It's the little deeds that bring big rewards | Hannah Jane Parkinson

Good turns take very little, but I truly believe the whole world would collapse without these acts of kindness

A little while ago, I was sitting in a cafe, reading, when an elderly lady approached me. “Excuse me,” she asked. “Would you be able to help me with my shopping?”

I beamed. Of course I would be able to help her with her shopping! Let’s get this shopping-helping show on the road, I wanted to shout. For I am an excellent person and enthusiastic assistant to those in need. Unfortunately, it turned out she didn’t mean shopping as a metonym for shopping bags, but shopping as in the verb. She had not yet been to the shop. This was not me lifting two Lidl bags and carrying them to the bus stop, as I had envisioned; this was me going to Lidl.

Forty-five minutes later, this wily elder of mine – who had also swindled me out of £3 by this point and made a fair few comments I would describe as racist – let me know that she lived on the top floor of a block of flats but, not to worry, because the block was only a mile or so away. Despite all this – “this” being the entire afternoon – I still feel contented that I helped this lady out, even if I have avoided her since.

Good deeds are considered selfless, but they are often not. This is because a fair number of good deeds take minimal effort; the effort is outweighed by the feeling of self-satisfaction. If anything, it is pure human profit, and as such perhaps not altruistic at all. (There are, of course, the times when we go above and beyond, when we inconvenience ourselves for others. I can summon up many occasions when friends, all over the world and in all seasons, have gone above and beyond for me.)

But mostly it’s something that, for you, takes very little, but can make all the difference to another. The teenage girl frantic in a strange city who asks for directions, or to borrow your phone. Lifting someone’s suitcases down station stairs or grabbing one end of a frazzled mother’s pram, its inhabitant blotchy-faced and screaming. Tapping a rushed businessman on the shoulder to return his wallet.

I truly believe the whole world would collapse without these interactions, or to use the American argot: the act of paying it forward. In fact, one doesn’t need to be the do-gooder or the recipient to be warmed by an act of kindness. Even reading about them can be a joy. Do a good deed today, then – even if it’s just holding a door open. And I will do one for someone in turn. As long as it’s not their entire weekly shop. Never again.

Contributor

Hannah Jane Parkinson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
I don't need to climb Everest. Even a modest summit brings big rewards | Hannah Jane Parkinson
Nothing but sky above and unbroken views all around – there is something so glorious about getting to the natural end of a climb

Hannah Jane Parkinson

16, Oct, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
This column will bring you inspiration to get through the day
JB Priestley celebrated the everyday in 1949. I, too, will bring flowers in a tangle of weeds

Hannah Jane Parkinson

27, Oct, 2018 @8:00 AM

Article image
On a bad day, private jokes between friends are little gifts of mirth | Hannah Jane Parkinson
One of the strongest bonds people can have is a shared sense of humour

Hannah Jane Parkinson

01, Nov, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Babies bore me, on the whole, but when they laugh, it's a revelation | Hannah Jane Parkinson
When my niece smiles, it is a burst of joy in me profound as a flavour

Hannah Jane Parkinson

06, Sep, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
It's great when a friend asks you to sleep over. Especially if they have a nicer house | Hannah Jane Parkinson
The feeling of being invited into someone else’s nest is a privileged kind of contentment

Hannah Jane Parkinson

28, Jun, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Just as you resign yourself to a permanent cold, something magical happens
Being sick is the pits, transforming us into pathetic avatars of our usual selves. Which makes recovery one of life’s great pleasures

Hannah Jane Parkinson

27, Jan, 2019 @9:00 AM

Article image
True pleasure is a play without an interval
Give me, uninterrupted, a new world for the evening, a performance that changes my mood and my mind

Hannah Jane Parkinson

17, Nov, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
Stretching out in front of an open fire is such delight | Hannah Jane Parkinson
Like most writers, I have zero practical skills. Except for one: I can lay and light a fire

Hannah Jane Parkinson

22, Dec, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
There's nothing like the full-body slam-dunk of cold-water swimming | Hannah Jane Parkinson
It’s the sensation of a sedentary life cracking wide open

Hannah Jane Parkinson

19, Jan, 2019 @9:00 AM

Article image
Why I love the smell of wood | Hannah Jane Parkinson
My grandfather’s shed was filled with its glorious, deep, fresh-cut scent

Hannah Jane Parkinson

03, Mar, 2019 @9:00 AM