This Holiday Season, Pay It Forward With Viral Kindness

The end of the year is the season of giving. In our world of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas sales that start in September, that often means being encouraged to open your wallet and splurge on gifts for the people you love, like, or just barely tolerate, whether your finances can support it or not. In a survey commissioned by Bankrate, 45% of Americans said they felt pressure to overspend on holiday gifts1, and a poll on CreditCards.com found that 61% of people who have credit card debt are willing to go even deeper into debt to fund holiday spending2.

It makes sense that people are afraid to rein in their spending during the holidays because they don’t want to look like they’re Scrooging it up. However, there are more ways to get into the giving spirit than buying expensive gifts for people. You can also give by spreading good cheer through small acts of kindness, compassion, and charity.

Okay, we know that sounds like a corny line stolen from a direct-to-DVD Christmas movie, but there’s legit science backing it up. A study conducted by the University of California Irvine on Pay It Forward-style kindness3 found that small good deeds provide boosts to mood, optimism, and life satisfaction for both the people receiving generosity and the people giving it. Not only that, but the kindness you offer is viral and can spread to other people, according to a series of studies from Stanford University4.

In these studies, participants who observed others being generous acted more generously themselves. Incredibly, they also seemed to become more empathetic when doing a completely different task later (writing a note to people who had been going through some hard times). Just seeing someone offer help can inspire people to become more supportive.

If we apply these findings to everyday life, small kind acts like giving away your seat on the bus, or giving a stranger a compliment can have effects that ripple far beyond just you and the people you’re helping. If you want to go even further, you can perform even bigger acts of generosity such as volunteering your time or forgiving debts that people owe you.

Of course, if you have some money to spare you can also use that to make a difference. Donating to a charity for a cause you care about can help push change that you’d like to see in the world. If you do that, though, you may want to go out of your way to tell your friends and family about it. Not just to brag about how good of a person you are (though if you want to brag on yourself, you kind of deserve it), but because sharing how you’re contributing to a cause can inspire others to give as well. This viral kindness effect also extends to charitable giving.

A Harvard paper on charity contributions in the workplace observed that social pressure can strongly influence the number of people who give to charity and the amount they give5. This is because social expectations play a big role in people’s behavior. If people think that the social norm is to be generous, they’ll act more generously. Set a shining example and there’s a chance that some people will try to follow it.

We noticed a similar pattern at Earnin when we partnered with Second Harvest of Silicon Valley to hold a company food drive and fill barrels with donated food. Isaac Gayles, Earnin’s social media manager and the food drive’s organizer, said initially the results looked grim. “I made the announcement on a Wednesday. By Friday, I was the only one that put anything in the barrels,” Isaac said. After a reminder to the company and a few more donations, though, a landslide of food started pouring in. Isaac was taken aback, saying, “Fast forward to the following Wednesday, I hadn’t seen the barrels in a few days. I went up and both barrels were filled and food was starting to stack up against the wall.” Earnin wound up having to request an additional three barrels to keep up with employee donations.

As you navigate the hustle and bustle of the holidays, don’t discount the power of viral kindness. When you Pay It Forward with a simple act of generosity, you make more of a difference than you think.

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