The Trick of Life

This article in the New York Times was so touching—did you see it? It’s written by a man who was struggling to finish a novel and suddenly having crippling panic attacks. (“Seven years into writing a novel, I started to lose my mind,” he wrote.) To make himself feel better—and quiet his mind—he did something counterintuitive: He started praying for other people.

Here’s an excerpt…

Sitting on the bench by the river that day, I remembered having read in Reader’s Digest—a periodical my family has undue reverence for—that when you are feeling bad, one way to make yourself feel better is to pray for others. I began to pray for the people who were passing by. I prayed for the nanny pushing a stroller. I prayed for the young woman jogging by in spandex. I prayed for the little boy pedaling his bicycle. I prayed that each of them got the same things that I wanted for myself: that they have good health, peace of mind, financial security. By focusing on others and their needs, my own problems seemed less unique and, somehow, less pressing.

…I called my parents a few weeks ago on the second anniversary of my brother’s death. My father began telling me that he felt abandoned by my brother, that my brother’s dying feels like him leaving us. As he spoke, I started thinking: I love you. I love you. My usual response at this point would have been to tell my father that he needed to focus on the future, that what was past was past. Instead I told my father that he was wonderful, that he should think of how brave he had been to take care of his poor sick son for all those years, that his devotion had been heroic. However odd my reasons may seem, I am glad that I said this.

Are you religious? Do you pray for people? Even though I’m not very religious, I love this advice. Sometimes when I’m walking around the city or taking a cab, I’ll watch people go by, look at their faces and think of the complicated lives they must lead—all their worries, hopes and fears; how they might be planning a trip to visit their mom, how they might be reminding themselves to pick up a prescription, how they might be hurrying home to see their children. It makes you really love strangers in a funny way.

P.S. His article reminded me in some ways of Humans of New York.

(Photo from the movie Her)

  1. Yenni says...

    I usually do this and now somehow I find the reason why I feel happy and calm after I pray for someone else. That my problem is less unique. Sometimes it makes problem less pressing. Thanks for sharing this, Jo.

  2. Amber Olney says...

    This is beautiful.

  3. Pauline from Phillip Island says...

    I have just discovered your blog and, in particular, this beautiful post. I have spent ages reading all the comments and my heart breaks for your lovely sister and the terrible loss of her husband. I hope she is feeling better and that life is beginning to shine more brightly for her as time passes.

  4. Dear Joanna,

    Thanks for this post! This and many others are the main reason for my love for your blog. You don’t focus on the sunny side of life only, but also talk about difficulties, struggles and anxieties. No life is complete without them. So, thank you for making me feel whole as a reader by writing about the tough stuff.

  5. Hi Jo, I just saw this and really loved it. Very beautiful – I do pray and I often notice that the times I am getting down is when I’m not *really* praying for others, or for the world, but rather just focusing a lot on myself.

    I feel a little bit forward, but I wanted to share with you that, for some reason, your post reminded me of this:

    (It’s a beautiful read!)

    I think it was your line, “Even though I’m not very religious, I love this advice.” I see so much goodness in your posts. Thanks for sharing your big heart and keep looking for the beauty and truth in people and our world :)

  6. This is lovely; thanks so much for posting! :) I do practice this daily and it reminds me of the Buddhist practice of Tonglen and another practice called Ho’oponopono. Bill Moyers has also shared studies of how patients who are prayed for (without their knowledge) healed better after surgery then controls.


  7. I am sittingon an air plane right now, the closest to strangers I will ever be. I really enjoyed this post for that exact reason. Thanks for sharing.

  8. “May I be well, May I be happy, May I be filled with loving kindness. May you be well, may you be happy, may you be filled with loving kindness.” I stumbled across this mantra a while back and find that it calms my overactive mind. I love the values: health, happiness, kindness. What else is there?

  9. This is so beautiful Joanna! Sometimes just getting out of our own head and thinking of others is the most refreshing thing in the world. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Something to think about…
    Thank you

  11. I am also religious (a practicing Christian) who also struggles with chronic illness (I was supposed to be dead in my thirties if we hadn’t caught it — something you would never guess if you saw me on the street) . Praying for others helps me keep my own daily, minute-by-minute struggles in perspective and prevents self-centered depression. I have been praying for your brother-in-law; hugs and prayers to you all, dear soul. <33

  12. This has really made me think a lot. I find myself unintentionally lapsed from prayer lately. I tell myself it’s because I’m so busy, but truly I think it’s because I’ve been lazy and selfish. When I do remember to pray, I focus on myself, and it just falls flat. Since reading this article, I’ve tried to start praying for random people at random times. I don’t always remember, but I’m trying. It’s really sparking something inside of me again. I’ve been praying a lot for your brother-in-law, sister, and family. I just can’t imagine. I don’t always know what to pray for though. Sometimes I just say “please”. I think God knows what someone needs when I don’t. I just pray that he delivers what is needed, be it peace, acceptance, courage, or healing. Thank you for posting this.

