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A quick trick to boost your empathy for others starts with saying thanks.

A video from YouTuber Anna Akana got me thinking a bit about empathy.

Empathy is one of the most important human values a person can possess — that's even backed by science.

Seriously, thank humanity's collective ability to put ourselves in others' shoes for the fact that our everyday lives (hopefully) don't resemble a YouTube comment thread gone bad.

Studies have shown that people who have high social competency (empathy) scores as children turn out to lead more successful adult lives. In August, I wrote about the effect stress has on our ability to empathize with others.


"I feel your pain." — Cartoon cis dudes shown here. GIF from Chris O'Hara/Vimeo.

But in all this talk about empathy, we tend to gloss over how we can get better at being empathetic in our daily lives. Let's fix that.

One way to up your ability to empathize with others is to take stock of what's happening in your life.

It's really easy to focus on the negative aspects of life and overlook the good. Of course, life's negatives are totally legitimate, and I'm not at all suggesting anyone erase that by appealing to worse problems (i.e., "What are you complaining about? So many others have it so much worse!") because really, 1) how has that ever helped? and 2) it's not a competition.

What I'm suggesting is that you take stock of the good and the bad. Go ahead, give it a try. It might look something like this (these are just examples):

Now, does the good stuff in the right column cancel out the left? Of course not. This is just meant to help you take stock of the complexities of life.

Speaking as someone who lives with sometimes severe bouts of depression and anxiety, this is one of the few "tricks" that's helped stop me from spiraling into a really dark place.

How does this help build empathy? It helps us grasp how our circumstances may differ from someone else's.

A great video from YouTube personality Anna Akana breaks this down in a really fun, creative way. Just as I did in the chart above, Anna goes through some of the positive factors that exist in her life. Most importantly, she gives focus to the positives that simply exist as "luck of the draw" like where she was born and what kind of family she was born into.

Those factors, sometimes referred to as "privileges," help shape the rest of her life — both the positives and negatives.

GIFs via Anna Akana/YouTube.

Once you understand and acknowledge how your life is affected by privilege, you can reverse engineer your way into strangers' shoes.

For a long time, I failed to appreciate the privileges I have, some as simple as being born in the U.S. as opposed to a war-torn country like Syria. It actually wasn't until the early 2000s when I spent time thinking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that I even considered I had in any way benefited from being born a U.S. citizen.

Had I been born in Syria, Afghanistan, or Iraq, or heck, even somewhere not in the midst of an ongoing conflict like Ireland or Japan, my life would certainly be significantly different. I have pure, unearned luck to thank for that. So in knowing that, and in being thankful for that, I can see where my empathy is lacking, and fix it.

GIFs from Anna Akana/YouTube.

This is why when someone says something like "Oh, we're all just people" or "I don't see color" in response to someone else pointing out sexism or racism, for example, they're kind of missing the point of being empathetic. The fact is that we're not all afforded the same opportunities, and sometimes it really does come down to things like race, gender, or sexual orientation — all beyond our control.

In order to live in a more peaceful world, we need to acknowledge how we're different from one another, so that we can have empathy for one another. And once you've acknowledged these differences, you can use that knowledge for good to help combat discrimination.

Take time to make that list of things in life that have shaped you and that you're truly thankful for. You'll be a better person for it.

For me, that includes being thankful for having a loving family, a middle-class upbringing, never having had to worry about being discriminated against because of the color of my skin, a job I truly enjoy, the good fortune to have been able to afford college, and so much more.

GIF from Anna Akana/YouTube.

I understand that these factors aren't universal. I understand that some of these — like not having to worry about racism, for instance — have led to my life being a bit different than that of a woman of color. Acknowledging these differences is the first step to becoming a more empathetic person.

You can check out Anna's full video below. Best of luck in your quest to becoming a more empathetic human being!

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

This article originally appeared on August 14, 2016


Time travel back to 1905.

Back in 1905, a book called "The Apples of New York" was published by the New York State Department of Agriculture. It featured hundreds of apple varieties of all shapes, colors, and sizes, including Thomas Jefferson's personal favorite, the Esopus Spitzenburg.






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This article originally appeared on November 6, 2015

Every single day, babies across the world are born prematurely, which means that they're born before 37 weeks of gestation.

In Canada, about 29,000 infants are born prematurely each year, roughly 1 in every 13. But in the United States, around 400,000 to 500,000 are born early. That's about 1 in every 8 to 10 babies born in the U.S.!

Red Méthot, a Canadian photographer and student, decided to capture the resilience of many of these kids for a school photography project.

He's the father of two prematurely born kids himself, so the topic is important to him.

"My son was born at 29 weeks and my daughter at 33 weeks," he told me in a phone interview. "These are the kind of pictures I would like to have seen when my first child was born — they've been through that, and they are great now."

Méthot said he knows not all preemie stories have a happy ending — one of his photos features a child whose twin passed away after they were born prematurely — but for so many kids who come early, they go on to experience a great life.

Meet several of the beautiful kids he photographed!

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