‘Tis The Season To Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward

by Ed Moran

In case you haven’t noticed, the holiday season is upon us once again, for better or worse. If you’re like me, the cloak of denial has only recently been shed. Though the signs have been there since the first holiday decorations appeared on the shelves at Costco in October, the calendar has finally made it real, causing many in the community to experience a fairly unpleasant combination of excitement and dread.

When we’ve lost someone dear to us, the pressure to be jolly can be difficult to manage. The idea of doing for others, and feeling good about it, can suddenly feel foreign. As it turns out, though, doing for others may be just the shot in the arm we’ve been looking for to break out of the holiday doldrums.

At one time or another we’ve probably all been a part of the classic debate about whether a truly selfless act is possible. A simple Google search online will bring up thousands of opinions on paying it forward; doing something for others with the hope, and in some cases the expectation, that a good deed will be done for another in return.

Films, television shows, and even television commercials have all taken a whack at the subject, tugging at our heartstrings in the hope of starting a revolution of random acts of kindness. Sure, it feels good when we do nice things for people. What we’re learning now, though, is the true emotional and physical benefits that can come from paying it forward. People who engage in random acts of kindness, and those on the receiving end, can experience:

  • Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • A more positive outlook on life
  • Improved self-esteem and confidence
  • Stronger immune system
  • Less frequent negativity
  • A sense of greater purpose in life

Paying it forward does not mean breaking the bank, either. Doing something for others can be as simple as:

  • Paying for a cup of coffee
  • Visiting a stranger in a nursing home
  • Volunteering at a hospital
  • Holding a door open for someone and smiling
  • Giving up your seat on the train or the bus to someone in need
  • Letting someone in line in front of you
  • Over-tipping your restaurant server
  • Donating old coats and blankets to the Salvation Army


The holidays can be the perfect time to begin paying it forward and keep it going throughout the year. Last year, at the end of a long day, I was dining with a friend at a local restaurant when we overheard a conversation at an adjacent table. A single mom was out with her two young children for her birthday. While she seemed tired, she was determined to be positive with her children and enjoy her evening out with them. As we were finishing up, without a second thought, my friend asked the waitress for our check, and for theirs as well. He also asked not to be identified. We paid the checks and left, and yes, it felt good to do something nice for a stranger.

Hopefully, she too will be inspired to pay it forward.


Ed Moran, LCSW, is a clinical social worker at Family Centers Serving Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan, CT, and Westchester County, NY. Family Centers is a United Way, New Canaan Community Foundation and Community Fund of Darien partner agency that offers counseling and support programs for children, adults and families. For information, call 203-869-4848 or visit www.familycenters.org.

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