“That lady in front of you just paid for your drink.”

That’s how my day started today when I drove up to the cashier to pay for my morning cup of java. I’m still smiling thirty minutes later as I enjoy my coffee back in my office. It got me thinking. How easy it is to create a positive ripple effect with just a small “random act of kindness”. Without any expectation of pay back or recognition. It’s infectious, too. I have already decided to pay it forward today with a shout out on social media to a colleague who is doing amazing work.

Adam Rifkin, the consummate networker in Silicon Valley and co-founder of PandaWhale coined a name, the “five minute favor”, for this concept. He’s made it a daily ritual in his own life since the late 90’s. Now it’s a common part of how movers and shakers in Silicon Valley spread the wealth by giving just “five minutes” of their attention to helping someone else. It’s a small thing that has shaped a whole culture of innovation. What a great habit to develop!

My friend David Wagner, the CEO of Juut Salsonspas, the original AVEDA salons, wrote the delightful book Life as a Daymaker: How to change the world simply by making someone’s day. David asks why settle for “random acts” when we can perform “intentional acts” of kindness that make the world a better place.

We can increase the level of anger in the world or bring in more joy.

The other day I was outside a busy restaurant circling the parking lot looking for a place to park. Just then I spotted someone leaving, put on my blinkers and waited. Then I saw another car pull up from the other direction and turn its blinker on as well. “I was here first”, I thought to myself, feeling justified as I pulled into the space. When I got out of my car, I was met with a burst of angry profanity from the other driver. “Didn’t you see me waiting?”, he screamed. “Yes”, I said. “But I was already here well before you pulled up”. “F*** you, you A**” , he yelled as he roared away.

Now I see that I missed my opportunity to “make his day”. Yes, I was justified. But my mood was soured. My whole body was shaking. I was still replaying the scene a day later. And I’m sure he is still telling the story of the jerk who screwed him out of his parking spot. And, now there is more anger and “road rage” in the world. Being right is not enough.

What if I had been on the look-out for my chance to make someone’s day? To do a “five-minute favor”? I would have smiled and waved him into the space. Not because he was first. Just because it gave me a chance to do a favor. He would have thanked me with a smile and a nod in return. I would have found another space further away and walked into the restaurant feeling good. A much better choice for me, “the exuberance guy”, don’t you think?

At the Oscar’s this year, JT Simmons, while accepting his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, said “Call your mom, call your dad. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent or two, still alive on this planet, call them. Don’t text. Don’t email. Call them on the phone. Tell them you love them and thank them and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.”

Who can you call just to let them know you are thinking about them? That you care. How do you think you will feel when it’s over? Do it today. Do it now.

Whether you call it “making someone’s day”, paying it forward, or “five minute favors”, the idea is the same. Give a bit of yourself to somebody without any expectation of return. Not out of any sense of obligation but out of gratitude. Simply spread your love of life with small gestures to others. Shine more light into the world.

Perform little acts that say, “I see you. We are in this life together”. 

Need some more ideas?

Send a note of appreciation to someone. Call a young person and offer your support. Call an elderly person and engage them in a brief conversation. Let them know you still see them as relevant and that they matter. Connect a couple of people in your life that would benefit from knowing each other. Recommend someone and their services on social media without being asked. Pay attention to that person serving you in the store or restaurant. Let them know you see them and appreciate their service.

Make it a habit. Do a “five minute favor” for someone today.

And enjoy the feeling.