2021 has without a doubt been a difficult year. There is a collective feeling of missing what was, and an underlying hum of uncertainty and fear. However, do you ever feel guilty for feeling bad, knowing so many others have it worse?

Since I realize how fortunate I am to be safe and healthy, I hesitate to complain, as people all around the world, whether because of the pandemic or for a variety of other reasons, are not doing so well.

I have family members that are facing incredible health challenges, friends that are dealing with illnesses, many have lost loved ones, and when I occasionally turn on the news, compared to others, truly, I’ve got it made.

We tend to minimize our own pain by comparing our feelings to what we assume others may feel. This is called comparative suffering, it’s a defense mechanism. We contrast our own issues with others and berate ourselves for not feeling content when others are facing greater challenges.

Stop comparing. Feel what you feel, and you’ll be in a better place to be empathetic to others. We all need each other right now. The 24.3 million people in Yemen that are in need of aid don’t benefit more if you conserve your compassion for them and withhold it from your spouse whose elderly parents who have lived a long healthy life are declining.

Don’t minimize your own or others pain because many have it worse. One of the most valuable gifts you could give others this year is to listen and acknowledge what they feel without minimizing their emotions. Accompany them by caring, not dismissing.

Friends that are grieving over an empty nest, recognize their feelings. Young people who are feeling unsure of what they really want to do in life, just listen. Children who are feeling left out by friends, give them a hug. The teenager whose girlfriend or boyfriend broke up with them, know they are truly in pain. Teachers that are overwhelmed and want to quit, don’t tell them they’re lucky to have a job. Your neighbor that is lonely, bake them some cookies. The mother that’s exhausted is allowed to shed tears. And the friend that feels “meh” for no apparent reason, just be there for them. The holidays don’t always elicit feelings of happiness and joy. This year make your present to others be your non-judgmental, compassionate presence.

And most important, the old cliche airplane advice applies.

Put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others. Be kind to yourself so you can be compassionate for others. Sadness looks different in every individual’s life. Each time we honor our own feelings we expand our ability to empathize with others. Don’t rank your suffering and coverup your feelings. Acknowledge your losses, count your blessings, and decide to be there for others. You’ll feel better, and so will they

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