Christmas cheer is better paid forward

I remember a bitterly cold morning whilst working in a coffee shop; a woman reached to me with her mint $20 bill, “Will you put this money in a cup and pay for the car’s drinks behind me?”
There would be no way for the next party to credit her with the deed, but she drove off with a chipper disposition anyway.
I told the next car what she had done and they also wanted to pay it forward by putting the exact amount that their drink was worth into the cup to buy the next person’s drink. This went on for two hours, each car paying for the one behind them until I finally turned to my co-worker and asked, “What is the point of this? They are essentially paying for their own drinks, but crediting it to pay the car behind them. It’s the same $20 bill in the cup.”
Still, it was undeniable that every car was driving away with the same smile.
Coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book, “In the Garden of Delight,” paying it forward is an expression describing the altruistic act of forwarding a good deed to another party, stranger or not. The concept seems contrived in the context of a coffee line, but in action it takes on the persona of a caring community.
With the Christmas season in tow, it is a good time to ask: What does giving to strangers do for our emotional well-being? It seems that even though the coffee line might as well have been paying for their own drinks, the emotional stimuli of giving to another has the power to lift spirits and fight lethargy. Customers tended to be chattier then they had in past business transactions and spirits seemed high.
If you ever get in one of these famously reported Starbuck’s lines and you hear that the person in front of you has paid for your caramel macchiato, accept it, and pay for the next person’s drink. You may just experience something that monetary power can’t buy: a little bit of cheer.

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