Do One Nice Thing: Little Things You Can Do to Make the World a Lot Nicer

Do One Nice Thing: Little Things You Can Do to Make the World a Lot Nicer

by Debbie Tenzer

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A few years ago, Debbie Tenzer was feeling overwhelmed by all the crises in the news. But rather than give in to despair, she thought, Maybe I can’t solve our big problems, but I know I can do something. She realized that helping doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive or time-consuming. You can help simply by doing one nice thing. So that’s what she vowed to do, one day a week. Not every day–she says she’s not that nice–but once a week was a promise she could keep.

So she started a website,, and each week she posted an easy way to help people around town or across the globe. Good news traveled fast, and now Debbie is the leader of a worldwide kindness movement with fellow Nice-o-holics in ninety countries. They’ve sent . . .

• cans of food to food banks and schools
• notebooks to soldiers who will give them to Afghan children
• gifts to foster children whose birthdays are overlooked
• and much more

Do One Nice Thing has many new, easy ideas for small deeds that anyone can do (and includes explicit information on how exactly to execute the ideas, so you don’t have to go digging for information or resources). There’s even a chapter of nice things you can do in minutes without leaving your desk.

Join Debbie and her army of Nice-o-holics, and give the world some help–and some hope. Best of all, the more help you give, the more hopeful you’ll feel. And before you know it, you won’t be able to stop.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307454218
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 05/05/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

DEBBIE TENZER lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children, and she answers 1,000 e-mails a week from Nice-o-holics around the world. She is donating a portion of this book’s proceeds to charity.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Do One Nice Thing with Friends and Family

It’s been said that friends are the people who know all about us and like us anyway. True! But they are so much more. They get our jokes, they’ve got our backs, and they know what we’re thinking even when we don’t say a word.

Sometimes all we need from them is a hug, a squirt of laughter, or a reality check. At other times, industrial-strength caring is required— like long phone calls into the night and special deliveries from the Casserole Brigade. And even if we don’t hear from them for months or even years, when we need our friends, they come.

So, what do you give those who give so much to you?

This chapter is full of nice things to do with and for your friends— from surprising them with a treat on their desk or doorstep to creating a group charity project or a priceless gift from the heart.

Contrary to what some think, friends are not “a dime a dozen.” They are the family we choose—precious and irreplaceable. And if we’re really blessed, our family members are also our friends, so this chapter is for them too.

What’s Cooking?

Cook a meal for a friend who recently moved into a new home, is recuperating from an illness, or just needs some love.

Mmmmm. Nothing says love like chicken soup. Its steamy golden goodness always makes us feel better. So when one of my friends needs some TLC after a family-rocking event, I head straight for the kitchen, pull out my big soup pot, and get busy.

Here is my favorite chicken soup recipe, given to me by my dear friend Ziva, which I now give to you. It is so easy that even I can’t spoil it. I’m not sure that it will cure what ails you, but it will definitely warm some hearts.

Ziva’s Chicken Soup

You will need these ingredients:

6 chicken legs or thighs

2 peeled onions, whole

1 peeled parsnip, whole

6 celery stalks, chopped into 1-inch pieces

6 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, whole

1 bunch of fresh dill, whole

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 chicken bouillon cube

Toss everything into a big pot. (I told you it was easy.) Cover with 10 quarts of cold water and heat. Bring to a boil; then simmer for an hour. Discard the onions, parsnip, parsley, and dill. Strain the carrots, celery, and chicken; store in a covered container in the refrigerator. Cool the broth and store it, covered, overnight in the refrigerator. Skim off the fat. When cool, cut up the chicken. Then return the carrots, celery, and cut-up chicken to the broth in a big pot. You may also add other vegetables, noodles, rice, or dumplings. Heat thoroughly and adjust the seasoning.

“We had just moved into our new house when I came down with the flu. My two toddlers had it too. When my husband arrived home from work he was greeted by our next-door neighbor, a widow in her seventies. He mentioned that we were sick. An hour later she knocked at the door carrying a pot of homemade potato soup, just like my mom used to make. What a healing effect that had—on the tummy and on the soul!”—Sharon

Hooked on Running

Run or walk with your friends in a charity marathon. Or if you’d prefer to exercise your administrative muscles, how about assisting the staff?

Sharlene Wills is a devout distance runner. She trains regularly, competes in marathons, and enjoys training off the beaten path in the hills. She also happens to be blind.

She said, “I couldn’t pursue this wonderful sport without the unselfish and voluntary help of many very nice people.” She often runs with a runners’ organization called LA Leggers. Some of the Leggers members volunteer to be tethered to her in order to guide her during her runs.

Sharlene explained, “One of the volunteers, Maneesha Bhate, is a pretty fast runner, having finished the LA Marathon in about four hours. She’s very unselfish, though, and often paces or runs with slower folks like me, even when they don’t have to be guided.”

