often when I'm dealing with someone in retail or the service industry they begin their interaction with me with the standard "Hello, how are you today?" I always reply back "Good, and you?" It amazes me how often they then actually look at me, surprised. Like they repeat that standard greeting ALL DAY and no one ever stops to ask in return. It always seems to lighten the day a bit.

It's funny, because I didn't start doing this consciously, but after I noticed the reaction it got, I certainly kept it up.
posted by aclevername at 9:50 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I read a lot and one thing i like to do is leave books on the bus/train, in the pub or just give them to someone in the street
posted by chelegonian at 2:17 PM on December 17, 2008

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