There is a packet of hot chocolate sitting on my desk. I don’t care how cold the wind blows in South Dakota, I am determined not to drink it.

It’s not a weight loss or healthy eating thing. It’s a kindness thing.

I took my boys to Minneapolis for a weekend at the Mall of America to celebrate, well, nothing. We just decided it was time to go and it was fun having something to look forward to.

It turns out every other person in a five-state region did the same thing. The mall was packed, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the hotel was packed, too.

At 8:30 a.m., we strolled down for the free breakfast. It took a little finagling to find a spot for the boys and me to sit. Through all the chaos, the woman bussing the tables had the most pleasant expression on her face. Instead of a furrowed brow or look of complete annoyance, her face was set with a small smile. Not a fake, “my boss told me to look happy” smile, but a real, genuine “life is all right” sort of smile. Just looking at her lowered my blood pressure.

I took my son, Ben, up to the buffet to make sure he left at least a little food for others. As we grabbed our plates, I caught the eye of the man refilling the fruit. “Thank you so much for this beautiful buffet. It looks delicious.” The words came out of my mouth with a deep sense of gratitude knowing I didn’t have to prepare it and I wouldn’t have to clean it up.

The man sort of nodded and carried on with his business. I was just past the scrambled eggs when I heard a crunching sound. There was a pile of crispy bacon directly underneath my foot. How the bacon got on the floor, I can only guess, but I could see a massive greasy mess waiting to happen.

I grabbed a wad of paper napkins and picked up as much as I could. The man I had just talked to said, “No no, I’ll get that.” I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I just finished what I was doing and went back to getting my food.

A few minutes later, Ben and I were getting our drinks when I felt a tap on my shoulder. The same man who had been next to me at the buffet reached down and opened a cupboard. With the sweetest grin, he pulled out a hidden packet of hot chocolate and handed it to me. “Payment for working here today,” he said.

I smiled all the way back to my table. I told the boys the whole story and could tell they didn’t quite see the reason for my total delight.

That’s the thing with kindness. It’s the big stories that grab our attention, but it’s the small stories that change our world. I don’t ever have to drink that hot chocolate because I get a warm feeling just by looking at it.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips, a former Fargo television anchor, is a speaker, author and host of The Kindness Podcast. She lives in Aberdeen, S.D., with her three children and her husband, Saul Phillips, the head men’s basketball coach at Northern State University.