  13. This is so beautiful, it is also a great reminder that when we care for others we are also caring for ourself.
    Thank you fro sharing!

  14. When we were going through infertility treatments and the struggle to have a baby in general I turned to focusing on the needs of others, to the point of going on mission trips throughout the country. It helped both my husband and I tremendously to get through that period. Now that I have a toddler on my hands I am thinking this will be a good game plan again!

  15. Wonderful article, thank you for sharing.

  16. Oh, I really like this. A lot.

  17. So sweet. I sent to my husband and parents. My Dad said it reminded him of something he heard: Prayer doesn’t change things. It changes us and then we change things. Love that.

  18. I’m not religious, but strangers have long fascinated me, exactly how you described – wondering what they are thinking, where they are going, whether or not they are happy. People watching, especially since I’ve moved to a big city, is a favourite past time for me. This reminds me of how calming it is to take my mind off of myself and focus it on others. While I don’t do this through prayer, I suppose in a way it is similar.

  19. I think of this all the time, I am always amazed at the courage and strength you see in other people, it gives me so much solace to know that we’re not in this alone.

  20. I think of this all the time, I am always amazed at the courage and strength you see in other people, it gives me so much solace to know that we’re not in this alone.

  21. I love this. Reminds me of Vonnegut’s “sonder” which is a word he made up to define “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”

  22. i’m not religious but i do pray a lot for my family and friends and now reading i will try praying for strangers too.

  23. i have been going through a hard time lately and the most helpful thing i have found i by praying for others. it really helps! a year ago, i was struggling to come out of a bad time and decided to give service. i started volunteering as a big sister in the big brother big sister program as well as volunteering at a domestic violence shelter. both changed me so much and forced me to think about others. it helped so much!

  24. I grew up entirely not christian in an entirely christian environment- and always wished i had felt more connected to something larger. I had terrible terrible anxiety as a young adult and would go nights with out sleeping out of fear, and often become paralyzed by anxiety in the most random places. Early in college, eat pray love, came out, and when I read the bit about Elizabeth having a hard time focusing on and sitting still during a particularly long prayer, and a friend suggesting that she think of someone each time she recites that prayer, dedicates it to someone, she will feel driven to finish out her prayer and she will enjoy it more. So, at night, I began to just pray for people, think positive wonderful thoughts and send them to people, I’d pick someone each night to send my positive feelings to, and it helped. many years later i still employ this, if i’m feeling sorry for myself, stuck at work, or laying awake at night. It’s the same reason that people who volunteer and devote time to doing things for others, are, in general, happier people.

  25. Yes, yes, yes. This is exactly how I grew up; using prayer to be others-focused instead of self-focused. I am a Christian (I went through a time of doubt a few years ago–I still believed in God but felt angry and cynical towards him; plus I am so disgusted with Evangelical judgmentalism/the culture wars, which affected my view of God during that time). Fortunately, my faith had gone deep enough for so long that I didn’t lose it. I see so much of the divine around me that I can’t not believe. Prayer has actually been the biggest part of that. I was lucky enough to have grandparents who prayed for me every week from the time I was born until they died when I was in my mid-30’s. They had 19 grandchildren and they would pray for us on certain days of the week. One time my sister asked for them to pray for something happening the next day, and my grandmother hesitated and said, “Well of course we’ll pray for tomorrow, but your day is Tuesday.” That was my sister’s day on the weekly calendar, Tuesday! But the biggest impact on me re: prayer was seeing my parents as well as many other people pray for my brain-damaged brother for over 30 years. He has struggled with depression his whole life, and it was horrible growing up and seeing that. I witnessed a powerful lesson every day: my brother suffering, my parents suffering, but them choosing to pray for him. As one of my close friends said, “God was pressing in.” Fortunately, he’s doing better lately. Even though I have seen many, many prayers answered, we don’t always get the answers we want. That’s part of the mystery. And even though God has chosen to collaborate with us to bring about good things in people’s lives, the real point of prayer is to change US, the pray-ers.

    Sorry this is so long-winded, Joanna. I absolutely loved this post and just wanted to share what prayer had meant to me over my 37 years. I’m so grateful to have had so much of it in my life.

