In this age of chest-thumping egos and cynicism, the world needs occasional reminders of the contagious and uplifting qualities of good works and kindnesses.

One startling example took place recently at a drive-through donut shop in Massachusetts. One customer, Eileen Taylor, told a worker she wanted to pay for the order of the customer behind her. When the customer on the receiving end of that charitable act learned what had happened, the decision was made to pay for the order in the next car. On and on it went until 55 customers had voluntarily paid for the order of the customer sitting in the car behind them.

Employees at Heav'nly Donuts said the chain ended only because the 55th car was the last one in line.

The story as reported left out a few of the finer details. For instance, it can be assumed that not every order was equal. Therefore, someone rushing through to buy a single donut may have paid for someone buying a treat for every worker at the office. Far from complaining, however, the people in this impressive chain apparently caught the spirit of what they were doing. A worker said, " just put everyone in a good mood."

It's also worth noting that the woman who started this chain said she had been the beneficiary of someone paying for her order the day before. As she had recently lost her job and was grateful for the gesture, she decided to "pay it forward," as the saying goes, the next day. It was, she said, "the best $12 I have ever spent."

We are reminded of what has become an annual holiday tradition in this country of people paying the layaway orders of total strangers who are struggling to afford Christmas gifts. These "layaway angels" last year struck at retailers from California to South Carolina, donating between $40 and $27,000. As reported by USA Today, one donor in California paid off 32 random accounts. Most of these "angels" ask stores to pick out customers who have toys or other children's items on layaway.

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These acts say something powerful about people and their desire to do good. They say something else, as well. Someone had to be the first layaway angel, just as someone first decided to buy Eileen Taylor's donut in Massachusetts. That one act of kindness spawned an avalanche of goodwill that blessed the lives of many.

The thought that one act of kindness could lead to so much happiness is incredibly empowering. It stands in sharp contrast to the misery the rare lone gunman or bomber can cause with an act of hatred.

Oprah Winfrey is credited with saying, "No gesture is too small when done with gratitude." The 55 customers at the aptly named Heav'nly Donuts can attest to that. We hope their examples continue to snowball until they fill the world.