9 Things You Can Give Away That Aren't Smiles
A happy face is easy, cheap and effective when it comes to making other people feel a little brighter. But there are other methods. Columnist Leigh Newman weighs in.
Woman giving away jewelry
Give Away: The Clothes Off Your Back
This idea seems like a challenge, and it may very well be. But the next time a good friend admires your hand-knit pink pom-pom hat, pull it off of your head and hand it over. What may ensue is a reverse tug-of-war (your desire to give versus your friend's desire to keep you from giving too much). Regardless of who wins, however, you'll feel elated by your offer and so you will your friend: Not that many people in this life have a pal who will gladly surrender the hat off her head or the necklace off her neck. Gonzo generosity of this variety may feel a little over-the-top, but it embodies what generosity ought to be—spontaneous and demonstrated with the objects that we value enough to want (or wear) ourselves.
Wrapping gift
Give Away: Your Can-Do-ism
Many people may not know this, but I can fiddle competently with aging electronics. Give me your old, obsolete television and a few cables and I can figure out how to hook it up to the shiny new Blu-ray player or surround-sound system. Most of us have similar specialized skills, like bangs cutting, button sewing, child whispering, guitar playing, or present wrapping. What makes sharing these hidden talents so rewarding is that if you can do something, you probably enjoy doing it, even if it's for somebody else. Further, since that somebody else can't do the task in question, if you do it for them, they'll run around telling you what a genius you are—even if you only turned a few knobs and wrapped a piece of tinfoil around the thingamajig on the back of the speaker.
Couple in harmony
Give Away: Your Couples-Therapy Tidbits
Couples therapists know a lot! Of course, you can't take what you learned in a session with your spouse and use it to professionally fix a friend's marriage (No one—not even Yoda—knows what goes on in another person's relationship). You can, however, talk about something that you've learned in a general sense. For example, while at a dinner you could say: "You know what? Bill and I are trying this new thing. When we're angry, we try to treat each other like we'd treat the cashier at Dunkin' Donuts, because we tend to be so much more polite with strangers than with each other. It's making a real difference." Your friends probably aren't going to jump up at the table and say: "Wow! We're really way too rude to each other too! Maybe we should try that." But you might see a few silent nods or even hear a telltale "Hmm...really?"
Woman sharing her umbrella
Give Away: A Few Blocks of Dryness
At some point in your life, you've been both people: the one who forgot her umbrella at home and curses herself as she runs madly down the sidewalk in the rain, and the one with the umbrella. When you're the latter, asking the sodden woman beside you at the crosswalk, "Would you like to share?" can totally transform her day (and yours). Chatting is not required, nor is walking her all the way to her destination. Still, those few blocks where you're able to shelter her from the storm (literally) may just inspire the fickle god who causes umbrellas to break every other time to extend that ratio to one of out every 10 times.
Alleyway shortcut
Give Away: Your Secret Shortcut
You know that way you get home that involves skipping the highway (and the bottleneck traffic), circumventing the bridge (which is under construction) and using that weird little side street that most drivers mistake for a pedestrian walkway? Sharing this route not only makes people really like you, it cuts a half hour off their drive home, which also endears you to their spouses, kids, dogs and friends. As they all sit down to dinner—on time, for once!—they will think of you kindly. Better yet, they may just even name the route after you, rattling off directions in the car like "Let's take Marie's Weird Alley Shortcut!" which is a little like getting a real street named after you, minus the ceremony with the mayor.
Shell on the beach
Give Away: A Seashell from Last Summer
Giving people you like a seashell—especially one that's been pearlized by the waves and softened to a rainbow of grays—makes them remember how amazing these little slippers of calcium are, even the nonexotic ones that don't come from Thailand and are just lying around on the New Jersey beach you went to a for a week with your family. What it also does is remind them of all the other wondrous overlooked tokens of the natural world that so many of us rush by: the acorns, the dandelions, the small rocks with three different layers of colors. Which makes them stop, pick them up and pass them on to somebody else.
Woman reading on a plane
Give Away: A Book on a Plane
This gesture works for magazines too. But let's face it—books are more romantic. Here's how the routine goes: You buy the riveting book for the five-hour plane/bus/train ride. You tear through it, leave it in the back pocket of the seat in front of you as you leave. Not only have you delighted the next passenger who happens to feel her way through that pocket, hoping (dear lord) for anything to peruse other than the gift catalog and the airline magazine, you've also effectively reduced the length of her trip. Books, as we all know, have the power to shrink time in the leap of single page.
Adorable mutt
Give Away: Fawning Over an Ordinary Dog
Personally, I don't believe there is any such thing as an ordinary dog. Some dogs have long silky hair; some are young and wriggly and criminally cute. These get the oohs and aahs at the park. Even the squirrels like them. But what about the other canines? I'm talking about the dogs with the gray muzzle or the dull coat, the dogs with a little extra padding and no fancy papers. Stopping a Frisbee game to admire a dog such as this, to remark on its regal baring or its tender eyes, is an homage to—forgive me—underdogs everywhere. Further, it tends to infuse the owner with the same qualities. Watch as the two of them walk off—freshly recognized, with more regal bounce in their step, a little more tenderness in their regard for the world.
Child with a small cake
Give Away: The Conspiratorial Wink
There is so much injustice that kids have to endure! The next time your godson or niece or neighbor's child or your own offspring so clearly receives the smallest piece of cake or watches his older brother claim to win the game (when he cheated) or gets asked to rake the leaves while all the other kids are still playing kick the can, give him a big, obvious wink. The "big, obvious" part is necessary, because kids don't do subtlety. And the wink? It lets him know that you see the indignity that he's suffering, which both informs that he's not alone and encourages him to bear the trial with a little grace and positivity—the way that we grown-ups tend to also behave, once we see that we're seen—and understood.

Next: 10 insanely nice things you can say to anyone