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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Faith and Values: Wishing happiness for others can bring joy to your life

By Tracy Simmons For The Spokesman-Review

I’m at the stage in life where many of my friends have become new parents. Their Facebook feed is dominated by photos of the little one – playing in the snow, unwrapping Christmas presents, petting a dog, sleeping. Conversations, too, are peppered with children updates.

And it all has me thinking about my own mother and what her life was like when she became a mom. Last month, I wrote about how we no longer speak because of lifestyle and religious differences.

She was about 15 years younger than my friends are now when she had a baby. If Facebook existed then, she wouldn’t have posted selfies of us, or pictures of me learning to walk, because she wouldn’t have been able to afford a smartphone, or a computer, or the internet.

She had just been abandoned by her husband and left with an accidental baby – changing the course of her life in unimaginable ways. The excitement of a new family quickly turned to heartache and survival, and ultimately it led us down a dangerous religious path, which I’ll tell you more about later.

It’s important for me to keep the suffering she went through in mind, especially as we enter into this new year.

Like many of you, I have a list of goals for 2018: Get more cycling miles in, pay off some bills, train the dog. More importantly: Practice loving-kindness, empathy, understanding.

So where do I start?

Even though I’m no longer in contact with my mom, I can – and should – still wish for her happiness. If being more compassionate is one of your 2018 goals, too, author and former Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan has a practical tip on how to get there – and many more in his books, “Joy on Demand,” “Search Inside Yourself” and “How to Master Your Mind in 100 Minutes.”

He says to create a habit of wishing for the happiness of every person you come across. Chade-Meng says to start with someone you like, for obvious reasons, and then work your way up to wishing for the happiness of someone who cuts you off in traffic – and ultimately, in my case, a parent who breaks ties with you.

By doing this, he said, your own attitude begins to change and you in turn become more joyful.

“Thin slices of joy occur in life everywhere … and once you start noticing it, something happens, you find it’s always there. Joy becomes something you can count on,” he writes.

So maybe my 2018 goal is a little selfish. My mom may or may not find the happiness she was robbed of all those years ago, or maybe she already has. But by genuinely hoping that she does, it improves my life because it frees me of anger.

Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes and feeling what they feel. That’s why I think of her when I’m around my friends’ kids. I want to remember what she went through, so that I can understand her struggle and find compassion.

If I can do that for my mom, and even my dad, then maybe I can begin to do that for all the people I don’t understand – those who worship differently than I do, those who voted for the other guy, those whose actions I might not agree with.

I might not succeed fully this year, but even by trying, this year can be better than last.

Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a journalism teacher and editor of Spokane FaVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.

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