Creative, Kind Deeds

When I walked in the door after two weeks away with my husband, I was hit with reality: There was no food in our home, and we were too exhausted after our six-hour flight to go grocery shopping. Then, a delivery man showed up with a giant box of treats, from mini bagels and cream cheese to butternut squash soup. These surprise “welcome home” goodies were courtesy of my friend Sarah—and were the most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received. I was so touched that she seemed to read my mind and know exactly what I wanted. Now I’m trying to be more like Sarah and do something sweet for my friends on occasion. If you’d like to join me in making others smile, check out these clever ideas. Realizing how grateful you are for your friends is bound to lift your spirits too.

1. Celebrate Exciting News

We tend to commemorate major milestones—new baby! big birthday!—but your pal’s promotion, weight loss and other accomplishments are worth recognizing, too. “Decorate her front door or office cubicle with homemade signs, streamers and balloons,” suggests Amanda Andrzejewski, a relationship expert in San Diego. Here’s a punnier idea from Hilary Kennedy, a TV Host in Dallas: “On the first day of my friend’s new job, I sent her a box of munchkins with a note that said, ‘DONUT you know how excited I am for you? A HOLE bunch!’”

2. Take Care of a Chore

Relieving your buddy of one of her regular tasks, especially if she’s going through a tough time, will make her day. For a sister-like friend, it might be appropriate to, say, mow her lawn without asking permission. But if you’re not as tight with your pal or if you want to do something personal or that requires going into her home—like fix her computer—say: “I’d like to do X for you. Would you be comfortable with that?” “When I was diagnosed with cancer, friends walked my dog and watered my plants,” says Anne Wade of Columbia, SC. “Those unexpected, practical kindnesses took the weight off my shoulders and became a source of healing.” If you want to take this idea one step further, hire a professional cleaning service for someone, says Debra Hickok, a life coach in Boston.

3. Help Her Go on a Trip

“Offer to watch your friend’s kids for the weekend, so she can have time away with her husband,” recommends Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, CA, and author of The Self-Aware Parent. “Make the offer when you’re face-to-face and alone with your friend, and allow her to choose the weekend that’s best for her.” Or go on a road trip with her. Let her suggest a few dates and destinations, and respect any family or work obligations that she (or you) might have. Be prepared to pay for at least half of the trip’s cost, and devise a game plan with your friend for the rest before you jump in the car. If you’re short on cash or time, make it a day trip. “During my divorce, my best friend took me to French Lick, IN. We spent the day at a winery trying fabulous wines and foods. Then, we shopped at boutiques. We had the best time,” says Amanda Wozadlo, a dating coach in Louisville, KY.

4. Mail a Handwritten Note

It’s so rare to get an actual letter these days that the recipient is likely to appreciate the extra effort. “My friend challenged herself to hand-write a letter a day for a year to people she knew. She found it so refreshing that after the year ended, she kept doing it,” saysDebbie Andersen of Oakton, VA. Spell out specifically why you’re happy that the person is in your life. So instead of “You’re such a good friend,” try “I’m forever grateful to you for that time you drove to my house in the middle of a snowstorm to help me jump my car.” Michelle Howe of LaSalle, MI, likes to remind her inner circle of fun moments they shared together. “I’ll say, ‘Remember that time we…’ to make a friend smile or laugh.”

5. Create a Zen Basket

Putting together the ultimate chill-out package for a pal is bound to make her happy. Drop it off in person if she lives near you to add a personal touch; otherwise, pop it in the mail. “A friend once gave me a basket that included a candle, incense, a meditation CD, a book of inspirational quotes and a poem she had written about our friendship during a time when I was really stressed. I was blown away by it. I still listen to the CD often,” says Angela Betancourt of Miami, FL.

6. Record a Video Message

Some close friends, of course, don’t live around the corner. But you can still stay connected via video chatting. If the person isn’t home when you dial or if there’s a large time difference between your locations, simply leave a video message via Skype. That way, the person can hear your voiceand see your face. “My longest and closest friend just had a baby. She’s in India and I’m in Seattle, so it was hard for me to convey how excited I was for her in a simple note or phone call. My family and I scripted a quick video play about motherhood and sent it to her so that when she woke up, it was waiting for her,” says Coryanne Ettiene.

7. Hug Her

For a friend who lives near you, consider visiting her, letting her vent while you listen carefully and then offering her a long embrace. Both your presence and your touch are likely to provide comfort. “A genuine hug will wake up the production of oxytocin, a hormone which induces feelings of trust and love,” says Diane Renz, a psychotherapist in Boulder, CO.

8. Cook Her a Meal

Making your bud a delicious,healthy dinner is such a wonderful treat. “I help my friend by inviting her over and telling her that I’ll cook whatever her heart desires,” says Kate LaCroix of Boulder, CO. To turn this idea up a notch, sign up for a cooking class with your friend. “I did this with a friend, and it not only bonded us but also taught us some great time-saving kitchen tips. Plus, we took home great recipes,” says Marie Dubuqueof St. Louis, MO.

9. Throw Her a Surprise Party for No Particular Reason

Organize a dinner party at a restaurant or offer cocktails and appetizers or dessert and coffee at your home to celebrate a friend at random. If possible, make it special by buying her favorite foods, inviting her best buddies, playing her favorite music, decorating by using her favorite colors and doing something that she loves (singing karaoke? playing charades? watching a Woody Allen movie?), suggests Maureen Clancy, a psychotherapist in Somerville, NJ, who did this once for a friend after a break-up. “She felt the love and it totally turned her mood around,” says Clancy.

10. Give Her Flowers

This is an old-school move, but it’s still an effective way to boost someone’s spirits. To cheer up a friend who had recently moved into an apartment she didn’t like, Nancy Stampahar, a motivational speaker in Pittsburgh, put brightly colored Gerbera daisies in a glass vase and told her buddy that brighter days always come. If you’d prefer to give her something more personal (and save money), bring a plant or bloom from your own backyard garden, suggests Redbank, NJ, life coach Gay Edelman.