How to Change a Life: 19 Ways to Pay It Forward Without Spending a Dime

Written by Angela Atkinson

“If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view – as well as your own.” – Henry Ford

sidney friedman quote on achievement and givingI don’t know about you, but I am all about paying it forward. Maybe it’s the warm glow that comes from giving, but it FEELS good to help someone else, especially when you can make a difference in their lives.

Related – Take Back Your Power: How to End People Pleasing, Stop Letting Life Happen to You and Start Getting What You Want

But then sometimes, you hold back because you have had negative experiences in the past. And maybe you worry that others will walk all over you or you’ll wind up feeling overwhelmed. It turns out that ancient Buddhist teachings and modern psychology agree on the solution for that.

Ancient Buddhist Teachings and Modern Psychology: How It All Fits Together

I’m one of those people who does way too much research (and who thinks WAY too much!).

But in this case, it’s working out well for all of us.

See, Buddhism outlines three basic models of giving.

  1. A shepherd devotes himself to his flock and forgets about himself.
  2. A boat captain carries everyone to their destination together.
  3. A king gathers his wealth and power before taking care of his subjects.

If you guessed that the king has the only sustainable model here, you’re right. You need to take care of your own welfare to be able to serve others.

Try these tips for practicing generosity without burning out or becoming a doormat.

How to Give to Others Generously (Without Feeling Like a Doormat)

  1. Take care of yourself. Any successful caregiver knows they have to attend to their own needs as well as those they are trying to help. If you sacrifice your own strength, you’ll have little joy and few resources to share with others.
  2. Screen carefully. Some dinner guests will invite you over to their house for the next meal, and some will ask you to pack up the leftovers so they can take them home with them. Give to those who appreciate your generosity, and ask for what you need in return.
  3. Establish priorities. You may receive more worthy requests than you can handle. Decide what’s most important to you, whether it’s your immediate family or global poverty.
  4. Ask for help. Giving is a two-way street. We empower each other by taking turns and providing support.
  5. Create value. How do you negotiate when you and the other party want the same thing? Creative thinking can reveal new options that satisfy both of you. Split the last piece of pie and serve it with cheese for two full desserts.
  6. Make your own choices. Giving is rewarding when it’s voluntary and meaningful. Decide how you want to give rather than giving into pressure or guilt.

Seven Secrets to Giving Without Burnout

  1. Focus on impact. It’s easier to stay motivated when you can see that your giving is making a difference. Participate in activities that provide quick and measurable results.
  2. Enjoy rewards. On the other hand, many worthwhile endeavors take time to bear fruit. You may need other strategies to encourage you to hang in there. If it’s going to take all spring to clean up the local park, listen to your favorite music while you work.
  3. Budget your time. Give more in less time by organizing your schedule efficiently. Designate quiet blocks of time when you can concentrate on your own work, while setting aside other hours for volunteering in your community or assisting your colleagues.
  4. Encourage a giving culture. Encouraging others to give lightens your load, and gives your friends a chance to experience more happiness. Let others know about your good deeds so they can join you.
  5. Leverage your strengths. Draw on your unique talents and abilities. Others will welcome your valuable contributions and you’ll enjoy the process more. If you have trouble carrying a tune, let someone else sing Christmas carols at the senior center. You can wow them with your homemade desserts.
  6. Start small. Giving takes practice. Pick a few areas where you’re comfortable sharing your time, expertise, and resources. You’ll gradually find your own style, and generosity will become a habit.
  7. It’s better to give than receive as long as your generosity is tempered by wisdom. Skillful giving invigorates you rather than draining your energy. The more riches you give away, the wealthier you’ll become.

6 More Super-Simple Ways You Can Change Someone’s Life

  1. Smile at a stranger. Offering as little as some eye contact and a grin can mean the world to the right person at the right time. Make it a practice. It’s a super-simple way you can put a little love out into the world.
  2. Say hello. Almost as easy as a smile, a simple nod of recognition and a hello can make a person realize she’s not invisible, after all.
  3. Offer a sincere compliment about something small. Telling a woman she’s attractive (especially when you’re a fellow female), complimenting an outfit or a pair of shoes or even just noticing a new haircut can make someone’s day.
  4. Listen. I mean, truly listen to someone talk about their day or their problems. And offer constructive but kind feedback. Sometimes just talking about something can put it in perspective. Even if it seems small to you, a change in perspective can quite literally change your life.
  5. Show sincere interest in a person and what she has to say. I’m not talking about romantic or sexual interest here. I’m talking about the person as an individual. You would not believe how many people in the world feel like no one is interested in what they are all about – and this can be devastating to the psyche.
  6. Try a simple, random act of kindness for a total stranger. Let someone with less stuff in front of you in the grocery line. Wave someone into traffic. In the drive thru line, pay for the car behind you. Hold the door for someone, or help carry a heavy load.

The smallest and simplest things to you could be the most life-changing to someone else. When you’re out in the world, be sure that the vibe you’re putting out there is harmonious with what you really want – because that is exactly what you’re going to get.

Has someone ever changed your life without realizing it? Share your thoughts in the comments section, below, or hit me up on Facebook. Let’s discuss. 


  • Angela Atkinson

    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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