  26. Not quite the same thing but a while ago I found myself in a bit of a negative slump. 2 babies 20 months apart and very little sleep can do that too ya! Anyway I came up with a little trick to make myself be more positive. Before if I was having one of ‘those’ days I found myself getting annoyed with everything, everyone, even the stranger on the train who I thought purposely got in my way! So now I make myself think of something positive about everyone I see…things like ‘he has a beautiful smile’, that couple are being so sweet to each other’ or even ‘look how cosy she looks’ ‘gorgeous bag’ or ‘I bet that lady always wears red shoes’. By the time I’ve got the train to work I’ve unconsciously filled myself up with nice thoughts! Plus it probably means I arrive with a little smile rather than a tired scowl. X

  27. I like that idea. Especially for those who live in crowded cities where people tend to be less patient with each other and generally a bit less courteous. By praying for them it makes them feel a little less like strangers and a little more like family members or friends. And we’re all in this together. Can you imagine the impact it would have if everyone started sending out all those positive vibes?

  28. Such a great reminder! I’m not religious, but I do pray for people, send them good thoughts, and keep them in my thoughts. I know when I’m having a rough day, I tell myself to count my blessings, because what I’m feeling right then is nothing in comparison. I ask myself “Do the goods outweigh the bad?” and the answer is always “yes”. Be thankful for what we have and share that hope for others.

  29. I told my fiance a few months ago that instead of getting mad at the elderly people driving around (you know, the really, really old people who definitely shouldn’t still be behind the wheel of a car) I’ve started trying to just send good energy and positive thoughts to them, like “I pray you get where you’re going safely.” Unfortunately I haven’t quite gotten to the point of praying for the people tailing me while texting on their phones, but it’s a start!

  30. I think in general most people spend too much time and energy ruminating on their own lives and problems. I call it falling down the rabbit hole. I don’t pray for others, per se, but I am a nurse, and especially during times in my life where I was struggling with something, I would love to go to work and spend 12 hrs caring for sick kids and their families. It would feel so good to put my worries on the shelf and dedicate all my energies to others. A form of prayer, I guess, in a physical sense!

  31. Love this post Joanna! Yes, I pray…I don’t know how I would make it through life without conversing with God on a daily basis. When doubts, fears, anxieties tend to overwhelm, prayer is my lifeline. It brings a peace that surpasses all understanding. Not only does it calm me and ease my worries, but it allows me to bring other requests and issues to God and leave them with Him. Let go…unburden. Unload. Also…when you see answers to specific prayers, it’s the greatest thing ever!!

  32. I pray for others, and the strangers around me, often when I’m out and about, it feels soothing and helpful for others and myself.

  33. I pray for others, and the strangers around me, often when I’m out and about, it feels soothing and helpful for others and myself.

  34. I really like this. On my drive home last night I tried it, and I was amused at what I came up with to hope for people walking on the street (I’m not religious so I wished good things for them.) I saw one older gentleman, and I thought “I hope he gets to go on a tropical vacation soon, that he will wear a colorful shirt and drink a fruity drink, and get to put his feet up and enjoy the sunshine.” It definitely took me out of my own head and put a smile on my face. Thanks Joanna!

  35. I’m a 22 year old Christian and I completely agree with this “trick of life” :)

    When I am totally stressed out and relying on my own devices, I try and remember that’s God is sovereign and His plan for my life is so much more exciting and adventurous than anything I can imagine.

    This might sound strange, but I spend a lot of my travel time praying, especially while flying. I get really anxious on flights, so I just lay my head back, close my eyes and pray – sometimes for hours at a time. It’s so calming to speak openly with God (whichever religion you follow) and really helps relieve stress.


  36. Haven’t seen it. One of my to do things to do.

    Hope you are having a wonderful day!

  37. @Gosia –
    YES! Walking to the hospital from the bus stop, even after 7 years, I always, always, felt a thump in my heart and uneasiness in my stomach hearing an ambulance approach:(( Every time, I’d hope for the pt’s well-being, but mostly, I wished they weren’t alone. I suppose that’s some of the purpose of prayer: to know one is not alone, for the one praying and for its intended recipient. Gosh, now I feel sad. Boo.

  38. I have done some love and kindness meditation, during which you basically pray for yourself and then for others — specifically someone you love, and then someone you have trouble with. I have found it so helpful!

    x Lily

  39. Lovely! I pray for people and find it shifts my perspective away from my own problems and insecurities.

  40. I always, ALWAYS prey when I see an ambulance with its flashing alarm lights on – I pray for the patient inside and their family. I’ve been doing this for maybe 10 years and it extremely reduced the anxiety I had always felt in a situation like that. Even if there’s nothing you can do to help… you can always do SOMETHING: you can pray!

