9 Unique Ways to Express Empathy and Pay it Forward

Two people holding hands for comfort
Two people holding hands for comfort

I teach classes about relationships. And on the first day of class, I ask the students to tell us all what their biggest frustration is with communication and/or relationships. Before they state their concerns, I always start with mine. And this is what I say... every time:

The world needs more empathy.

If we were all more empathetic to other people's needs, then the world would be a better place. Yes, I know that sounds cliché, but I truly believe it's true. Sure, it's a vision of Utopia, but think about it. If everyone really did think about other people's problems, needs, and desires as much as they do their own, then we would all be a lot happier.

How can we do this? Well, it all starts with awareness. You can't be a very empathic person if you're not aware of your own behavior and how it affects other people. So first, take a look at yourself. How often do you express empathy? How often do you do random acts of kindness for people? We all can -- and it often doesn't even cost very much money.

So I thought I would give you some unique ideas for being more empathetic to your fellow humans, and how to pay it forward:

1. Pay for someone's meal in a drive-thru.

Yes, this take a little bit of money. But seriously, how much does the average fast food bill really cost? Not that much. Sure, you might have a van full of 20 teenage athletes behind you, but it's not likely. Imagine how happy the car behind you will feel when the person at the window says they don't owe a penny!

2. Create a care package for active military to thank them for their service.

Unless you have a friend or loved one in the military, you probably don't know what a sacrifice they make for us every day. Yes, we can all imagine what it's like to be in the 100-degree-plus weather in the middle of a desert and sleeping outside with sand blowing in your face every day. But unless you've actually experienced it, you really don't know what it's like. So sending a care package to people who are defending our country is a small gesture on our part that is greatly appreciated by them.

3. Leave happy sticky notes on your colleagues' desks at work.

Imagine this: You're having a bad day. You are trying to be cheerful at work, but it's taking a toll on you. You get up to use the rest room, and when you come back, there are three sticky notes on your computer monitor that say: "You're awesome!, "I love working with you!" and "You make my day brighter!" Wouldn't that make you feel better? Too often, we don't appreciate the people who are in our lives every day.

4. Hold a charity auction.

This idea is something that most people have probably never even thought of doing. While this may be more of an option for an organization instead of an individual, there are many online resources like Bang the Gavel that can help you. This type of event can be fun. And what is better than that -- helping people and having fun all at the same time?

5. Leave a big tip for a kind server at a restaurant.

Servers work their fingers to the bone. If you've never been one, you probably know someone who has done it. But often, it's a thankless job. Crabby, rude customers sometimes make their lives miserable. So why not be the sunshine in your kind server's day? Leave as much of a tip as you can afford -- but make sure it is above and beyond the normal amount. And leave a nice note thanking them for their amazing service.

6. Take flowers or cookies to the nearest hospital to thank the nurses for their hard work.

Nurses also work hard. I have a friend who is a cardiac nurse, and not only does she work 12 hour days, she has even injured her back and arms by having to physically move her patients. Even if you've never been in a hospital, imagine what a great surprise it would be for the nurses when you show up with flowers or some goodies. You could even include the patients, who are obviously having a rough time since they are in the hospital.

7. Play online games and feed the hungry.

I know that sounds like it wouldn't be possible, but it is! Here is one example of where you can do just that! For each answer you get right, they donate some rice to the hungry. Like the charity auction, this option lets you have fun while helping people.

8. Help a struggling entrepreneur.

We might not think of an entrepreneur needing help. Usually the name "Donald Trump" comes to mind when we think of someone who has started a business. But trust me -- there are a ton of needy entrepreneurs out there. Starting a business is costly -- and risky. But usually, entrepreneurs are passionate people who want to make a difference in the world. So giving them a little bit of extra money can help them a lot.

9. Make an anonymous donation to a Go Fund Me fundraiser.

One of my best friends had a heart transplant earlier this year. And I have another friend whose 4-year-old daughter has been fighting a brain tumor for two years. Imagine the medical costs they both have! Normal people can't usually pay back those bills. Not that the Go Fund Me is just about medical expenses, but there are many other great causes that you can donate to -- either anonymously or not.

I hope I have inspired you to reach out and help another human being out of the goodness of your heart -- for no apparent reason other than you want to be kind. That's what we need more of in this world -- empathy. So if you like these suggestions, don't forget to tell your friends. Because the more we all do these types of acts of kindness, the happier we will all be!