In my son’s preschool class, the teacher uses a behavior chart. Since we have not done one at home, the concept is new to him, and he loves the novelty and the rewards aspect of it. His teacher uses an ocean themed chart, and he tells me about things he and his classmates did, to move their sea creature to get on the beach “in the sand,” or, the opposite, “in the net.”
One thing I love about it, is that the kids receive positive reinforcement from their teacher and others at school, for being spotted doing a random act of kindness. The first time my son came home and announced, “I did a random act of kindness,” it was adorable and probably made both of us beam with pride.
It made him feel great to do something nice for another person, and I think this is an important thing to start teaching at a young age. Helping others in a big or small way has a powerful effect on both the person being helped, and the person offering it. I saw the benefits of this myself in an unexpected way a couple of months ago.
After driving 45 minutes to visit my parents, I stopped at a drive thru in my hometown for coffee. When I got to the window, the woman at Dunkin’ Donuts told me that my order had been paid for by the car in front of me. I was totally surprised. I smiled and said thank you, and attempted a wave of thanks to the driver, who was already pulling out of the parking lot in front of me. “They do it all the time here,” she said. My cranky car ride with a baby and a toddler became a distant memory, and I tried to pay it forward by paying for the car behind me. It is no exaggeration to say that it lifted my mood and made my day.
I remember first hearing about people doing the same thing, back when I was in college, and I’m sure the idea was not new then. At a Starbucks in St. Petersburg, Florida, a pay it forward chain once lasted all day, with nearly 400 customers paying for coffee for the strangers behind them. This was the first time it happened to me, though, and it was a bright spot in my day. Lately, when I pay for my coffee in the drive through, I try to start a similar chain of good deeds by paying for the car behind me.
There are a million small ways—happy thoughts, words of gratitude, acts of kindness—that can help others and make us feel joyful. Whenever we do something kind for another person, we experience the happiness that only comes from helping others.