Do something nice: Six tips for good deeds that take less than five minutes.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for good deeds that take less than five minutes.

“Do good, feel good” is one of the great truths of happiness — but you may be thinking, “Sure, good deeds would make me happy, but I barely have time to get through the essentials of my day. I don’t have time to do any good deeds!”

Wrong. Here are some ways that you can help other people—and make yourself feel great, at the same time—in under five minutes.

1. Be friendly. I’ve decided that there are five degrees of social interactions with strangers: hostile, rude, neutral, polite, and friendly. I find it very difficult to be downright friendly to strangers, but I always find myself energized and cheered by a friendly interaction. It only takes an extra minute to exchange a few pleasant words, but it makes a real difference.

2. Say “yes.” If you can, and if you should, say “yes.”

3. Say “no.” My sister, who is a TV-writer in Hollywood, once told me, “’Yes’ comes right away; ‘no’ never comes.” Meaning, for example, that when she’s pitched an idea, if she doesn’t hear “yes” right away, it means they don’t like the idea. I’ve found this precept to be widely true. In many circumstances, we find it hard to say “no” — partly because it will hurt someone’s feelings, partly because it closes a possibility that could otherwise remain open. But waiting to hear “no” saps people’s energy by keeping them hoping for an answer they aren’t going to get. If someone is waiting for your “No,” put them out of their misery.

4. Sign up on the national organ-donor registry. This takes no time at all, and the consequences could be HUGE! Tell your family that you signed up, too. Remember, the one minute that someone takes, right now, to sign up on the registry might save YOUR life six months from now. And vice versa.

5. Lead them not into temptation. It can feel generous, friendly, and fun-loving to urge people to take another piece of cake, to drink another glass of wine, or to make an extra purchase, or to urge them to give themselves a break by skipping the gym, skipping class, or quitting smoking next week instead of today. But when you see people truly trying to resist temptation, encourage them to stick to their resolutions. The Big Man and I always encourage each other to go to the gym. It can feel a little Spartan, but in the end, we’re both much cheerier when we’ve exercised.

6. Do someone else’s chore. Don’t you sometimes wish that someone would do one of your little jobs? If nothing else, to show an awareness of the fact that you faithfully do it, day after day? Emptying the diaper pail or starting the office coffee-pot, even though it’s not “your” job, helps people feel appreciated and cared for. One of my Twelve Commandments is to “Spend out,” which reminds me not to keep score, not to focus so much on everything coming out even – like chores.

If you’re interested in personal finance and entrepreneurship, check out Ramit Sethi’s blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Lots of interesting material there, delivered with a real flair.

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  • “Be friendly” can be surprisingly effective. One example: I was going through the intake step at a hospital, where they collect your insurance info, contact info, etc. I noticed a photo of a cat on the worker’s desk and made some sort of pleasant comment about the cat. The woman paused and looked very touched, and told me that I was the nicest person she had dealt with all day. It made me think – what a terrible job she must have, dealing with stressed and fearful people all day. Injecting just a little bit of a human touch in our interaction made all the difference for her.

  • That last one really resonated with me…I’ve been trying really hard not to tally my chores and what I around the house versus my husbands’ responsibilities..
    Spend Out. It just may be my new motto.

  • All great tips! How about share a joke? Here are “100 Best Lawyer Jokes” at

  • Ash

    7. Genuinely smile at people.
    It’s sort of like being friendly, only it’s slightly better. You’re not requiring a conversation, and you’re not even soliciting one at this point. It seems like so many people avoid eye contact because they’re too busy, or don’t want to hold a conversation.
    However, an unsolicited smile that requires nothing more than a smile or return nod can do wonders for someone’s day.
    Watch out, it’s contagious!

  • And since we now know that happiness can add 10 years to one’s life, being nice can be seen as a double blessing towards longevity

  • These are nice tips, and so easy to do, really. A little effort goes a longer way than you’d think, doesn’t it?

  • adora

    Leave positive feedback,comments or praise. Like in your post “A story that made me very happy — I couldn’t stop smiling.”
    My friend who works as a bank clerk for over 10 years often feel frustrated that people only complain, but rarely praise for job well done. You can easily brighten someone’s day by telling them how much you appreciate their service.
    Those suggestion/comment cards are for praise as well!

