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Forget the mannequin challenge. Try the empathy challenge this holiday season.

31 small ways to make a positive difference in the world.

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In many ways, we are the center of our own worlds.

We see things through the lens of our own experiences, our own communities, the things we read, and the people we interact with. But the world is so much bigger than what we've seen. It's so much more diverse than our own experiences.

It's impossible to know and understand everything, but we can do our best to empathize. Even the tiniest effort on our parts can make someone else feel heard and appreciated, brightening their day.  


Image via iStock.

With this in mind, we challenge you to 31 days of empathy.

And don’t worry, we’ve put together a list to get you started. Here are 31 small actions you can take over the course of December to make this chaotic world a slightly better place.

Dec. 1: Compliment a stranger.

Dec. 2: When you disagree with someone, ask them to explain what they mean. Peek into their thought process.

Dec. 3: Don’t shy away from tough conversations. Have a relative or friend who is saying something offensive? Gently let them know. Discuss it.

Dec. 4: Make an effort to carry a few dollars on you to give to someone who is homeless this week.

Image via iStock.

Dec. 5: Never carry cash? Grab an extra sandwich in the store and offer it to a homeless person when they ask for help.

Dec. 6: Make an effort to consume news that isn't tailored to your leanings. Facebook is great, but it can keep us in our bubbles. Go to a news site. Read a few articles there. Chances are, you'll learn a new perspective.

Dec. 7: Go holiday shopping with a friend. See how much thought they're putting into gift selection, and remember that it's not about the things we get, it's about the people in our lives.  

Dec. 8: Someone make you angry? Pause. Walk away from the situation. Then ask yourself how they might be feeling. Assume good intentions, even if the execution was upsetting.

Dec. 9: There are lots of kids who aren't able to celebrate the holiday season with their families. Stop by a local orphanage or foster care center and drop off little holiday treats like cookies or toys. Let them know you care.

Dec. 10: Watch a documentary on another culture to understand a lifestyle that is completely different from yours.

Image via iStock.

Dec. 11: Put the emphasis on traditions and being together — and less on gifts. You never know what someone’s financial situation is. Removing the obligation will make the holidays that much more enjoyable.

Dec. 12: Did someone's smile or kind words brighten your day? Tell them that.

Dec. 13: Ask someone how their day is going, and prod them to actually answer. And then listen.

Dec. 14: Read through "Aesop's Fables" again for small reminders about the ways our interactions affect other people.

Dec. 15: Send someone you've lost touch with a note saying, "Happy holidays." It’s a small gesture, but it lets them know you're thinking of them, and it may rekindle that friendship.

Dec. 16: Volunteer at a food bank and talk to the families it serves.

Image via iStock.

Dec. 17: Leave a thank-you note at your favorite cafe or restaurant to spread a little holiday cheer.

Dec. 18: Ask an elderly person if they’d like help carrying their groceries.

Dec. 19: Go to a cafe, put your phone away, and people-watch. You'll be surprised to notice the assumptions you make and how wrong those assumptions can be.

Dec. 20: Call your parents. Ask them how their day went. Tell them that you love them. Show them that you care.

Dec. 21: Lucky enough to still have your grandparents in your life? Give them a call too. Or better yet, if you’re able, stop by unexpectedly and just hang out.

Image via iStock.

Dec. 22: Borrowing a friend’s car to run some holiday errands? Don’t forget to top off the gas. Giving gas money is helpful, but filling the tank is even more appreciated.

Dec. 23: You work with your coworkers every day and face a number of challenges together. Tell them you appreciate them.

Dec. 24: Live in an area where parking is tough? Ask your neighbor if they need your parking spot if they’re unloading gifts or groceries.  

Dec. 25: Does one person in your family usually do all the cooking? Help them out. Stay in the kitchen, tell them stories, and dive in to help make a dish or clean up.  

Dec. 26: Treat a loved one to a day of their “favorites”: favorite breakfast, favorite movie, favorite restaurant. Make it their day.

Dec. 27: Write New Year's cards for the people in your life. Some you may be in touch with every day, others you may have lost contact with. Tell them you appreciate them and wish them the best in the new year.

Dec. 28: Talk to someone from a different culture. Ask them about their holiday traditions. Learn about their experiences.

Dec. 29: See a kid throwing a tantrum in the middle of a store? Don’t stare. The parents are having a hard enough time as it is.

Dec. 30: Take a deep breath when you’re driving. Traffic is going to suck. But everyone has somewhere to go. You’re all in it together.

Dec. 31: Talk to a stranger. Ask them about their day and where they're from. You'd be surprised what a simple "hello" can lead to.

Image via Cliff/Flickr.

The holidays are about more than gifts and days off work.

So take a moment to celebrate your family and the people you love. And then step outside of your world and try to be a bright spot in someone else’s day. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, we just have to try our hardest to be mindful of spreading goodwill. These gestures might be small, but they are important now more than ever.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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