“Technically, I participated in the AIDS Run, but I’m not sure if what I did qualifies as running; maybe it was the AIDS Waddle. It may be a cliché to say it was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but also one of the most satisfying, but it’s true. I developed a family unit with the group of strangers from a variety of backgrounds that I trained with. We all supported each other over a five-month training period and then we ran the marathon together. When I was dragging, someone was there to encourage me to complete it. And the great thing was we did it to raise money for a wonderful cause.”—Mike

The Potluck Club

Get together with your friends for a potluck meal and moral support— then select a charitable cause to support together.

“My friends and I get together periodically at my house to make greeting cards for the troops. It’s a lot of fun and we have a great time ‘solving all the world’s problems.’ Instead of bringing me hostess gifts (who needs more stuff?), I suggested we start a donation piggy bank. Whenever we get together, Matilda the Pig gets fed with whatever anybody wants to give.

“Last Christmas was Matilda’s first full year of ‘feedings,’ and with the proceeds I was able to buy holiday gifts for a needy family and send five care packages to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”—Gisela


For your next birthday or anniversary, ask your friends to bring you a gift that you can donate to a local school or shelter, such as art supplies or canned goods.

“For my thirtieth birthday last fall, I had a huge party with all of my friends and relatives. But I didn’t really need anything, and I didn’t want more unusable items to clutter up my home. So instead, I asked all of my party guests to bring one item of nonperishable food, which would be donated to my local food bank. The response was overwhelming! The party was held in the basement of my church, so we just had to take the contributions upstairs to where we always collect food for the food bank. It took four trips to carry it all.”—Laura

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

What should you buy for a friend who has everything? Nothing! Send a card and mail a donation to charity.

You can also give when you shop on eBay. EBay Giving Works offers thousands of auctions that donate to charities. When you shop, look for the charity ribbons or search for charities. If you’re a seller, list items to benefit a cause that you care about ( ).

“I do online banking and pay my bills with automatic billing. So I designated our local food pantry to receive $5.00 per week. It’s money they need, and I won’t miss it because it’s already in my budget.”—Susan


Invite friends over to play a game and chat instead of going out.

My girlfriends and I get together every so often to eat lunch at one of our homes and play mah-jongg, also known as mahj. I confess: I am a terrible player. How bad am I? My friends need to refresh my memory about the rules every time we play. They also guide me throughout the game and grant me “takeovers” when I make a really bad mistake. This is mercy mahj.

But it doesn’t matter because I don’t come for the game—I come for the company. I love seeing Judi, Gail, and Joanne. We don’t have the chance to hang out together as much as we used to, so we make the most of our mahj games. While we munch on our lunch, we share work and family news, skewer politicians, and swap tips on everything from acupuncture to jury duty. And sometimes I even get lucky and win a round of mahj.

“The other night, instead of going to a movie and spending the money on tickets, an activity where no conversation happens, we used the money to buy a board game. We had a great time playing and invited friends over to play. The next time we’re tempted to see a movie, we have a couple of new games to play with our friends. When we get tired of the games, we’ll give them to a charity so kids can use them.”— Melanie

Highly Recommended

Write a “letter of recommendation” for one of your friends, or add it to a birthday card. Mention all of her or his best qualities and why she/he is precious to you. I guarantee you are going to make someone happy.

A friend of mine always dreamed of finishing college but he was unable to pursue his studies because he needed to work. After many years, he was finally able to return to school.

I was flattered when he asked me to write a recommendation for him, and when he read it, he was very touched. His reaction made me realize that he didn’t know how much I appreciated him. How often do we take the time to tell our friends these things?

Too Big to Wrap

Give your loved ones a one-of-a-kind gift: time with you.

Give the people you love hand-made coupons offering to:

9 make them breakfast in bed

9 keep them company on a trip to the doctor, DMV, or mall

9 help them clean out their closets or garage

9 work with them in their garden

9 take them out for a movie, concert, dinner, or hike.

My children used to make coupons for each other as birthday gifts. When they were small the coupons said: “I will read you a story” . . . “I will play a game with you” . . . “I will bring you cookies.” And when they were older: “I will make your breakfast” . . . “I will clean your room” . . . “I will give you piggyback rides all day.”

These gifts cost nothing, but their value Priceless.

“My husband brings me breakfast in bed on Sunday mornings.”—Cynthia

Card Shower

Shower someone with love and good wishes: Organize a “thinking of you” or birthday card shower. Ask all of his or her friends and family members to participate by sending cards on a specific day. What a sweet surprise!

“We have a friend who was paralyzed in a car accident last summer. As his birthday approached in February, we sent out self-addressed stamped cards to all of our friends and family asking them to help us overload his mailbox on his birthday. He received over one hundred cards and made some new friends.”—Mary

Pass It On

Remember that especially comforting, inspiring, or touching thing someone said to you? Say it to someone else. Who knows? You might start a positive chain reaction.

