Buy a stranger coffee, it will make you happy

Kirjoittaja on New Yorkissa varttunut ja Helsingissä naisistunut copywriter.

Dear Mom,

Are you kidding, I LOVE Christmas!?! I love it when the stores fill with Christmas lights and Christmas “crap,” as you like to call it. In fact, I’m already listening to my Christmas playlist. It’s like Andy Williams says – it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Plus, how can you not love presents?! Speaking of which, for the past few months I’ve been giving out presents every day. Kind of.

It all started because, as you know, I love Starbucks’ coffee. So every morning I go there to get my grande triple soy extra-hot latte. Starbucks has a loyalty card thingy – you know, buy 9, get the 10th free. The only problem is that the “free” 10th coffee is only good for a tall, not a grande. So to make a long and kind of boring story short, I had tons of free tall coffee cards in my wallet and nothing to do with them. So I started using them to pay for strangers’ coffee. The tall Pumpkin Spice latte of the guy in front of me on line. The tall tea of the girl who ordered after me. Within a few days I’d used up all of my free coffee cards. But by then the free caffeine I was giving to other people had become more addictive than the three shots of espresso in my own latte. So now I just pay for whatever the person in front or behind me is getting.

It’s funny, but paying for a stranger’s coffee can be kind of scary, especially in Finland, where you don’t usually even talk to the people with you on line, much less buy them anything. Believe it or not, I actually know some married couples here who literally pay separately when they go out to dinner. So having some weird woman offer to pay for your morning coffee is probably a really weird experience. Anyway, here are some of the best reactions I’ve gotten so far:

•    Two approximately 12-year-old girls behind me on line. One is telling the other how it took her 15 minutes of serious begging to get her father to give her the 5€ bill she was holding in her hand. Dad said 5€ for a Frappuccino was a waste of money. She disagreed. I paid for both of their Frappuccinos. They started jumping up and down and shrieking like they were at a One Direction concert. “Oh my God, are you serious!!!! Oh my Gooooood!!!! Oh my God, can I please hug you?!?!?” We did.

•    Young 20-something guy in front of me on line. He’s about to pay for his tea. I paid instead. He looked pretty freaked out for a second. He looked to me like a guy who wasn’t used to people being nice to him. Honestly, for a second I felt uncomfortable, too. Kind of like I had asked someone out who was about to say “no”. But as he walked away I saw him smile.

•    Man in pinstripe suit. Possibly a lawyer or in finance or something like that. He looked pretty stressed out. Kind of like he knew he was going to have a long day. I paid for his black coffee. He got super excited. “Wow, really? Thank you! I promise to do something nice for someone else today to say thank you!” Great, sounds good!

I could go on and on. The point is it makes people happy. And that makes me happy. There’s so much scary shit going on in the world today. It’s like the great Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön says: “Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world.”

Love, Lissu