I have to admit that I was inspired to become a better person because of the Real Housewives of New York City.
No, it wasn’t all the catty fighting and shady comments that made me look deep into my own behavior (although I’m guilty of gossiping like any other human).
I’ve always considered myself a kind, caring and decent person. But when watching the RHONY’s “Passport Edition,” a pop-up video-like episode with fun facts, I was struck by this little nugget: “Sagittarians lack empathy.”
Sure, the words were meant to explain Dorinda’s or Carole’s actions, but it struck an astrological chord within me.
Born the day before Thanksgiving, my zodiac sign hasn’t really influenced how I live my life. Yes, I’m a truth-seeker (I’m a journalist after all), argumentative and blunt. And I’m a procrastinator (did I mention I’m a journalist?).
But being labeled as lacking empathy hit a little too close to home. I’ve become bogged down with the pressures of work, buying my first home and figuring out my next steps in life.
While I could easily feel sympathy for others, could I take it a step further and be more empathic? Was I even being grateful for what I had in my own life?
I was becoming too self-involved and self-righteous — so much that when my best friend was going through a tough time, I couldn’t relate and struggled to support her. Why couldn’t she just snap out of it? I thought on multiple occasions. She should be grateful for what she has.
To reset my outlook, I started using Thnx4.org, a free online gratitude journal created by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Users can log in from their phones and computers to write about what they’re grateful for or if someone thanked them for something.
While, I may have said thanks to my co-workers for helping with a story, this was different. Taking time to journal about what they did and how much it helped me, whether I actually said thanks and how their actions benefited me — it ended up making me appreciate those around me much more.
In fact, two decades of research at Berkeley suggests that people who regularly feel grateful report to have better health, sleep better, maintain stronger connections with friends and family and lead more satisfied lives.
At first I struggled to journal. The things I was thankful for — family, friends, food, a home, a job — seemed like no-brainers. But then I’d stop to think about those often-overlooked things like weekend naps, my winter coat or a friend meeting me for a spur-of-the-moment lunch.
After a particularly trying week where things weren’t going my way, I was reminded about all the blessings I had in my life — friends stepped up to help, situations worked out in my favor and my mom continually reassured me life would work out.
Having a resource like Thnx4.org reminded me to pause and reflect on all the good happening around me. My journey toward being more empathetic is just getting started. I want to be kind to those around me — the way my friends, colleagues and family have been kind to me — and find strength in their selflessness. But it hasn’t happened overnight.
While waiting in a drive-thru to pick up dinner last week, there was a knock on my passenger window — a homeless man simply asking me for a dollar.
Here was my moment to be better.
And I failed. “I don’t have any cash on me,” I said.
My reply came out of me so quick and effortlessly that I was shocked and ashamed, because in truth, I had plenty of money. I drove home with tears in my eyes. I thought about that man all night and every day since.
I know I can do more. I know I can be better. And I’m thankful I get to keep trying.