Why Empathy Should Be a Key Part of Your Self-Care Toolbox, According to Maria Shriver

Photo: Stocksy/W2 Photography
With so much turbulence and negativity in the world today, there's no question that we could all use a little extra love and compassion. And while the self-care movement has taught us a lot about sending good vibes in our own direction—where would we be in this vicious news cycle without healthy comfort food and Netflix binges?—Maria Shriver thinks there's another thing that's hugely important in helping us thrive during trying times: Showing empathy towards others, even when you really don't want to. (Yes, even that family member who's constantly bashing your political beliefs.)

It's a topic the award-winning journalist has covered at length in her new book, I’ve Been Thinking…: Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life. Of course, a "meaningful life" looks different to everyone. But according to Shriver, by expressing more compassion and gratitude to each other, we can all find inner peace.

“Trying to understand what someone else is dealing with helps us become more compassionate to ourselves—and [helps us] feel more hopeful about the world,” Shriver tells me. “We’re all trying to navigate the ever-changing path of life. So to be able to understand where other people come from and not judge their experiences will make us better."

"Trying to understand what someone else is dealing with helps us become more compassionate to ourselves—and [helps us] feel more hopeful about the world."

Easier said than done, right? The trick, says Shriver, is to slow down, think before you react, and be kind no matter what—whether you're defending yourself against a toxic boss or facing your old college frenemy who's always making passive-aggressive comments on your Instagram posts. “I always try to say to myself, what button are they pushing, and why is that button in me to begin with? What is that button telling me about me?” she shares. “If someone bothers you, that has something to do with you, too.”

Meditation can also help you build up your empathy muscle, says Shriver. “Meditation makes me more compassionate to myself and others,” she explains. “It makes you more aware of yourself and you eventually realize you have the ability to go down underneath all the turbulent waves to find your calm self. If you can take that calm self and present it outward, everyone will be better off.”

And when you're in a centered place, it's easier to see that underneath our defense mechanisms and opinions, we're not actually all that different from each other. “We all want the same things," Shriver points out. "You’d want someone to give you the benefit of the doubt, you’d want someone to listen to you, you’d want someone to be kind to you—so just turn it around.” Easing your own stress levels and extending a little love to someone who needs it? I'd say that's worth a dozen restorative ritual baths.

Have a difficult person in your life? Try this loving kindness meditation and heed these three conflict resolution tips from best-selling author Anne Lamott.

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