With floods and wildfires, mass shootings and more, 2017 was a particularly difficult year for many people. And although 2018 seems to be getting off to a rough start, many of us are still embracing the promise that a new year holds, a time to start fresh, full of possibility and potential.
This year, instead of making New Year's resolutions that will be forgotten by February, let's try to bring a little comfort to the lives of others -- including animals -- every day by resolving to be kinder and more compassionate.
Consciously making kind choices as we go about our daily lives is easier than you may think. We can start at breakfast. Choosing vegan foods instead of animal-derived ones is the simplest and most effective way to help animals and the environment and improve our health.
Humans and other animals may be different in some unimportant ways, but we're exactly the same in the ways that matter most: We can all feel pain, love, joy, grief and loneliness. We all desire freedom from suffering. Yet we can't eat animal-based foods without causing animals to suffer greatly.
The vast majority of animals killed for food are confined to filthy, crowded factory farms. They're unable to nurture their families, root in the soil, build nests or do anything else that is natural and important to them. Once they've outlived their usefulness, they're slaughtered. But every time we sit down to eat, we have the opportunity to choose kindness by opting for a vegan meal.
We can also practice compassion when we decide which personal-care and household products to buy. The number of forward-thinking companies grows every day, as more and more manufacturers reject cruel and crude tests on animals, but some still needlessly poison and kill animals in this way. Supporting companies that are committed to animal-friendly principles by always buying cruelty-free is a simple way to make a difference.
If you want to display your kind heart along with your style, clear your closet of fur, leather, wool, down and other animal skins and choose vegan fashions. With so many innovative options, including microfiber made from recycled plastic bottles, Ultrasuede, pineapple leaf leather, down-alternative technology, wool made from bamboo and hemp, and much more, we can be both chic and compassionate every time we get dressed.
When a natural disaster hits, remember that humans aren't the only ones who are affected. Animals' homes are also destroyed during fires and floods. And once the smoke clears or the water recedes, displaced animals may venture into residential areas in a desperate search for food, water and shelter. Please be patient with them, and treat them with respect and compassion. They're probably confused, dehydrated and hungry, and like us, they're just trying to survive.
If you share your home with animal companions, take steps to enrich their lives. Take your dog on long, leisurely walks; this will benefit you, too, especially if you vowed to get fit or lose weight in 2018. If you have cats, play with them every day. Try creating a "sensory box" for them to explore by filling a cardboard box with dried leaves, feathers, grass and twigs from your yard. Just like us, animals need mental stimulation, and by spending time with them and providing daily diversions, we can make their lives more enjoyable.
Speak out against cruelty wherever you see it -- whether it's in a store, on the big screen or in a neighbor's backyard. All acts of cruelty and exploitation are wrong -- regardless of the victim's race, gender or species -- and when we witness them, we must never be silent.
As we embrace the new year, let's take to heart these words from His Holiness the Dalai Lama: "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." Even the smallest acts of kindness can have a big impact on the lives of others.
Paula Moore, senior writer