Channel your second-grade teacher and playfully give out gold-star stickers to all the people in your life — young and old — who somehow make your day a little easier.
If you know someone is going out to dinner to celebrate a special occasion, call the restaurant in advance and say you’ll pick up the cost of her wine or dessert.
When someone is moving to a new city, supply friends and family members with stamped, preaddressed postcards. (Hand them out at the going-away party.) By the time the family pulls into the new driveway, there will be warm wishes awaiting them.
When you run across a newspaper or magazine article you think someone you know would find interesting, take a moment to clip it out. Attach a Post-it note that reads “Thought you’d enjoy” and drop it in the mail. This takes less time than writing a letter, but the gesture still shows the other person you’re thinking about her. Laura Noss, who owns a public-relations firm for nonprofits in San Francisco, says her father, who lives in Cleveland, does just that. “It means so much that when he’s reading something, he’ll rip it out, fold it, attach a message, put the postage on it, and send it to me,” she says. “I save almost all of them.”
Similarly, when a young person in your hometown does something to merit a mention in the newspaper (the high school quarterback saves the big game in overtime or your neighbor gets elected student-body president), clip out the photo and article and send it to the person’s family. Chances are, they’ll want to collect every copy they can. (One notable exception: the police blotter.)
If you travel a lot on business, record yourself reading your children’s favorite bedtime stories; they can listen to your voice as they flip through the book. Finish each night’s reading with a countdown of the days until you’re back home with them.
Every day for a year, jot down one thing you love about your child/husband/friend (he has a crooked smile; she snorts when she laughs). At the end of the year, give the person your one-of-a-kind, 365-item list.
When you develop photos from a vacation or a major life event that an elderly relative missed, get an extra set of prints and send them to her.
When guests are leaving, escort them to their car, not just to the front door. If you’re driving someone home, wait until she’s inside the house before you pull away.
Hide messages for your family to find throughout the day, like “Thanks for doing a load!” in the dryer, or a silly joke in your child’s lunch box.
If someone you know is going through a difficult time, call to let her know that you’re thinking about her, but make sure your message doesn’t leave her with a sense of obligation: “Just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you, but don’t worry about calling me back.” When a friend was being treated for breast cancer in a hospital outside her home state, Sandy Donaldson, a community-relations coordinator in Newport News, Virginia, rented her friend a beeper and entered the names of the woman’s friends in its contact list. Whenever her friend got beeped, she could look and see who was sending kind thoughts her way. “The only rule was that she was not allowed to call anyone back,” says Donaldson, who didn’t want her friend to feel any more burdened during her illness.
When a neighbor is grieving, leave a basket on her front porch, filled with blank thank-you cards she can send to people who have brought flowers or made donations.
When stocking up on school supplies, pick up a few extras and give them to your child’s teacher to pass on to students whose families might not be able to afford them.
Donate two tickets to a major sporting or theatrical event to an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters. That way, a Big Sis can take her Little Sis to something out of the ordinary that she otherwise might not be able to afford.