Little Things You Can Do to Make the World a Lot Nicer

By Daphne Bishop

Do I hear you bemoaning the sorry state of the world again? Sure, you could go debton about war, poverty, injustice and more. There’s plenty to complain about. Or, you could resolve to do one nice thing for someone once a week.

That is exactly what Debbie Tenzer, founder of did. Since 2005, her example has moved people all over the world to positive action: from sending school supplies to students in Afghanistan, to putting peanut butter in the backpacks of hungry kids in Kentucky.

The inspiration for Do One Nice Thing came shortly after the 2004 elections, when Tenzer “got tired of all the yelling.” She had met some friends for lunch, and what began as a discussion of the issues of the day “led to my friends insulting one another because they disagreed.”

She felt “profoundly depressed,” by the incident, and wondered how one person could do anything when faced with the world’s overwhelming problems.

“I gave myself a proverbial kick in the pants and told myself ‘Lose the loser attitude! Yes, we have big problems, and no I don’t know how to solve them. But I know I can do something.’

She decided to do one nice thing for someone once a week. “Not every day,” she recalls with wry humor, “because frankly, I’m not that nice. But once a week was a promise I could keep.”  Friends soon urged her to start a website which now gets 1 million hits a month with followers in 91 countries.  

“I call our members Nice-oholics,” says Debbie, who lives in Los Angeles, “because when you start doing nice things, you get hooked.”

Early projects were simple and close to home like taking a cup of hot coffee to a crossing or security guard, or leaving a note and a snack for a letter carrier. Now, Debbie sends out emails twice a month to members (you can sign up for free at the website) asking for ideas. People also share stories about nice things they have done or been the recipients of.  

Since June of 2005, the project has sent 85 tons of school supplies to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to give to local children; thousands of DVD’s for children in hospitals; thousands of gifts for homeless and foster kids; tons of food to food pantries and shelters, and much more. The website has numerous suggestions for doing a kindness, some as immediate as picking up the telephone and calling someone who lives alone.

The way in which Do One Nice Thing has blossomed over the years has been a source of constant surprise, Debbie says. She was very surprised when people do-one-niceasked her to write a book, and in May of this year her book “Do One Nice Thing: Little Things You Can Do to Make the World a Lot Nicer” was published. The guide contains “over 100 easy, specific ways to help friends, kids, soldiers, animals, the planet – in town and across the globe.”

And in case you think getting involved here will eat up all of your free time, “there’s even a chapter of things you can do when you’re too busy to leave your desk,” says Debbie.

She was also surprised to learn that Do One Nice Thing Clubs “are sprouting all over.” People have formed clubs at work, in schools, in churches and there are even coaches doing projects with their athletes. To keep the momentum going, the website has free membership cards and stickers that can be printed out.

Doing nice things has also galvanized people in foreign countries, including those associated with the worst of human miseries such as Rwanda and Vietnam.  Or as Debbie says, “Word spread by word of mouth and word of mouse.”

The website has an international blog allowing people in different countries to post projects. For example, “a lady in South Korea posted that her impoverished but talented middle school skating team needed new skates, and a lady in New Zealand sent money for the skates! People in various countries sent musical instruments to children in the Philippines, and so on.”

Stories about Do One Nice Thing have appeared in national and international media including the BBC, NPR and Martha Stewart Living Radio. Debbie says she receives about 1,000 emails a week from people around the world, many telling her about nice things they have done, others asking how to get involved.

Her clever and engaging sense of humor is a further draw, and is evident on the website’s YouTube video, in which her confession to being a “Nice-o-holic” is followed by a somber voiceover urging other “Nice-o-holics” to get in touch with for help. Debbie credits her husband with being the ultimate humorist and “self-appointed Supervisor of Morale,” with a knack for tickling her funny bone every day of their thirty-two years of marriage. She also looks to her parents as personal heroes, and says she could easily “fill another website with all the ways they have quietly helped people.”

Debbie notes that the most common message she receives is “You’ll never know how much you helped me.” But, she makes it clear that “it’s not about me. It’s about the act of helping others. When we help others, it makes us hopeful.”

Relentless bad news leads to numbness and the kind of despair she says she felt before she shook up her attitude. Just as regular physical and mental exercise tones body and mind, “when we make kindness a habit, we pump up our compassion muscles and keep them strong.” This is something she calls “strength training for the soul.”

“I’m not a psychologist, but I can tell you this with 100% certainty. We need to believe that we can make life better. And we can make it better! Do One Nice Thing proves that no matter what’s going on in the world right now, you can make the world better just by doing a nice thing.”

She underscores this point when she refers to the abundance of thank-you notes she receives from recipients, “Surely, they were grateful to receive the gifts we sent. But mostly, they were moved – deeply moved – that someone, somewhere cared about them.”

Go ahead, make someone’s day!


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8 Responses to “Little Things You Can Do to Make the World a Lot Nicer”

  1. I love this. Really LOVE this.

    It always amazes me how the simplest ideas are the best solutions to what ails our world. And it isn’t as if the idea has to be a new one, it just has to be reinvented. Putting a new twist on an old idea is the most creative thing any human being can accomplish. Great reporting from Daphne Bishop and a great new take on kindness from Debbie Tenzer.

    I totally LOVE this. 🙂

  2. What Janey Lis said!

  3. Wonderful post and so inspiring. I try to be nice but I never thought about making it a promise to myself or that I would “schedule” niceness in my life by actually putting it on my to-do list. Starting now that is what I am going to do!

  4. cool site great post on how doing nice things can really change someone’s world. the optimist in me thinks that we can actually change the whole world one person at a time. but there are days i think nothing matters. i think we all feel those ups and downs but a message like this helps keep the hopeful side stronger. thanks.

  5. great sentiment and true as true can be. it’s the little things in life that make it worth living. i am going to be extra nice to someone on purpose today.

  6. I like this website. Pretty good info you have here

  7. The Back Forty Little Things You Can Do to Make the World a …Little Things You Can Do to Make the World a Lot Nicer. By Daphne Bishop. Do I hear you bemoaning […]

  8. Great!.! Bookmarked this web page that has this striking guidance. Will arrive again to see if there are any updates. You, the author, are a master. Many thanks

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