There’s something about surprises. In a world that can seem painfully predictable at times, surprises are like throwbacks to a time when the world was totally magical and every cereal box held a treasure — other than its high fiber content, that is.
And THAT is why surprising strangers is tons of fun. You’re bringing a little magic into someone else’s life. To clarify, I’m talking little surprises here — buying a coffee for the person behind me at Starbucks, leaving a gift card taped to a store shelf, paying for someone else’s lunch. With an itty bitty investment, you can make or break a day — a much wiser way to spend your $$$ than the latest Apple release or a front row seat to a Bieber concert (PLEASE GOD NO).
It’s so easy to fall into the “I hate humanity” trap. The interwebs are riddled with people railing against how horrible other people are. It gets tiresome. Because seriously you guys, aren’t the majority of your human interactions positive? If they weren’t, humanity would have been woefully unsuccessful at perpetuating itself for thousands of years.
I think happy little surprises remind people how much they like actually like other humans — and we could all use more of that. Here are ten ways to make a stranger’s day. Minimal effort required on your part, promise.
1. Pay it forward at Starbucks.
Even if you loathe Starbucks (it’s ok you can fess up to your pumpkin spice latte obsession, we’re all friends here), everyone needs a caffeine fix now and then, and pairing it with a good deed will offset your irritation at paying $7 for watered down bean juice. Drive-thrus are the best because people are usually impatient and annoyed — an excellent opportunity to turn a frown upside down. But, you do get to meet your beneficiary if you pay it forward inside the store. Potential new friendship. Up to you, both are fun times.
2. Leave scratch-off lotto tickets in public places.
Everyone loves the lotto. Yes, everyone, even people who just won the lotto. And scratch offs are so much fun. They’re like the big reveal on a game show. What’s behind door number four?! Even when you lose, you still win ‘cuz you got to play. Plus, it’s a super small investment on your part.
3. Tape a gift card near the checkout counter.
Of the same store, natch. Tape a Target card onto that endlessly-appealing rack of impulse items and make someone’s shopping trip extra special. Make sure to leave a note with it — otherwise someone’s likely to think it’s an empty card that’s been misplaced. Whoops.
4. Leave a copy of your favorite book in a public place.
Paying it forward with books is maybe the best thing ever. You’re fostering intellectual development, literacy and actual reading (versus pop culture’s idea of reading = scrolling an endless feed of Tweets). Put a note in the front or on the cover asking the finder to read it and pass it along.
5. Pay for the toll of the person behind you.
Even though Sunpass reigns supreme, a few lone tollbooths still exist. When you pass through one, make it rain for the person behind you. Smiles will ensue.
6. Leave quarters in vending machines. Also applies to laundry machines, if you’re unlucky enough to have to enter a laundromat.
The fact that physical money still exists is at times, perplexing. How are we not paying via fingerprint by now? Nonetheless, quarters remain relevant, so make a kid (or grown up, I don’t judge) super happy with a gumball, plastic trinket or temporary tattoo. It’s the little things.
7. Refill someone’s parking meter.
Yes, this might be illegal, but damn the man.
8. Foot the bill for someone else’s lunch.
Nothing says surprise like a stranger buying you a meal — not because they’re trying to pick you up, but just ‘cuz they’re a nice human. Be that nice human.
9. Post some inspirational quotes.
When I leave an anonymous gift, I like to add a little note with a fave quote. I have lots. Books of ’em, actually. Quotes on their own can make for an apropos treat. You might be offering life-changing words of wisdom when someone needs ’em most. Also a good option if you’re less than loaded. Post-Its are perfect.
10. Let someone in front of you in traffic at a hellish time.
Let’s be real — no one expects a fellow driver to let them in when it’s rush hour, traffic is abysmal and everyone’s in the throes of road rage. So be unexpected. When all you wanna do is get your Fast and Furious on, stop and let someone else go. It’s a lesson in patience, and another thing that won’t cost you a dime.
Btw, making someone else’s day is sure to make yours, too. Trust me. That’s some positive juju right there.