Sometimes, the most unassuming acts of kindness make the most profound impact on our lives. A handwritten card from a friend, a “how are you?” from a neighbor, even a sincere smile from a stranger on your morning commute. These microscopic moments of acknowledgement may not seem like a big deal, but sometimes, they hold the power to make us feel seen.
After being moved by this touching video, Sharing Meals with the Homeless, which shows the story of Jan Shepherd, who decided to share meals with the people most overlooked in her city of Santa Monica, we asked Thrive contributors to tell us about one moment where someone truly made them feel seen. We received so many moving anecdotes from our community. Here are a few of our favorite stories of human connection.
“When I am out and about walking around, sometimes I am deep in thought but catch a smile from a stranger. It brightens my day. We live in world where we are so consumed with life that sometimes we forget such a simple gesture can be very helpful. It’s free to give and warms the heart.”
—Andrew Mondia, actor, St.Catharines, Ontario, Canada
“I was walking home from another soul-destroying day at a job that was draining me, and I was fighting back tears, but they came streaming down my cheeks anyway. Living in a city can sometimes feel like you’re invisible. I don’t think anyone noticed me. But suddenly this homeless guy walked up to me, and asked me what the matter was. I told him: “I’m just hurt.” He left, but soon returned with a policeman saying, ‘Look lovely lady, don’t cry, this policeman can help you. Tell him who has hurt you.’ He probably assumed I got physically hurt, but bless his sweet, gentle soul. In that instant, my heart melted. He saw me. And that made all the difference.”
—Beatrice Mangar, Cape Town, South Africa
“I had my head shaved soon after I began chemo. Despite having lost both breasts weeks earlier, my naked scalp was more visible and, therefore, felt more vulnerable. Four hours later, completely bald, I found myself in my beloved Monday night dance class, paralyzed on my mat. My teacher, Erin, saw me struggling and joined me on the floor. She sat, facing me, and suggested I touch my head. The newly-exposed skin felt so uncomfortable that I quickly removed my hands. Erin’s gaze, however, was unwavering, and her empathetic eyes offered me a tremendous sense of safety. ‘Are you going to leave her so quickly?’ she gently asked. Her simple question encouraged me to try again, slowly lifting my hands until my palms cradled my head, feeling held in love and light as our eye contact remained unbroken. Two years later, I reflect upon this moment often, remembering that unwavering presence can transform a painful and lonely moment into a beautiful memory of human connection and love.”
—Sally Wolf, entrepreneur, New York, NY
“Seventeen years ago, I was a struggling full-time college student, studying acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute in NYC. I was in the midst of one of the most exhilarating and challenging times of my life. One day, as I stepped off NJ Transit, I noticed a fruit stand piled high with bright, inviting oranges. The day was hot and humid, I felt dehydrated and tired, and those oranges looked like an oasis in the desert. I started digging through my bag, hoping to find enough coins to buy a quenching orange, but I came up short. Resigned, I turned to walk away, but the gentleman tending the fruit caught my attention, reached out with a smile, and handed me one of the beautiful oranges. Even years later, I’m grateful.”
—Sandra LaMorgese PhD, actor, model, writer, Little Falls, NJ
“A few years ago, I spoke at a tech conference diversity panel with four accomplished women. We had a frank conversation about our challenges and successes in this highly male-dominated industry. Once our talk ended, I was greeted by two beautiful, young Latina women who were both crying. One of them said, “you have no idea what it meant to us to see a brown woman speaking on that stage who was smart and accomplished. Like you, my parents were migrant farm workers and I am the first to go to college. And seeing you today makes me think I can do anything!” My eyes filled with tears. I knew that they had seen me, not my title, just me, the farm girl with dreams.”
—Diana Silva, business founder, San Francisco, CA.
“I got into a car accident for which I received a traffic violation and needed to attend court to settle the case. I was nervous, but just before the court proceeding began, I received a message from my colleague wishing me good luck and saying that this ordeal would be over soon. I didn’t expect her to remember why I requested the morning off. But her effort made me feel seen and like I mattered.”
—Cynthia Leung, pharmacist, Kingston Ontario Canada
“I had been having a hard time settling back into work after a few years of time off to have children, returning to work part time and having to take on a lower status role due to my family commitments. I was feeling undervalued, and that all the younger (childless) staff were biting on my coat tails to move me on. One day, I was feeling particularly down about the whole thing, and a pregnant colleague came into my shared office for a chat with some others. As she talked, I stayed quiet. Then my friend piped up and said, you should ask Tanya, she’s amazing with advice. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘No matter what the problem – kids, babies, work, vitamins, relationships, cooking, you always have good advice. You know so much about everything and you share what you know.’ And everyone chimed in with examples of times I had helped them out, gave them words of wisdom, cheered them on and made them feel special. And it made me see that we have an impact in all the little day to day interactions, not just the big projects and decisions. And work isn’t always about the big recognitions, but that you have the loyalty and trust of the people around you.”
