Pay It Forward

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I love the concept of Pay it Forward. I first heard about it from the film of that name, starring a young Haley Joel Osment. Based on the novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde, the story follows a young boy whose idea to pay acts of kindness forward set in motion an extraordinary chain of events that led to hundreds of people being on the receiving end of kind acts.

The basic premise of Pay It Forward is that we repay kindness forwards to other people rather than in return to the person who helped us. So instead of ‘pay it back’ we ‘pay it forward’. It sets in motion a ripple- or domino-effect. The forces that keep it going are elevation and gratitude.

Elevation has been defined by psychologist Jonathan Haidt (pronounced Height) as a state of feeling inspired, moved, or uplifted through receiving kindness or witnessing an act of kindness or moral beauty. It’s the warm feeling we get in the heart. Many studies show that once a person feels elevated they tend to be more helpful to others, especially if they’ve just received kindness themselves.

My friend, Lesley, recently asked me to sign a few copies of my new book, ‘The 5 Side Effects of Kindness’ with the line, “To whoever Lesley gives this book to.” She likes to gift books to people. The idea has now caught on.

I happened to mention it in a few recent talks and it inspired some people to ask for their book to be inscribed in the same way. Now, dozens of people have received a signed book with that message. The elevation people feel after hearing what Lesley did has created a domino effect.

At my book launch recently, after I’d talked about the Pay It Forward concept, a lady who purchased a book and asked me to sign it then paid for a book for the next person in the book-signing queue. You may have heard of this kind of thing in coffee shops where someone pays for the next person’s coffee, or at motorway tolls where a person pays for the toll of the person behind them, each setting in motion a little ripple of kindness.

And the ripple of kindness is exactly what happened at my book launch. The person who learned that their book had just been paid for, in turn, chose to pay for the book of the person behind her. As that person approached and learned they had received some kindness, she also paid it forward and bought a book for the next person in line. This went on for a total of 9 people before ending at an elderly gentleman who was really quite overcome with emotion at learning of the pay-it-forward chain that presented him with a free book. He was visibly moved.

The National Kidney Registry in the USA generates a lot a Pay It Forward goodwill. Following the struggle to find a kidney donor who was a match for their daughter, the registry was set up by Jan and Garet Hil to help spare other families the same stress, ultimately speeding up the time it takes for donor matches to be found. It has started numerous kidney donor-chains.

A kidney donor chain is where a family member or friend of someone who receives a kidney donates one of theirs to someone else. They wanted to donate a kidney to their loved one but they weren’t a match so they pledged to donate theirs in a ‘Pay It Forward’ fashion to someone who is a match. A loved one of the recipient of their kidney does the same, and so on.

One of the world’s longest Pay It Forward-style Kidney Donor Chains involved 34 consecutive kidney transplants involving 26 different hospitals. It began in December 2014 with Kathy Hart, an attorney from Minneapolis who heard her yoga instructor’s son needed a kidney, but not being a match she decided to sign up to the registry and donate one of her kidneys to someone else. It ended on 26th March 2015 with 77-year-old Mitzi Neyens of Wausau, Wisconsin. That’s 34 people’s lives saved by 34 consecutive incredible acts of kindness, done in a Pay It Forward fashion, all from a single act of kindness.

I really love that kindness sets domino effects in motion. It’s a heart-warming thought that so many people have so much goodwill in their hearts that they want to do kind things for others.

We hear so much negative news from TV and read about the same things online and in newspapers. I like to think that there’s much more kindness in the world than that. For every unkindness I see around me, I see a hundred time more kindness. I see a hundred times more smiles, good will gestures, supportive words, friendly acts, helpfulness.

I picked up a hire car a half hour or so ago because I’m driving to give a talk this evening. It’s heavy snow where I am right now in central Scotland. After asking where I was driving to, Craig, one of the managers at Arnold Clark Rentals in Stirling, went online and looked at live traffic cameras all over the region and worked out a route for me that would avoid the heaviest of the snow. He didn’t need to do that. He was simply being kind, and I am extremely grateful for it.

So take every opportunity to be kind that life presents to you. And it will. Kindness really does matter.

And who knows, maybe your kindnesses will topple a few dominos.

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  1. Steve Stocks, Suffolk, UK on February 23, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Dear David,

    I was very happy to read your blog today about the film “Pay it Forward”, as it is one of my favourite films too. What I like about the concept is that if the donor of a gift/favour/whatever had some hidden agenda in the giving, that controlling “bribery” is immediately neutralised. In the more likely event, however, that the gift was freely given, the donor should not expect to receive anything back, and will be happy that they have started a domino effect should they learn of it. Either way it removes the potential embarrassment of the recipient that they somehow “owe” the donor — as also of the donor that they have imposed a burden on someone they genuinely wish to help. It removes too the manipulative control that parents can exert over their children. The way the Universe works, the original donor will receive something back anyhow — or probably has it already!

    Please keep your inspiring blogs coming!


  2. Corinne on February 23, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Wonderful. Thank you for posting, David. I saw that movie (a DVD) two weeks ago. Really liked the idea. And just now, right before I read your mail, I paid sth foward for a friend of mine, a telephone card he needed in order to re-load his mobile phone. Nothing big, but good feeling. So funny to receive your text immediately afterwards. Cheers, Corinne

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on March 8, 2017 at 11:41 am

      That was such a lovely thing to do for your friend, Corinne. These kinds of things make all the difference in the world. 🙂

  3. Wendy on February 23, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Many thanks and blessings to you … because this article is a pay-it-forward … which elevates my spirit!

    Thanks too for this reminder about offering kindness as a way of showing gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. Indeed, as it’s been written: It is in giving that we receive. Some people mistakenly believe or hope that some of form of reward will come back around to them, as a pay-back some day. Well, no, why consider or wait for that? The act of giving in itself is the elevating reward and the way to nurture and raise one’s own spirit.

    David, your blog entries are so welcome in my mail box! They’re like a warm ray of sunshine! The love is palpable.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on March 8, 2017 at 11:40 am

      Thanks for your kind words, Wendy. 🙂

  4. Sarah Setterfield on March 22, 2017 at 11:35 am

    I love the fact that we are designed to feel better when connected by our heart to others and by giving, whether it be of monetary value or not (and I think the non-monetary things mean more too). How cool is it that our biochemistry changes when we are kind and therefore relieves stress. The human make-up is extraordinarily cool. It is pouring with rain in the South and my dogs are desperate for a walk. I keep telling them “when it stops raining” but I’m going to be kind and put a hat on and take them now 🙂

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