Do Something Nice: 6 Tips for Good Deeds That Take Less Than 5 Minutes

Gretchen Rubin on creating your own personal happiness

“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 also make yourself feel great— 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. My husband 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.

Editor’s Note: Gretchen Rubin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project.  Each Wednesday is tip day on her blog.

4 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Gretchen — I guess from years of living, I find that putting a time frame on “doing good for others” make it a task to get done rather than something done with love.  The phrase “good deeds” seem to resound as if you deserve a pat on the back for doing them – and again, this is not how you should be living life.  Once you open your mind, open your heart, open your sensitivity to those you meet, those you know well, those you love, doing for them is not a pain.  Instead, it is part of the give and take in life – and yes, we don’t keep score – but should be something we do naturally.  . not something we have to think of twice. 

    Dropping down your point three, to me there is no necessity in saying NO abruptly unless it is to put emphasis perhaps in dealing with a child.  When you are “pitching an idea” to a person or a board or a group, your hope is that they will buy into it.  But to be sure that you have the full backing, it is all in the way you phrase your idea.  Think “team” — and when giving your “pitch”, follow it up by saying that you are open to additional thoughts, ideas, that could even make it better.  Take the positive route.  A NO means it is dead in the water — and there is no need for that.  You want the team to climb on board and if they think they have added an iota, they have become vested in this.  YOU have to be hopefully flexible or make a few minor compromises at times, but by asking the other or others if by changing the time, the date, moving the content around will make it even better, you have said to them that you care for their input.  Once they have added something, you have turned a possible NO around without it raising its head.  It works like a charm.

    Any thing and everything you do that makes others have a better day, will make you have a better day also.

  2. avatar jwil5423 says:

    Two observations around this Gretchen…
    Firstly, the happiest people on earth are those engaged with their community.  Doing small deeds back and forth with a sense of belonging.  That is in part one of the things this can achieve, a higher baseline of happiness.
    Secondly, it can kind of be wrapped up in the wisdom of Mohandas Gandhi who said “Be the change you want to see”.  That quote changed everything for me.
    JL Williams


  3. avatar CYNTHIA NEIL says:

    Pick up a piece of litter on the street.   Just one.    But if you do it  others will see you and the trend will continue.
    Use that coupon to buy an extra pound of pasta or can of tuna for the food pantry bin at the front of the grocery store.
    Pass on the books and magazines that you are done with, to the school,the senior center or your Salvation Army.
    When you bake a batch of anything put a baggie of it in your mailbox. 
    Smile when you answer the phone.
    Play with your dog even when you don’t THINK you want to.
    Commit to one good deed every day,just because.

    That is what I do and these are some of the ways I make sure I meet the quota

  4. avatar ebeth says:

    Thanks G! Love to read whatever it is you have to [say] write! Common sense-yes but I always need a reminder – Chester my dog thanks you too!