Here are some things people have said to me. Now consider them yours.

“Just hearing your voice makes me happy.”

“You have no idea how much you helped me.”

“You inspire me.”

“What you did took courage.”

“I feel so good whenever I see you.”

Use this space to write down heartfelt things that people have said or written to you.

Secret Admirer

Put a flower on a co-worker’s desk or friend’s doorstep.

“Yesterday it was cold and gloomy. I bought a bunch of daffodils for each of my staff to brighten the day. Whenever you look at daffodils, it just makes you smile.”—La Donna

“I have had a great time with my office; I’ve discovered a website where you can order flowers and have them delivered from the closest florist. So far, I’ve sent them to most of the office, with no one the wiser about who’s sending them. It’s worked quite well, and brought a lot of joy and mystery to the office.”—Joi

Give ’Em Some Sugar

Secretly place candies on the desks of the people you work with or on the pillows of the people you love.

For a week I carried a bag of chocolate Hershey’s Kisses in my purse and handed them out as I went about my business:

9 I left one shiny foil-wrapped kiss on the sign-in sheet at my doctor’s office.

9 I pressed a couple more into the hand of the young woman who bagged my groceries.

9 When I made a deposit at my bank, I slipped one to the teller.

Everyone was delighted! I’m not sure what made people happier— chocolate itself or the surprise of receiving some.

This nice habit was making me a little too happy, however. Every time I gave away a candy, I gave one to myself too. So now I keep just a few in my purse, and I give all of them away. (Well, most of them.)

“Since my son was about fifteen, on Valentine’s Day he has gotten up early and anonymously delivered a flower and a small box of chocolates to the doorstep of the girls he knows who don’t have boyfriends. I’m sure the girls have a much better day for having someone think of them on such a romantic day.”—Dawn

Ba-da BING!

Make someone laugh. Jokes are available on, and many other websites, or visit for great videos of laughing babies.

We should laugh more. There’s nothing like a great big chuckle, chortle, or guffaw to energize us and lighten our day. Some researchers believe that when we laugh, feel-good hormones are released in our bodies, reducing stress and spreading protective antibodies inside of us. So not only does laughing make us feel happy but it literally makes us feel better.

When I was writing this chapter, I suddenly found myself needing an infusion of laughter. I accidentally injured my shoulder and it was painfully not funny. I quickly grew tired of people asking me, “How did you do it?” and was equally tired of explaining.

Then I had an idea. I asked Do One Nice Thing members to guess how I did it and make me laugh. Boy, did they deliver. Here are some of their ideas of how I might have injured my shoulder, and my thoughts:

9 arm wrestling for the last piece of chocolate cake (Yes, that could be me.)

9 herding caribou (Not in this lifetime.)

9 boxing (What? And hurt my face?)

9 painting a fresco on my office ceiling (Those stick figures look really good up there.)

9 whipping my hat through the air while bull riding (I admit to having a cowgirl fantasy, but that’s not it.)

9 twisting into a pretzel to impress a handsome yoga teacher (Nobody is that handsome.)

9 swinging on the trapeze at the circus (Do I get to wear a tutu?)

9 crashing onto the ice when my partner dropped me during our ice dancing routine (He’s toast.)

9 and finally . . . bending over backward to help people. (Yay!)

So how did I really injure my shoulder? All I can say is, I’ll never pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers again.

Of course, there’s always that trapeze job. . . .

Scrappy Together

Invite your friends over to make a scrapbook for a special friend or beloved teacher. Each person can create a page or contribute a photo or story. Then put them all together for a gift that will be treasured.

“Mrs. K. is a legend at our school. She has taught kindergarten there for twenty-five years, and getting into her class makes you feel special. She is an incredible person—patient, fair, and so loving with each and every child. My oldest son blossomed in her class.

“I knew early on that my son’s kindergarten year was going to be one that he would never forget, and I wanted both him and his teacher to remember it in a visual way. From the beginning of the year, I knew I wanted to make a scrapbook for her.

“In the book, I included photos of all the field trips, vivid art projects, candid snapshots, special events, and a photo portrait of every student. I had also collected two quotes from each child. One quote was, ‘I love Mrs. K because . . .’ The other was, ‘What I love most about kindergarten is . . .’ On the last page was a grateful letter from my son and a drawing that he had made especially for the book. I also included a letter from me, thanking her for being so wonderful.

“One morning during the last week of school, my son and I went into her class extra early and presented the gift to her. She was overwhelmed. She said in all her years of teaching, no one had ever given her such a beautiful gift. She showed it to the principal, every teacher, and all her friends. To this day whenever I see her with a friend outside of school, she introduces me as ‘the one who made the scrapbook for me.’ ”—Susan

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