Kindness is a seemingly obvious general life rule to follow, but you might be surprised at how far a little kindness can go when it comes to upgrading your lifestyle. In my experience, simply being kind is the most efficient (faster, cheaper, better, and easier) way to receive upgrades from those who work in hospitality or service roles.
First of all, it feels good to be kind to others when you don’t have to. I consider kindness in the same way I consider a gift, in that I expect nothing in return.
Second, being kind requires you to have a baseline assumption that everyone’s trying the hardest they can with the resources they have available.
People appreciate kindness, especially in situations where kindness is a rare commodity. Here are a few examples in my life of how showing a little compassion and just being nice led to unexpected lifestyle upgrades.
Overbooked at Thanksgiving
During my sophomore or junior year at Penn, I was flying home to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving — one of the craziest U.S. travel periods of the year. I noticed that my ticket had an unassigned seat, which means you need to approach the gate and get a seat assignment. Sometimes it’s because the flight is overbooked (which it was in this case — the airline was counting on no-shows and voluntary trip adjustments).
The gate area was really tense. People were arguing with the employees behind the desk. Making threats (“YOU’D better fix this”). Raising their voices to embarrassingly high levels. The gate agents were visibly uncomfortable, basically getting reamed each time someone new came up to the desk... and it was a long line.
When it was my turn, I made eye contact, smiled, and presented my ticket. I didn’t do anything special, other than say “please,” “thank you,” and “no problem, I understand” when the others were yelling or making demands. My voice matched my calm demeanor.
I could tell from the aggressive typing that my situation was dire, and that there was a good chance I’d get bumped from the flight. I kept calm, breathed deeply, and stayed positive.
The gate agent pointed to the seat closest to her, and said, “Have a seat here. I don’t have a seat for you right now, but I’m going to get you on this flight.” I thanked her and followed her directions.
Just before boarding, she called me back up and gave me a ticket. The seat read 1A. Business class. For a cross-country flight. As a broke college kid.
She said, “Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your flight home.”
I know some travelers didn’t make it onto their flight that day, but for me, that day, kindness meant a comfortable flight home (with free booze!).
Busy Airport Spa
In June 2018, I was traveling home from a multi-day conference. During this solo trip, I really pushed my body. On my free day (Sunday), I walked 10 miles around the city just exploring. Other days, I wore my usually-comfy work heels far too long, and left with blisters and cuts. And every day, I carried around my mobile office in my favorite backpack. Suffice it to say that my body hurt — and I knew that a cross-country flight wouldn’t help.
I decided to do some proactive recharging, head to the airport early, and get a little spa treatment in: a gel manicure and 30-minute chair massage at the Be Rest chain that you see at so many airports.
When I arrived, the place was packed. I took a look at the menu and indicated the treatments I wanted. The manicurist and massage therapists looked cranky and a bit rushed, but communicated the approximate wait time and invited me to sit in the massaging chairs (the ones that lean back to massage your feet and calves!) while I waited the 20 minutes.
At every turn, I practiced kindness, knowing they were cranking out treatments nonstop all day. “Please,” “thank you” and “absolutely” were the only noteworthy things I said in this first interaction.
I got settled in the massage chair and observed the interactions travelers had with the two massage therapists and manicurist. Some were demanding (“I want a pedicure, and my flight boards in 40 minutes, so I need to be dry by then.”). Others were rude (loudly talking on the phone, disregarding the therapists’ requests to quiet down). Still others were complaining about the price (really though, what did you expect in an airport spa?) and walking out after a cranky exchange.
I noticed that the therapists would exchange meaningful looks when these things happened — it was a frequent pattern.
I was determined to be different when it was my turn. During my manicure, we made pleasant conversation, just as I would if I were at my usual nail bar. I genuinely complimented her work. I paid for the manicure and massage, and tipped well. (Personal rule: if an extra $5 or less turns a 20 percent tip into a 25-40 percent tip, I almost always round up and go for it.)
I had a 20-minute wait between the manicure and massage, and spent that in the massaging chair hanging out quietly, making eye contact and smiling as often as I could.
My massage was also great — I basically let the therapist go to town in a mix of a deep tissue massage and sports massage. Throughout, when she’d check in, I gave positive feedback and genuinely complimented her technique.
Afterward, she asked me what time I boarded (it was an hour or so longer), then leveled up my experience: “Feel free to sit in the massage chair until it’s time to head to your gate. You can even take your shoes off if you’d like — want help getting the leg and foot function going?”
In about 2.5 hours total at the spa, I didn’t hear her (or any other therapist) offer this to anyone else.
When I finally left to walk to my gate, I felt 30 pounds lighter. My feet and legs felt great from the massage chair — it truly did make a difference.
In my life, I’ve had so many experiences like this, where being kind to someone when you don’t have to — specifically, in situations when there’s no long-term impact on your life if you’re unpleasant to a stranger — has inspired them to go above and beyond in repaying the kindness.
It’s happened at bars, restaurants and hotels. On planes and in doctor’s offices, in multiple countries.
If it was a math equation, I think it would be: curiosity + passion + kindness = exceptional service.
What benefits have you seen of practicing kindness in your everyday life?