Pay It Forward – Meaning, Synonyms & Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Have you ever paid it forward to someone? Or has someone paid it forward to you? What does that even mean? It’s a phrase that doesn’t need a ton of breaking down, but I’ll explain everything you should know about it right here.

What Does Pay It Forward Mean?

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The “pay it forward” meaning is simply doing good deeds and not expecting anything in return; no motives, no scheming, no selfish reasons, etc. Instead, others are encouraged to pay it forward to someone else. The idea behind it is that a single act of kindness creates a ripple effect that spreads far beyond your initial good deed.

It’s based on the idea that even tiny acts of kindness can eventually have a massive impact on the world. By doing something kind for someone else, you can inspire them to do the same for others, creating a chain reaction of positivity and goodwill. How cool is that?

Where Did the Idea of Paying It Forward Come From?

The better-known idea of paying it forward can be traced back to a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde, titled “Pay It Forward,” published in 1999. It’s the story of a young boy who, after being assigned a social studies project, creates the idea of paying it forward.

But, if you go back far enough, you’ll find that it was coined in 1916 by a woman named Lily Hardy Hammond, who wrote a novel called In the Garden of Delight. One of the lines says, “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.”

Fast forward a few years to 1951, sci-fi author Robert Heinlein used the term in his book Between Planets.

How Do You Pay It Forward?

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There are countless ways you can pay it forward, from small acts of kindness to larger charitable donations. Here are some ideas I came up with to get you started:

  1. Buy tea or coffee for the person in line behind you. I almost always buy Timmies for the person behind me at Tim Hortons.
  2. Leave a generous tip for your server. I was brought up by a single mother who worked two serving jobs. I know first-hand how much a generous tip can mean.
  3. Donate clothes or household items to a local charity. Go to your closet, pick out anything you haven’t worn in over a year, and donate it because there’s a good chance you’ll never wear it.
  4. Volunteer at a food bank or shelter. Personally, I take my kiddos and volunteer at the SPCA a few times a year. We love animals, and while they can’t pay it forward, I’m teaching my children valuable lessons that might inspire them to pay things forward to other people when they’re older.
  5. Help a neighbor with yard work or house repairs. We’ve got an elderly woman next door, and my husband sometimes snow blows her driveway, and she brings us baked goods. I recently found out that she started knitting hats for the babies at the hospital, too, and I wonder if she would have done it if we didn’t initiate a good deed first.

By doing any of these acts, you can totally make someone else’s day and encourage them to pay it forward in their own way however they can.

Pay It Forward Synonyms

Using Pay It Forward in a Sentence

  • After a stranger paid for my coffee, I paid it forward and bought the drink for the person behind me.
  • My friend truly believes in the idea of paying it forward.
  • I once received a scholarship for college, and now I pay it forward by donating funds to other students.
  • When my neighbor was sick, I cooked her family dinner. And when they wanted to return the favor, I just asked them to pay it forward by doing a kind deed for someone else.
  • I adore the idea of paying it forward, so I try to do at least one random act of kindness every day, especially for my kids to see.
  • The pay it forward movement once inspired people but has since become a gimmicky grab to get more followers on social media.

Don’t Forget to Pay It Forward

It’s one of those popular concepts that basically means what it says. But now you should understand better what it means and how to use it. If you learned anything from this guide or any of our others, pay it forward by sharing it with your friends!