Hopefully, we have all had that wonderful person in line pay for our coffee or McDonalds, when the cashier says, "Oh no, don't worry. The person in front of you got it for you." I have been lucky enough to experience that quite a few times in my life, but I just recently started embracing it.
If you know me, you know I have no problem spending money on myself and others, but my irrational guilt senses start to freak out and go into overdrive when someone offers to pay for my four-dollar cup of Starbucks, and I still couldn't tell you why.
But since coming to college, I strangely have begun to embrace it. It may be because myself, like everyone else, is trying to balance what little money they have and spending it on so many absolutely unnecessary things. For example, I remember I was in the dining hall a few months ago and I wanted to buy a cookie pizza (it was almost midnight, I was sleep deprived from studying the night before and it was the only thing my last two brain cells could agree on to eat for dinner).
But what I didn't know was that my meal swipes were used up for the day, and I stood frantically at the front of the line, swiping my card over and over again, just to have the machine angrily beep at me and everyone in line to roll their eyes.
I was about to walk away when the guy behind me walked up and swiped his card for me, saying "I got you." I almost stopped breathing, first from embarrassment, second from guilt, and third because the guy who paid for my cookie pizza was particularly attractive. I started fumbling with words like, "Thank you," and "You didn't have to do that." All this kid did was smile at me and say that he had a few extra meal swipes to use before the week was up and he was happy to get my pizza for me.
I think this may have been the first instance where I sighed with relief instead of my face becoming redder than an heirloom tomato. I told him, "You just made my night, thank you so much!"
It may have been the sleep deprivation, or it may have been the smile that stayed on his face while we both waited for our pizzas to come out of the oven, but I couldn't wipe the smile off my own. It had brought him happiness to pay for my food, and who was I to feel guilty or uncomfortable for something so kind and that made someone else feel just as good?
It was from there I found myself in a cycle of paying it forward and more people paying for me. I found that the more kindness I started accepting with nothing but gratitude, even more random acts of kindness found me. Just the other day, I went to my favorite acai bowl place and the cashier recognized me, gave me my regular order, and asked what other toppings I wanted ~on the house~. I was so pleasantly surprised, and it was the same situation with the cookie pizza: the cashier and I both smiled until I left the cafe, and I kept doing so even as I crossed the street back to my dorm.
Paying it forward isn't just something someone does for you to help you out, it is something that someone does out of the kindness of their own heart. Now, instead of cringing and feeling bad whenever my meal or coffee is paid for me, I just let the gratitude overcome me, and think about how it made the other person to buy it for me. They would not have offered if they didn't have the money, if they did not want to, or if they did not feel like it.
It is always a conscious choice that no one forces them into and is coming straight from their hearts (with the exceptions of being hit on, and then it is always OK to turn someone down). Next time someone pays it forward for you, I tell you to do the same — and then focus on the happiness it brings both to them and you for the rest of the day.