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Sometimes it only takes a few seconds to make someone’s whole day. It really is the small acts of kindness that make the biggest impact on people, says Melissa Pinto, a licensed clinical social worker at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare in Wallingford. She says studies have shown a link between being generous and kind to others and our own personal happiness. But those same small acts can also be focused inward. “I always tell my patients,” Pinto says, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Positive affirmation: “Start your day off with speaking highly to yourself.” Pinto says to look into a mirror and speak something into existence, set an intention. You are kind. You are brave. Today’s going to be a great day. You’ll get through this. You’re strong.

Self-care: “That’s a buzzword we hear all the time,” Pinto says. “What does it mean? What can we do?” The obvious things are getting enough sleep, exercising and eating healthy. Less obvious is our emotional and spiritual well-being and, these days, staying connected with loved ones. FaceTime, Zoom and Skype are hardly replacements for being with the people you love, but seeing facial expressions helps forge an emotional connection.

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Kindness rocks: Small rocks painted with bright designs and random uplifting messages can be found in many places frequented by walkers, like the Kindness Rocks Project at Silver Sands State Park in Milford or the Kindness Rocks Garden in front of First Church and Klekolo World Coffee in Middletown. Make one and take one.

Red hearts for health care heroes: This type of homage became almost ubiquitous in the spring. Pinto says it served its purpose. “Even though it just said thank you — it was a very basic message — it was so profound to be driving to your job, being one of the essential workers, and saying, ‘Wow, people really are appreciative.’ Just that little visual message made a big impact.”

Gratitude: “Practicing gratitude can really help improve our mood.” Make a list of things for which you’re grateful. Pinto says that helps us see what we have in times of despair. “You know that old saying — every day might not be good, but there’s something good in every day.”

Smiling and laughter: “Smiling at a stranger, saying hello or good morning — that could go a long way and help someone more than you know,” Pinto says. Intentional laughter, even in times when you feel like nothing seems funny, releases endorphins. Your body can trick your mind.

Saying thank you: “Another big thing I love is saying thank you,” Pinto says. “We don’t think about how much of an impact that has on someone, sending a thank you note or a letter of appreciation to someone. We all love being appreciated.”

Help your neighbors: If you have a neighbor who is elderly or homebound, simple favors like going to the grocery store, taking a garbage can to the curb, raking leaves and shoveling snow can make someone feel cared for and respected.

Friendly driving: Letting other cars go in front of you when you’re driving is a winner every time. “I think when you’re kind to people on the road it’s an extra layer of nice,” Pinto says. “No one’s expecting it. Everyone’s in a rush — I have to get here, I have to get there. Letting someone go by; you get excited, you do that nice wave.”

More ways to give back:

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Still not sure which charity to give your hard-earned money? Ask givewell.org for suggestions.

Local organizations that need your donations.

Great ideas for helping older adults during the pandemic.

Want to boost your own happiness and well-being? You can by helping others.

This article appears in the December 2020 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.