—Tanya Abdul Jalil, business owner, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
“During my travels, a Facebook friend mentioned I would be passing through his hometown of Oklahoma City. A year before, he had lost his dear wife after a long illness. I suggested we meet for coffee. During our visit I learned he had been a talented songwriter and encouraged him to take up his talent again. A year later I blogged that I suffered from doubts, that writing is hard and that remaining positive sometimes seems impossible. My Oklahoma City fan commented: ‘That day I met you for coffee,’ he said, ‘was the first time I had left the house since my wife died.” He had seen me, and not just for coffee.
—Judy Howard, author, USA
“I felt seen when my friend came to my aid after I had a terrible falling out with my ‘best friend’ over Christmas last year. At the time, I felt like I couldn’t show my pain to my family because it was supposed to be a time of celebration. However, my friend could see past the mask I was trying to put on and gave away her session with her psychologist to me. This experience taught me that friends know how you truly feel even when you try to hide it, they care if you are suffering, and they make the effort to ensure you are happy. It changed my behavior to focus on the people in my life who value my well-being.”
—Sydney, psychology graduate student, San Francisco, CA
“I’m proud of everything you do and everything you’ll eventually accomplish.’ With these simple words, my fiancé brought me to tears. As someone who has worked for myself since graduating, I don’t get a lot of encouragement. I don’t have a boss or manager whose job it is to make me feel valued. In other words, it’s easy to go day, weeks, or even months without feeling seen. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized like most people, I crave validation. With all of the uncertainty and chaos that comes with creating your own path, it’s comforting to know that someone notices you. It’s the little reminders like this that make me thankful for finding my partner in life.”
—William Frazier, designer and writer, St. Louis MO
“During my winter term at college, I was constantly miserable and my unhappiness was becoming part of my personality. One particularly hard evening, I was in the library working on a paper and got up to print something out. A good friend of mine was walking by, and I halfheartedly said hi when he greeted me. He changed directions to follow me, asking me what was wrong. I mumbled something, and returned to my desk. Immediately, I see texts: Juliann, what’s wrong? And, I’ll be in the library all night if you want to meet up and talk. I responded, Thank you, I’m fine. And his reply was simply, No. I know you’re suffering. And I felt seen.”
—Juliann, student, New York, NY
“I advocate for families affected by drug addiction. I lost my cousin Jessica to drugs when we were teenagers. People who have lost someone lean on me, share their heartache, and I tend to internalize it. It’s emotionally exhausting and with the rise in overdoses attached to opioid epidemic, it can be disheartening. I wonder constantly if I’m actually making a difference. Then one day I received a gift from a stranger from across the country. They were earrings that said ‘Hope,’ and a note saying I helped her through a tough time in her life.”
—Alicia, cook and writer, Newark NJ
“I have learned that following is an immediate and empowering way to help a homeless person. I ask the man or woman to walk into a venue i.e. coffee or food with me. We order together. This is 100% of the time a unique and moving experience for my guest that I am taking into the store. For me, life affirming, emotional and validates my worth in ways that there are no lexicons available. It is simply about my heart set feeling of solace and grace.”
—Lisa Krohn, consultant, writer, personal organizer, New York, NY
“After a silver medal for skating at the 1994 Olympics, I failed to make the 1998 team. I quit and had nothing to do with the sport for nearly a decade. However when NBC asked me to be the analyst for the 2006 games, I couldn’t say no. At the Olympics, a parent pulled me aside and changed everything. ‘John, I have something important to tell you,’ he said. He seemed nervous. ‘I just want you to know that we wouldn’t be here… if it wasn’t for something you did…’ He trailed off. ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ I said, confused. ‘You won’t remember, but years ago you brought your silver medal to a reception in Bay City, Michigan. You put it around my son’s neck — he was 11 years old at the time and had never skated before. And tomorrow, he is skating for the gold medal.’ Now I speak for a living and share this story all over the world.”
—John K. Coyle, design thinking expert, Olympic medalist
Here’s the video that moved us!
If you’re inspired after reading this, share your own moment that has made you feel seen or heard, using the hashtag #DoSomethingHeartfelt and tagging @DoSomethingHeartfelt.