  • 4. You can donate some organs while still alive. My aunt who works for Carolina Donor Services, a featured face on the NC site, donated a kidney. The guy she donated it to immediately saw results and is doing wonderful! Talk about creating happiness.

  • This is a great list. It’s fantastic to think that there are small, quick things you can do to be happier.
    I was especially struck by #5. I think that most people feel good by letting someone slide, making an exception, but as you point out, it’s not often in the person’s best interest.

  • Debbie M

    Here are some more:
    Let someone in front of you while driving. People are so shocked you can sometimes make them happy the rest of their trip. And it takes between 0 and 5 seconds.
    In fact, paying enough attention to be able to notice being in someone’s way and then getting out of their way (say, at the grocery store) is always appreciated.
    Pick up a piece of trash you were about to step over.
    Hold the door open for someone.
    I work at a large university and can often find confused-looking people that I can help find something.
    Find a silly way to thank someone for going above and beyond the call of duty. At my workplace, we used get “treasure bucks” to give out which could later be spent on trinkets. Those days are gone, so now I like to go online and find an appropriate certificate to print out such as “genius award” for someone who helped me solve a problem and certificates of merit for superior achievement when someone has just gotten through a crazy busy cycle. If you are more normal, you could write a thank-you note. Just keep some in your desk. This can work for friends and family members, too.
    In fact, any kind of handwritten note is so rare these days that delivering even a short one can make people happy.

  • Gretchen, thanks for posting the link to “I Will Teach You To Be Rich.” I went over and saw loads of great stuff – most importantly, that everyone open and fund a 401(K)/Roth IRA. I’m finally starting a Roth, after years of putting it off. Thanks!

  • Being nice to someone you know or you don’t know makes me very happy.
    Doing a favor for somebody is not only good for the person but it’s better for oneself.

  • Great tips! The world would be a better place to live if everyone just did 1 nice thing every day. How about sending a heart felt card to a friend or someone you love?

  • Saying ‘Yes’ to invitations is one I try to practice. It allows you to experience more, and even if the experience is uncomfortable or boring, the company awful, as a writer I always think, “well, I can write about this later…”

  • Principles of highly successful people
    Reza Hossein Borr
    The people who succeed follow some principles all the time. These principles shine like lights wherever they go and whatever they do. There is no deviation. There is no shortcut. There is the strait way. The principles set the direction whenever they want to go to their destination. Observing these principles keep them focused on the mission and prevents unnecessary interruptions. Interruptions are bound to happen in the life of everybody but those who are principled enough can always come back to where they were before they were interrupted.
    The most of principles of highly successful people are usually common among most of successful people. They may have different understanding of them but they all follow a variety of them.
    1. All of them usually have a mission, a purpose, and an objective or what it is called in NLP well-formed outcomes. The purpose has been drawn from within their makeup and has sufficient energy source to motivate the person towards achieving it. I have never seen any successful person who did not have a very clear purpose. The purpose will be best defined if it goes thru the process of NLP well-formed goals and well-formed outcomes.
    2. All of the successful people have the skills of achieving their mission and purpose or if they do not have the skills, they bring the people who have the skills. This is very important as anybody who has a mission or an objective must realise if he has the skills for accomplishing the task or not. They must make sure that. That is what makes the difference between success and failure. Knowing that you want it but whether you can do it or not, is the vital and fatal factor. Those who know that they do not have the skills of doing it usually bring the people who know how to do it.
    3. All of successful people have the right mindset for that mission or objective. All of us know whether something is right for us to do or whether it can fit into your psychology of aspirations. The common people say that you can do it if you are made for it. Your mindset and your attitude are two factors that you have to know.
    4. All of successful people are optimistic and they know that the sense of optimism will keep them going on for a long time. The pessimists usually give up very quickly or do not start at all. The sense of optimism enlightens your heart and organises your emotions to bring different resources for successful implementation.
    5. All successful people do not give up at all or they know when to give up if they realise that is something that they cannot do. This is very important thing to realise when to give up and when to continue. I usually have an exercise in my seminars to find opportunities. I would say that I have put something somewhere in a room. I ask the students to go and find it with one glance. If they couldn’t do it first time I give them more chances. I have realised that those who usually do not succeed are those who look for something where it is not there. I tell them that if you look for something where it is not there, you can look for it all your life and cannot find it. And I teach them to go where things are located. There is no big fish in small pounds. If you want to grow into a very big fish you have to go into a very big ocean.
    6. All successful people have a sense of integrity. They know that they would lose whatever they have earned if they engage into fraud, illegal and illegitimate practices. We have seen a lot of people who have originally succeeded and then brought down in disgrace by the illegitimate practices.
    7. All of successful people believe that they can do it. Belief in yourself is your guarantee towards different obstacles that you can face you in your life when you want to achieve something great. There are a lot of people who tell you can’t do it and if you do not have sufficient self-belief you would abandoned your mission when you face challenges and difficulties.
    People are different and therefore, their beliefs and principles are different too. The important point is that you can discover your own principles and use them as leverages for accomplishing tasks. Your principles will make you stand firm on the ground in spite of fatal hurricanes and flood.
    Reza Hossein Borr is an NLP Master Trainer and a leadership consultant and the creator of 150 CDs and 14 Change management models. He is also the author of Manual Success, Manual of Coaching and Mentoring, Motivational Stories that Can Change Your Life, and a New Vision for the Islamic World. He can be contacted by email:

  • @Ash: “7. Genuinely smile at people.”
    Excellent point!
    It’s actually a bit tricky to pull off because smiles can be interpreted differently by diverse people, based on their moods. For instance, some of those with a specific idea about intelligence might assume that the smiler is naïve or stupid. Not that it’s a huge problem (I prefer being considered naïve than rude) but it greatly diminishes the effect of the smile. More problematic is the fact that many cynics assume that a smile hides an illegitimate purpose. This can put the smiler in a tough position. There are also matters of gender relations and impression of smugness.
    The most effective smiles, I find, are those which aren’t directed at a specific person at a specific time. I have better luck “spreading the smile” when I’m smiling on my own (e.g. because of something I listen to while walking down the street) than when I smile at a given person.
    What’s funny (and which might be related to my current orientation toward serenity) is that I get the impression that there’s a move toward happiness, in the general population. At least in Europe and in North America. Elements of support for this idea include comments about the financial crisis forcing people to focus on positive thoughts and actions. But it’s also based on the notion that working on your own happiness is a necessary step for those who wish to help people. It’s a self-sustaining system since making others happy is a very efficient way to remain serene.
    As a kind of aside, there are some online games, now, which focus on “random acts of kindess.” My current favourites are PMOG and Akoha. Some of the “good deeds” take a bit more effort than others, but the reward system works the same way.

  • Number 5 and 6 are my picks here. First I really do like working out and have even done some study of various workouts for when I move to a rural location where there is no gym! I’m petrified of turning into a blob!
    Second I love just doing things. Partly because I am not good at ‘idle’ and second because I like to be tidy – too much for some people! so doing someone else’s chore is not so bad!
    I think about these things rating on the happiness counter, but I think you’re right – I always feel better after!

  • Louise

    Be friendly.
    Two years ago, while I was teaching at a college, I went though a very rough patch in my personal life. On one night specifically I was so overwhelmed by my problems that I couldn’t stop myself from weeping until dawn. I then showered and went to my office hours hoping nobody would show up. I felt awful and alone in the world and the last thing I wanted to do was to go over someone’s test with them.
    But then a student showed up. She was cheerful and kind and had come to office hours because she had genuine interest in the subject I was teaching. Her kindness and enthusiasm gave me hope and completely changed the way I felt. She never knew how much her kindess did for me.
    Always be nice. You won’ t be able to tell who’s life you are going to make better.

  • Rowena

    I agree completely! I worked in the retail industry for years, amazing how rude people can be at times I found over the years, taking out whatever frustrations they had on some unsuspecting sale girl. I learned from the experiences that one small gesture, one kind word made the difference to my day, I started making a point of being kind, friendly to sales people, thanking them, no one says please or thankyou anymore????? Letting someone in line before me, I am not perfect, never will be, but I do see that each one of us can make a differnce, even if it is a small one!

  • Nicholasy Taylor

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  • SassySueCross

    BUT, in regards to being an organ donor–I donʻt much like what I learned from NPR this past week. Making me rethink this one.

  • Shelly

    Honesty is the best policy. It is much easier to remember the truth than a lie. It feels so much better weather good or bad to tell the truth.