My "Be the Change" Challenge

Have you ever noticed how nice people are around the holidays? They go out of their way to hold doors and say "please" and "thank you." But now the holidays are well over, it seems that all that lovely peace-on-earth sentiment has been replaced with plain old grumpiness.

Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and I’ve been thinking that maybe I should give that a shot. Plus, my one and only New Year’s resolution was to be happier, and according a recent study, helping others may buffer the negative effects of stress and lengthen our lives.

Hmm. Feel happier, reduce stress levels, and live longer—sign me up! I test-drove a few ways I can “be the change,” with little to no change in my routine or bank account. Give one or two of these easy ideas a try and see if making someone else’s day makes a difference in your own life.

1. Find the tipping point. For most servers, tips account for the bulk of their income. I normally tip 20 percent and feel that’s pretty generous. However, if the cost of the meal is really low or all I’ve had is a cup of coffee, then my 20-percent tip doesn’t amount to much. The other day I put my math skills aside and left a tip based on the service, not on the bill. The extra five dollars wasn’t a big deal to me, but I could tell from the server’s smile that it was to her. Money well spent.

RELATED: If your money is tight, don't think you can only eat junk. Here's how to buy healthy food without breaking the bank.

2. Flatter—it will get you everywhere. Boost someone else’s confidence and your own happiness at the same time by paying someone a compliment. It costs you nothing and may be exactly what the recipient needs to brighten his or her day. A simple “Nice shirt,” can take shift someone’s mood from blah to brilliant.

3. Share a cup of cheer. I was in line at Starbucks last week when the woman in front of me realized she had no cash. Before she could swipe her credit card, I told the barista to put her balance on my tab. They both looked at me as if I’d offered up a kidney. I felt like a million bucks all for the price of a cup of coffee.

4. Show some good will to the Goodwill. Take half an hour and go through your closet, pulling out clothes you haven’t worn in six months or more. I did and came up with two Hefty bags full of items to donate. Someone got some very nice, gently worn outfits, and I got some serious “be the change” happiness and an organized closet. How’s that for a winning combination?

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