  41. I love this post. I am a Christian and keep a prayer journal–it is neat to see how God has been faithful over time and how he responds to prayers. I have seen God respond in big ways after praying for other people.

  42. I am religious and I love praying for others. It makes me feel so in contact with God. Because he just wants the best for all of us all the time. :)

    I do think though that even if you’re not religious it can be understood in the sentiment of love. To wish good for someone else is universal love. Ain’t nothin better than that!

  43. This was very inspiring and I’m going to start this practice myself. I’m a mix–both spiritual and religious (if that counts). I pray for family and friends all the time. Thank you for this post.

  44. R says...

    This is beautiful & totally true. It’s my first step when I’m facing something difficult.
    Similar to financial struggles- I believe giving to someone who is more in need helps with perspective & also blesses you in return.

    I was thinking of you the other day about the amazing influence you have on people around the world…. There’s never been a time where someone has had such an ability to influence- it’s so wonderful how you use this platform. I pray for incredible blessings in your life more than you could ever imagine :)


  45. When I had post natal panic attacks it made me feel better to make someone else feel good, usually my husband. When I was at my worst I would take it out on his shoulders and bak and give him an awesome massage, or kiss his neck or just have a bear hug and tell him how much I loved him. He said I was never so loving and affectionate as when, for me, I was feeling my worst.

  46. It’s so interesting. I just started doing this myself and it does make you a happier person and takes the focus away from your own problems. I did this just the other day when I got on a crowded train and a homeless man was sitting down. Normally I’d focus on his smell and honestly think about how gross his dirtiness was, but I ended up looking him in the eye and giving him a smile to acknowledge him as another human being. And I prayed for him because he has his own struggles and is trying to maintain his dignity. That empathy can be the shift you need when you’re in a funk. Thanks for sharing!

  47. The other day I walked past a homeless guy, and said a quick prayer. But as I said it, I just had the urge to go buy him a pizza, so I did. Sometimes God answers our prayers, but sometimes He asks us to be the answer.

    Thanks for sharing this Jo – so beautifully written! xx

  48. I went through a really hard break up a little while ago (I’d been with him for 5 years) and on the way to work every day on the bus I would stare out the window and feel like crying, until one day I noticed the girl next to me actually WAS crying. I gave her one of my tissues (which I was carrying just in case for me!) and asked her if she wanted to talk about it and she just said ‘No, but thank you for caring.’
    From that day I have never looked back and every time I feel like my life is ending I just look around me and think about all the hard things that people deal with every day, and my problems don’t seem anywhere near as big anymore.

  49. Beautiful, thanks for sharing! I’ve been reading How to Train a Wild Elephant which helps you become a more mindful person this week I’ve been focusing on studying others’ suffering. It’s an experience to Delaware all feelings and inhibitions to think of ourselves before the people we interact without knowing majority of our life. I’ve definitely value other peoples lives so much more.

  50. Also, in reading all these comments, it’s nice to know I’m not crazy when I worry about strangers! Or if I am, I’m in good company.

  51. I pray for strangers sometimes- was doing it today! When the angst of the world brings me down, I pray especially for the children.
    I like this idea of praying for others. I always thought if I were a psychologist, I would send depressed people out to serve others. We think too much on ourselves, and turning outwards gives perspective.

  52. I love to people watch, and lucky for me I just have one of those vibes that make people want to tell me their life story. Not only to I love to pray for people in private, but I often ask to pray for a person with them. I find that even non-religious folks, or people who have different beliefs are open to it. It’s also said to pray for your enemies. I have found this super helpful.

  53. Yeah, I do this a lot. When I feel like I care about other people (even strangers), it feels like other people care about me (even strangers).

  54. This reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s graduation speech from Kenyon College – This is Water ( DFW talked about how you can change the way you perceive experiences if you actively choose to be compassionate or give the other party the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the person who cuts you off on your drive home is not inconsiderate but rather a worried parent racing home to see a sick child. When I start to get upset about a perceived slight (which can happen often in NYC) I try and stop first and imagine that there was a good reason or intention behind the action, if only I can put myself in the other’s place and be more empathetic.

  55. Joanna, this is one of my favorite posts to date. What a beautiful thing to do, praying for strangers. I’m going to give it my best shot.

    P.S. I do the same thing when I people-watch (think about their lives, thoughts, where they’re going next, etc.)!

  56. this is a wonderful reminder. thank you.

  57. I frequently pray for other people. Everyone is fighting their own battles; everyone could use prayers.

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  59. Almost a year ago I returned from an 18 month mission for my church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). Even though it was only a few states away from home (I served in Colorado) and I still had all the first world things I needed, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was a struggle lots of days to put my own “trials” aside and think of others, but the days I was able to master it? – best days of my life. I’ve never felt so close to my Savior or so loved.

