"I watch the people around me to see what they need. The more you look, the more opportunities you will see," says Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of the book. Here are 50 ideas to help get you started.
"There is an expectation of joy around the holidays, which is a hard thing for many people, because their lives may not be joyful," says Hyde, whose book was the basis for the 2000 movie of the same name, which spawned a global Pay It Forward movement. "There is a sense of financial pressure, especially for parents who want to make a memorable Christmas for their children. And on a more basic level, it's cold in much of the world, and not everybody has a warm coat and a warm house. Every day is a good day to pay it forward, but I think the holidays make us stop and think about others more."
Random acts of kindness don't have to cost a lot of time or money. "Paying it forward evolves not by the amount or nature of the gift, but simply by the habit of giving," says Nicole Bouchard Boles, author of the bestselling book . For instance, you could buy a couple of rolls of quarters and leave them at the laundromat for the next person to use.
Even the smallest gesture can pay huge dividends. "You could have found them on a day when they had no hope and believed no one cared," says Hyde. If you have a pleasant experience at a local business, for example, leave a positive review for them on Yelp.
"Studies show that giving back can help you to reduce stress, acquire new skills, expand your social circle, and even advance your career," says Bouchard Boles. Try volunteering at your local animal rescue — animals need help too. Find one near you at .
Donate your frequent flyer miles to a deserving charity. Most major carriers have programs in place so you can donate your miles to one of their partner charities.
If you cut down your own Christmas tree this year, plant one in its place.
Take small gifts to sick kids who have to be in the hospital over the holidays. Even a small token from the dollar store is guaranteed to bring a smile to a child's face. You can also reach out to your local to ask if you can bring anything that will make the space more welcoming for children receiving treatment at local hospitals.
Have patience with overworked cashiers and other workers during the busy holiday season.
Help an elderly family member write out and mail their holiday cards.
"Shop with a purpose. There are a number of companies out there — like TOMS and Warby Parker — that have taken the greater issues to heart and offer goods that blend giving an awesome gift with making a small move for social good," says Bouchard Boles.
People get stressed at the holidays; be a calming influence.
Invite a friend or acquaintance to your holiday meal if they don't have any other place to go.
Buy a bouquet of flowers and hand them out at a senior center.
Donate your old magazines to a hospital or hospice facility.
Walk someone's dog for them or volunteer to petsit if they're going to be out of town for the holidays.
"Send military cards," says Bouchard Boles. "Through the program, Americans can 'Give Something That Means Something' this season by sending cards to recognize and thank members of the military, veterans, and their families." Another great option is : Just print a , then mail it along with your homemade cards to the organization's California headquarters.
Give a deserving friend or acquaintance a gift certificate for a massage or manicure and pedicure.
Give your assigned parking space at work away for a week to a deserving someone who doesn't have one.
for a friend or loved one with a sick family member.
Stop and help someone with a flat change their tire.
Pay off the outstanding lunch debt for a child at your local school. There are more kids than you think who can't eat lunch because they don't have enough money in their account.
Drop off school supplies at a nearby school that could really use them.
Clean out your garage and donate your old toys, games, and balls to a recreation center in an underserved neighborhood.
Write a kind thought on a Post-It Note and put it on a co-worker's desk or a stranger's car.
Donate your unwanted books to one of the in your area.
Let someone go ahead of you in line at the checkout stand.
Bring a shopping cart in from the parking lot even if you're not planning to use it.
Draw funny faces in the snow that's accumulated on someone's windshield.
Shovel an elderly neighbor's sidewalk for them.
After grocery shopping, donate items you get for free with coupons or through a buy-one-get-one-free deal to a local food bank. Or, sign up with a local chapter of to help deliver food to the elderly.