This 28th of April is Pay it Forward day – the perfect chance for everyone to get out there and spread some good vibes. But does it actually do any good, and are you a bad person if you break the chain of positivity?
There are definitely ways to make the world a better place by Paying it Forward, whether it’s as simple as giving someone a compliment or as involved as volunteering time at a local charity. But some methods of altruism are apparently not so effective.
This blog for one, argues that the Pay it Forward model where a bunch of strangers altruistically pay for someone else’s coffee is deeply flawed. They’ve even had a real economist weigh in.
And they’re not wrong.
We’ve all heard of the pay it forward drive-through chain – you roll up to the Maccas drive through, dying for a hashbrown and the strongest coffee they can legally sell you, the teenaged worker leans out of their little window, smiles a touch too brightly for that time of morning, and says, “The customer before you has paid for your order. Would you like to return the favour and Pay it Forward?”
Science says your thought process at this point goes something along the lines of:
First, there’s warm, glowy gratitude. What an act of selfless kindness. You hope whoever did this is having an awesome day.
Then the guilt settles in. How can you accept such a gift and not give anything in return?
Guilt quickly morphs into shame. The drive through worker is going to judge you if you refuse. The people in line behind you will somehow know what’s going on. If you refuse, you’re going to be the cheapskate who broke the chain of goodwill.
All this happens in the blink of an eye – as quick as you can say “Yeah, alright,” and fork over the cash you were planning to spend anyway.
Hang on a minute – you’re no better or worse off than you would have been anyway! You still spent the same amount of money on your caffeine hit and fried potato. In fact, you probably paid more in the name of altruism than you would have otherwise.
The payoff comes in the form of knowing you did something nice for a stranger – but if you think about it, only the first person in line has really given anything, and only the person who breaks the chain really benefits. So, no, breaking the chain doesn’t make you a bad person – it makes the whole thing worthwhile.
The moral of the story is not that Paying it Forward doesn’t work. Even though the drive-through chain isn’t quite perfect, everyone involved still gets a little happy kick that day.
But it does suggest that there may be better ways to spread kindness to people who need it.
We’ve got a few simple ideas that don’t involve breaking the bank or becoming the next Mother Theresa but will let you make a proper difference on Pay It Forward day.
- Teach someone something. Are you a coding whiz, a world-class knitter, or a pretty mean yodeller? Pass those skills onto someone who needs them and tell them to pass their own knowledge forward to someone else.
- Switch to an ethical banking product. Get a bonus at work or a cash birthday present? Pay it Forward by making sure that money goes to a bank that does good in the world. Our picks are the Community First Credit Union McGrath Pink Visa or the Bendigo Bank RSPCA Rescue credit card.
- Share your umbrella with a stranger. We’re coming into winter now and the weather is getting worse. If you see someone getting drenched, share your brolly. They’ll probably be grateful and might even repeat your act of kindness in the future.
- Become a peer-to-peer lender. If you’ve got a bit of cash to spare, this is a practical way to make people’s dreams come true. Check out Kiva, which will let you loan out just $25 to change someone’s life.
- Donate blood. For every blood donation you make, you can save three lives. Triple your altruistic output and get a free biscuit all at once.
- Switch to green energy. Pay it Forward on a global scale. Check out our energy comparison and find an affordable green energy plan as a way to give back to the environment.
- Break the chain. If you do find yourself in a Pay it Forward drive-through situation, take the free coffee! Then take the $5 or so you would have spent and maybe make a donation to your favourite charity, or Pay it Forward to someone who you know needs it more.
How will you be Paying it Forward this April 28th? Let us know in the comments below.