Article Archive >> Featured Topics

Pay it Forward This Valentine's Day

"Pay it Forward" This Valentine's Day
by Jennifer LB Leese

Do you have big plans this coming Valentine's Day? Plan on showing your loved one just how much they mean to you?
I'd like to do something a little different for this Valentine's Day issue. I'd like you to think of others on this day of love. After all, Valentine's Day IS about love and affection.
In a world that sometimes feels unfriendly, unloved, unsafe, and threatening - one ordinary person can help make one day for many seem positive, welcoming, secure, and appreciated. You've heard of "paying it forward" right? Well that's what this article is about.
The expression "pay it forward" was described by Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Benjamin Webb dated April 22, 1784: "I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you [...] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro' many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money."
The term was coined, or at least popularized, by Robert A. Heinlein in his book Between Planets (published in 1951) when he wrote: "The banker reached into the folds of his gown, pulled out a single credit note. "But eat first - a full belly steadies the judgment. Do me the honor of accepting this as our welcome to the newcomer."
His pride said no; his stomach said YES! Don took it and said, "Uh, thanks! That's awfully kind of you. I'll pay it back, first chance."
"Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it.""
"Pay it forward" is used to describe the concept of one person offering another the option of paying the debt forward to a third person instead of paying it back. This does not always have to do with money; it can be a good deed gesture as well. If you're nice to someone, they'll be nice to you back. If you smile at someone, they'll pass that smile onto someone else and that person will pass their smile onto someone else and so on and so forth. Appreciation and the act of caring is contagious.
Here are a few things you can do this Valentine's Day:
* A smile on your face makes others smile too.
* Offer your elderly or single parent neighbor your assistance in helping with yard work, grocery shopping, or cleaning. This will make a tremendous difference in their daily routine and they will surely appreciate the kind offer.
* Paying the bridge toll for the car behind you when you pay for your own will be something that person will always remember.
* Write a letter to a stranger. The Internet can provide you with a list of people who would love to hear from you...soldiers, children in juvenile detention centers, elderly in nursing homes, and children in orphanages. Your letter may not seem like a big deal to you - just words on paper, but to those who will receive it - it will mean so much more.
* At the grocery store, let someone in front of you at the checkout counter.
* When you're stuck in traffic let someone in front of you - just remember someone had to let you in. Repay the favor to someone else.
* A simple "Thank you" will go far.
* Give a compliment to someone - not only will this make him/her feel good, it just might kick off a conversation with a new friend.
* Do you ever see homeless people and have thought, "If only I could help make a difference"? You can. We have to start with one person anyway. No you can't save all of them, but you can start by buying a pair of gloves, a new blanket, or give them your old shirts, pants, and shoes. You can offer them directly to this person or give them to any organization that serves the homeless.
* Leave a friendly message to your postal carrier, your garbage collectors, and those who do for you everyday, but you've never actually met.
* The next time you see someone littering, don't just shake your head and look the other way. Pick up the litter and throw it away, and while you're at it, look around the street for any other trash that needs to be removed.
* A simple little wave and a full-fledged smile or grin will make anyone's day. Most people will feel the urge to smile back.
* Hold the door for someone. I'm sure there were many times when you wished someone had held the door for you. Start the tradition - it'll catch on.
* Now that it's snow and ice season, offer to shovel your neighbor's walk. Better yet, just do it. It doesn't really matter if they know you did it, right? Paying it forward isn't about getting credit for your good deed. You'll know you did it.
These are merely suggestions. I'm sure you've already thought of a few original ones. Why wait, get started today. Look on the Internet for encouraging, inspirational stories of how others are "paying it forward".
When we change our thoughts to positive ones, our feelings tend to change with it. We trust and accept friendship that is offered to us instead of dismissing the idea of new ones. When we do good we think good. We trust instead of distrusting; we care instead of being uncaring, and we help others when they need helping without expecting in return.
When you have the "pay it forward" attitude you will become more alert to unexpected kindness from strangers toward you. You will find that you are more grateful for this everyday kindness and consideration from strangers.
When someone says, "I'll pay you back" be sure to tell him/her to just "pay it forward".
Remember, those who give, receive.

Resource:,,, "Pay It Forward" by Catherine Ryan Hyde (2000), and "Between Planets" by Robert A. Heinlein (1951)

Printable version

<< back to Articles on Featured Topics
<< back to All Articles