A key component to our own happiness often lies in the answer to this question: what are we doing to make others happy? Yesterday, I was talking to my partner about something that happened a couple months ago. His relationship with his family is a little disconnected, so awhile back when he mentioned it was his mom’s birthday, our discussion went something like this:
Me: “Aren’t you going to call her or something?”
Him: *Laughs* “No, I’ve never done that before.”
Me: *Surprised look* You should call her!
Him: “…What do I say?”
Me: “Happy birthday!”
Yesterday, when we were talking, he told me that he did end up calling her to wish her a happy birthday and that it made him feel good because he made his mom feel good – something he’s never been able to do in that way before. Sometimes the best things we can do for others are the simple things we often overlook. Today’s list is a small collection of things we can do to recognize and appreciate the people around us.
1. Believe in them. It makes such a huge difference to other people when you can encourage their ideas and aspirations without trying to “fix” them. Our friends aren’t always looking for advice. Often, they’re just looking for someone who is willing to support their dreams. Be that person…it really can make all the difference.
2. Compliment the unexpected. Certainly, it feels good when someone gives you a compliment on something obvious, like a new haircut or piece of clothing. But unexpected compliments can go even further, such as telling a hustling busboy that you appreciate his hard work or letting your professors know that you really enjoyed their lesson today. We all think tons of split-second compliments each day, but since they don’t feel like the kind we’re used to, we don’t give them. Recognize the positive thoughts you think about others, and then share them. It will make you happy and it will certainly do the same for them.
3. Surprise Notes. Getting a note is kind of like getting mail…it just feels good. Surprise notes can really be anything you make of them, from a heartfelt “thank you” letter to a simple “have a great day!” But it’s the unexpectedness that reminds people they are special and not routine. Surprise notes can be left in surprise places, like in between the pages of a book they’re reading, or attached to their morning O.J., but they can also be something more simple, like a post-it stuck to their bathroom mirror or a letter placed on their laptop keyboard. It doesn’t really matter where you put your surprise notes, just that you give them in the first place.
4. Pay for the person after you. I worked at a gelato store in high school, and one time, a customer gave me money for his order, and then gave me a $10 bill to pay for the people after him. Not only did it make the old couple he paid for extremely happy, but it also made me happy because I got to be the messenger in this exchange. Just imagine…with as much money as it costs to buy someone a cup of ice cream, you can make several people’s days and give them a memory that lasts for years. This happened more than five years ago and I still haven’t forgotten his generosity.
5. Use their name. I remember reading somewhere that the sweetest sound to anyone is the sound of their own name. Doesn’t it make sense? Hearing your name is like a validation that you exist to other people. Even better? Make up a nickname for someone (unless they hate your nickname and then you should probably stop using it!). One day, one of my previous co-workers started calling me “Mely Mely” consistently. I wasn’t sure I’d prefer this nickname in all circumstances, but whenever she called me by it at work, I felt a spark of happiness – not only had she acknowledged my existence, but she made it special and unique just for me.
6. Say “Please” and “Thank you.” This one should be a no-brainer, but it’s also pretty subjective when you start to question what you should say it for. My theory is that if you’re requesting something or being given something, even if it’s just “can you pass the salt?” then you should add “please” and “thank you” to your words. It’s a small token of gratitude for the things we do for each other everyday.
7. Give gifts that remind you of someone. It’s nice to receive routine gifts, like the ones we get for birthdays, but even more special than those are the gifts we give out of the blue, simply because something reminded another person of you. Even something small like a sticker or postcard can go a long way when it’s etched with remnants of yourself or your interests. These kind of gifts aren’t meant to be big and overdone, they’re just reminders that you thought of someone else, even when you weren’t with them.
8. Thank someone for something they did in the past. People help us everyday, but sometimes they don’t even realize they’re making a difference. A few years ago, I met a girl during the beginning of college who went in and out of my life rather quickly as we were both making new friends during our freshman year. We hadn’t really kept in touch, but a few years later she sent me an e-mail out of the blue, thanking me for encouraging her to get involved, especially when she had been having a hard time adjusting to college life.
The e-mail caught me totally off guard because I didn’t even think she’d remember me. But the unexpectedness and sincerity of it totally made my day. In reality, I probably offered a few simple comments to her, but knowing that they made a difference in her life – enough that she still wanted to thank me three years later – was a feeling I won’t soon forget. It’s never too late to thank someone, and in fact, sometimes receiving a “thank you” years later can mean even more.
9. Do simple favors with enthusiasm. Someone once asked me to do a small favor for them and I remember being extremely busy that day and obliging with stress in my voice and body language. Immediately after giving my half-hearted reply, I felt terrible about it. In reality, what they asked me to do for them was not a big deal, but I let my own stress affect them and probably made them feel bad just for asking.
The conclusion I came to is this: if you’re going to do something either way, then you mine as well do it with a smile and enthusiasm. In that interaction, I made myself, and probably my co-worker, feel bad, but this could have been averted if I had either politely told them I was too busy that day, or agreed to do it with a happy smile. Don’t let yourself fall into the grey area of negativity – there’s just no point.
What tips do you have for making other people feel special and loved?