In 2017, there’s one resolution we can all try to keep: empathy.
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A magical thing will happen at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1. ‌

It's a whole brand-new year! All images via iStock.

It happens every year, but seeing that new calendar with 365 days yet to be filled is always inspiring and exciting.


Many of us will resolve to spend the next 12 months getting fit, taking more time outside, budgeting better, or traveling more. For the first few months, we'll probably keep it up, too. But over time, life will creep in, and resolutions will break down. The reality: Only about 8% of people actually manage to achieve their New Year's resolutions.

But in 2017, there's one resolution we all have the power to make — and keep.

We can resolve to be more empathetic — to try to understand the feelings and experiences of others as if they were our own. It is one of the most important skills we can learn.

Over the past year in particular, it has become clear that Americans disagree about a lot of issues. While it can be easy to assume we are irreparably divided, that's only true if we believe it.

This photo is adorable, but you don't have to start young to begin to understand empathy.

Humans are biologically and emotionally hardwired to care about others. In the last 20 years, scientists have observed portions of the human brain that light up with neural activity when we see people experiencing pain or emotions that we have experienced before. Scientists have also discovered that there's an entire part of the brain — the anterior insular cortex — that's wired to reward decision-making that helps cultivate positive emotional experiences.

But how do we actively incorporate this caring for others into our lives? Perhaps the easiest way is through another metaphor. Think of empathy as a muscle. If we don't use it, it gets weaker. If we exercise it regularly, it becomes more powerful.

Here are a few ways we can all make empathy one of our resolutions in 2017.

The first step is easy: Just listen more.

1. Actively seek out people who look at the world differently than you do.

If social media tells us anything, there are a lot of different opinions about how the world should be run. But instead of reflexively hitting the block or mute button, consider engaging people with compassion and understanding. Ask questions and approach situations with calmness and an open heart. It may not change your mind (or theirs), but you might start to understand and appreciate why they feel the way they do.

2. Experience the world of a disadvantaged social group.

Volunteering is a gift, and it goes both ways.

Research shows that seeing the world through the eyes of marginalized or stigmatized social groups makes us more empathetic. That in turn makes us more likely to want to help others. Why not volunteer at a homeless shelter or a center for battered women or LGBTQ youth? You'll learn about their lives, and maybe a little more about yourself, too.

3. Learn more about religious groups of which you are not a member.

According to a 2014 Pew Research study, 76% of Americans consider themselves religious. Even if you aren't religious yourself, making an effort to understand how believers of a specific faith see the world can be eye-opening and enlightening.

4. Confront your own biases and examine why you have them.

Peer-reviewed academic studies have showed that being empathetic can reduce racism and prejudice. In the spirit of self-improvement, take some time to think about any specific biases or preconceptions you have about groups or social issues. Write them down and consider them seriously. Are they new or something learned from childhood? How can you change them and move on? Think about concrete steps you can take, from seeing a counsellor or a therapist to simply reading more. Be kind to yourself, but fair.

5. Expand your perspectives and challenge your beliefs.

First impressions aren't always right. Sometimes it's good to get to know people a little before making up your mind about them.

Comfort zones have their name for a good reason. They're cozy, warm, and safe. But they're also limiting. If we're serious about repairing social rifts in our society, we need to be open to having hard conversations around contentious issues. Things may get awkward and uncomfortable, but it's necessary.

Ultimately, empathy is like the real-life version of those annoying internet ads from the early 2010s — it is the "one weird cure" for so many of the social problems we find ourselves facing today.

In 2017, let's all commit to embracing empathy.

Empathy has the capacity to be transformative — potentially on a world scale. All it takes is our resolve and commitment. May we all find that in ourselves in 2017!

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."