wikiHow to Pay It Forward

The world can seem like an unfriendly, threatening place, yet we all want safety, health, and happiness for ourselves and our loved ones. How can one ordinary person—you or anyone—make a positive difference in this world? One way is the practice "paying it forward." While the steps might be simple, the outcome could create a sense of luck and good will that changes the world.


  1. Image titled Pay It Forward Step 1
    Be attentive wherever you are for opportunities to help someone. Perhaps you have an elderly or disabled neighbor who is too proud to ask for help with their yard work or maybe you're in a restaurant and see someone who looks like they could use some kind stranger to pay for their meal. You can change people's attitudes about the world through your unobtrusive acts of kindness.
  2. Image titled Pay It Forward Step 2
    Do something nice for someone you don't know (or don't know very well). It should be something significant, and not for a person from whom you expect a good deed—or anything at all, for that matter—in return.
  3. Image titled Pay It Forward Step 3
    Spread the word. If the person thanks you and wants to "repay" you (that is, pay it "back"), let them know that what you'd really like is for them to pay it "forward"—you'd like them to do something nice for three people they don't know, and ask those three people to do something nice for three more people. The idea is to consciously increase the goodness of the world.
  4. Image titled Pay It Forward Step 4
    Pay it forward. When you notice that somebody has done something nice for you, make a note in your mind to practice three acts of kindness towards other people, as described in Step 3.


  • Even small acts, such as paying the bridge toll for the car behind you when you pay for your own, counts. If it makes the world a friendlier place, you succeeded!
  • The "pay it forward" concept was popularized with the book Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde, which was later made into a movie with the same title, starring Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment, and Kevin Spacey.
  • Practicing the "pay it forward" principle will make you alert to unexpected kindness from strangers toward you, and you may find yourself becoming more grateful for everyday kindness and consideration from people you don't even know.
  • Smile and say hello!


  • Most nice things done for strangers will be one-time efforts, so use your head and don't give out your name or phone number; if someone seems to expect you to provide ongoing help but you don't want to go that far, smile and tell the person that you prefer to remain anonymous.
  • It can feel risky to help strangers, but trust your own good intentions and don't be afraid to go out on a limb if you believe your actions can help the person.
  • Some people will not act grateful, but the benefits may still come around when you are not there to see it. Let your beneficial action be enough in itself and don't expect profuse thanks, or even any thanks at all.
  • Do take care of yourself. If you have excess, then share with those in need, but don't give away your last dollar. The stronger you are, the more good you can do for others.

Sources and Citations

  • Pay It Forward Foundation - Developed by Catherine Ryan Hyde to bring the message from her novel to classrooms across the country.

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Volunteer and Community Service