How to Be Thankful for the Little Things

Tis the season to start being thankful for what you have whether it’s your health, wealth, family, friends, community, career, or anything that makes you happy. It’s also the start of the big holiday shopping season. Black Friday has turned into a weeklong event where there’s more time to get the biggest TVs, the newest electronics, and the fanciest clothing. This focus on consumerism and acquisition during a time of thanksgiving makes it easy for us to forget what this season is all about.

This holiday season, I’m particularly thankful for the little things that come from the most unexpected people. These tiny things that surprise and delight come from the generosity of others, especially from strangers. When an act of pure kindness comes from someone I don’t know, I am filled with gratitude for being alive and being present wherever I am.

On a recent trip to Hawaii with my six-year-old daughter, I was able to experience the help of strangers first-hand. Perhaps it was the fact that I was traveling by myself with my young daughter or that I was in the state that is known for their Aloha spirit, but for whatever reason, I started receiving small acts of kindness from strangers at practically every step of the way on our trip.


The little acts of kindness started on our flight from San Jose to Honolulu. When the drinks and meals were served, the middle-aged lady sitting next to us made every effort to help my daughter get comfortable. She helped bring the seat tray table down, helped open the packaging for the utensils for my daughter, and when my daughter’s apple juice spilled, she helped clean up the juice on my daughter’s pants, seat, and tray table. On a full flight loaded with families and screaming kids and crying babies, this lady put the comfort of my daughter before her own and continued to do so in small gestures throughout the flight.

We never spoke besides exchanging “thank you’s” and “your welcome’s,” but it intrigued me how this woman could be so nice to my daughter and I on a long flight early in the morning. As we exited the airplane, I noticed her vest with an embroidered badge of “Volunteer” on it and it all started making sense. I had been fortunate to sit by a Good Samaritan on my flight. For that, I was thankful.

During the trip, the little gestures kept coming, whether it was someone holding open a door or elevator for us, a person giving up their seat on the bus for my daughter, or the man who offered to help carry my daughter out of the arena at the end of the Janet Jackson concert. The concert was awesome and really loud, but my daughter had completely fallen asleep midway through the concert due to jet lag and a very long day. I politely declined the offer to help carry my daughter out, and the man replied, “I got a daughter too.”

I once heard a 103-year-old woman answer the question, “What’s the best advice you can give to others on how to live their lives?” She simply replied, “Be a little nicer to others.” All those years of experience and wisdom and she understood that life at the core is made of all the interactions and connections, big and small, that we have with others.

How can we be more thankful for the little things? 

Be a little nicer to others.

Small things like a smile, a shaka (in Hawaii), a hello, a thank you, or an offer to help go a long way in being nice and making a difference in someone’s day. As a result of being nicer, you experience the goodness of people. You pay attention, you’re present, and you feel more alive. Those little things add up to a lot, so there is much to be thankful for.

Be thankful for the little things, as those are the things that matter most.

How can you be more thankful this holiday season?

  • Help someone you know: Help a family member with an issue he/she is going through by listening to his/her story, help a friend take care of his/her kids for one evening, help your neighbor with an errand, help a colleague with a project.
  • Help a stranger: Walk an elderly woman across the street, buy lunch for a beggar that you always pass on your way to work, pay it forward at Starbucks by buying coffee for the person in back of you.
  • Donate your time, stuff, and money: Volunteer at a local food pantry to serve meals for the homeless, contribute to your child’s school gift drive, donate your old clothes and toys to Goodwill, give some money to a cause that you believe in.

Do you want to help someone in real need?

Please consider donating to The River of Life Mission in Honolulu, Hawaii. They tirelessly help the hungry and homeless people of Honolulu. I volunteered at the Mission a few times last year and learned some valuable life lessons there. They are as classy and genuine an organization that you could support with your holiday donations. 

Cliff Hsia is a writer, husband, and father, who is determined to live a better than normal life by traveling the world, slowly and purposefully, with his wife and two young daughters. His writing has been featured on MSN, TODAY, The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and other publications. He writes about travel, parenting, and lifestyle design.

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