Think about the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for you. Not the best gift you’ve ever gotten or the most expensive, but the action that made you feel the most important, needed, respected or loved.
Many of us spend money on our loved ones to show how much we care; Americans spend more than $18 billion on Valentine’s Day alone, and that brings some people joy. But usually it’s simple, thoughtful, honest actions that make others feel good. An added bonus:
Science shows that giving gifts can make you feel better than receiving them, so generosity really is its own reward.
Try out one of these 5 unique ways to show someone you care — and don’t stop at romantic partners; Children, parents and friends can always use a small, unexpected boost of love.
1. Write it down
A handwritten note is a rare, personal thing these days. Leave notes in surprising places for your spouse, child or good friend, with one thing you love about them written on each. The back of a bathroom cabinet, in their lunchbox or briefcase, stuck to the bottom of a shoe — get creative with places you know they’ll find them.
And the messages can range from funny (“Thanks for always letting me watch _____ when I know you’d rather be watching _____.”) to sincere (“I couldn’t have gotten through this last year without you.”)
2. A picture is worth 1,000 words
Birthdays are great times to show a little social media love, but if you know a friend is going through a tough time, why not shower them with your best memories through a Facebook photo album or a short Instagram slideshow? A quick look at their profile page and yours should supply you with the photos (just right click and “save as” to download), and you can caption them with what you love most about them and those moments. If you don’t want to share it publicly, set it to private; the important part is sharing it with the person who matters to you.
3. Food for your thoughts
Make someone their favorite dish out of the blue, or whip up a recipe of yours you think they’d like. (That photo they commented on: “I’ve got to try this!” on Instagram? That one.) Your favorite chocolate chip cookies, tortilla soup, spaghetti and meatballs — whatever signature dish of yours that makes people feel good, share it spontaneously. Give it to them the next time you meet up, or make arrangements with their parents, co-workers or spouses to drop it off when they’re not home or at the office. A surprise meal that they can eat whenever they like tastes all the more delicious.
4. You’ve got mail
Think about the mail in your mailbox right now. In any month other than December, it’s probably nothing but bills and coupons and catalogs you never signed up for. That’s exactly why getting something thoughtful in the mail is so unexpected and fun. Print a photo, buy or make a funny card, or send something small and silly — you can find a page-a-day calendar for anything from puppies to jokes to historical quotes, and because the person will use it each day, it will be a constant reminder of how much you care.
5. Coupon code
We all put together a coupon book for a gift when we were little, but the concept is pretty great for adulthood, too.
- Give your child a coupon for one free hour of outdoor activity with you, to be used whenever they want, knowing it might be an inconvenient time for you when they cash it in (that’s the gift!).
- Give your brother a coupon for babysitting so he and his wife can go out one night.
- Give your husband or wife a coupon for one free movie of her choice that you’ll see without any grumbling.
The possibilities are endless, and all can spark a cycle of gratitude and kindness.