    So I say DO it! You’ll never regret it. :)

  60. This is special to remember.. My father taught me this practice growing up. I need to remember it more often :).

  61. Joanna, this is one of my favorite posts that you have shared. Yes, I do pray for others and it really blesses me too. We have a family saying, “Blessed to be a blessing.”

  62. Can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this post. I love when you write about topics like these, and especially when you quote articles and essays you find (they’re always awesome). I think you could write a wonderful book of essays someday if that’s something you would like. You have a clear, heartfelt, poignant way of writing about life. Thanks for this today.

  63. jm says...

    I love the empathy then includiveness that “praying” for people inspires, even if it is not religious.

  64. I will never forget a special moment I had while studying abroad in Barcelona waiting for the metro and it suddenly occurring to me how many people there are in the world and how each of them had a story and sadness and struggle and love and character that I knew nothing of. I recall the overwhelming feeling that flooded me. So complex and humbling! you’re right, that is a lovely exerpt. And, Humans of New York is such an extraordinary way of reminding each of us that everyone has a story and we’re all connected (somehow).

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  66. I am an Orthodox Christian. When I do it right, it makes me more compassionate and better able to care for my patients. But you don’t have to be religious to be kind. Once I was very hurt by a patient who not only refused to see me, but also refused to shake my hand as I offered it leaving the room. I was complaining about this to my totally wonderful, totally irreverent roommate, who made a really insightful point: “everyone you meet is facing a struggle (or struggles) that you know nothing about.” It made me look much more gently and empathetically at such a negligible snub.

  67. I should add: I pray for people I know and people I don’t know. I can’t always do much, but I can pray.

  68. I pray a lot. When I’m driving in the car, lying in bed, going about my day–I pray. Not always, but often. In life, I cannot control much, but I can pray to a God who hears.

    There are times I’ve looked back through journals and found prayers answered that I didn’t remember praying.

    I am a Christian–one who struggles, wrestles, and questions–and recently I’ve found myself more at peace and more in awe of the love of Christ. But, prayer is how I communicate, whether spoken or written. I’m a verbal processor, and sometimes I just have to pour out my prayers to God.

  69. I am religious and I love this. I think looking outside of yourself and caring for others is at the heart of all religions that help people become better.

  70. I’m glad you wrote about this, because it’s something that works for me.

    After a cross country move a few years ago, I went through a period of feeling very worried and anxious. A friend of mine also recommended praying for people, especially for people who frustrated me or triggered my anxiety. I started praying that good things would happen to them, and I got really specific.

    It’s a great way to put good energy into the world, and it helps me to clear my head and feel better when the same patterns of worry emerge.

  71. I very much loved reading this article, the best advice. It’s something that I needed during my times of standstill as well. Never thought of praying for strangers outside passing by but it sounds soothing for our mixed emotions & heartwarming. I tend to actually worry for strangers who appear worried or sad just by their actions outside… but I felt like it wasn’t my place to make assumptions. Always caring & helping for our family & friends and for those we don’t know will forever be the right thing & greater good in life. Thank you so much for sharing this with us :)

  72. Thank you for posting this… this article has just brought tears to my eyes. Such an great way to show that selfishness is not necessarily the demon of our times and that focusing on others can give perspective to our own problems.

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  74. I am a Christian & have found prayer about the only way to fend off discouragement at the little news I see on TV. I still struggle with being judgey & prayer is a great way to halt that, too. Thanks for this post & so many great comments!

  75. Thank you for posting this! I am a religious person and I pray for myself and my family/friends on a daily basis…but rarely do I stop and pray for a stranger. You better believe I will be now, though!

  76. I loved reading this. I am often struck by empathy even when I can’t relate. I don’t know if that makes sense. But for example if I see an old lady walking carrying groceries, I’ll worry about her and wonder if she has someone waiting for her at home and then it leads me to think about myself in that situation. I hate seeing people crying or fighting in public. I am so consumed with this at times and I do find myself praying for people a lot. I even wrote a collection of stories for my masters thesis around this theme!

  77. Really great post. I love it and can totally relate. Along the same lines, when I’m feeling angry at one of my parents, sister, boyfriend- I stop and look at their feet. I think of how that morning they put on their socks just like everyone else and it makes me feel for them instead of angry at them.

  78. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

    You never know what each person is going through (big or small); all you can do is be kind in the least.

  79. Joanna, this is one of my favorite posts of yours to date (been a reader since 2010). I, too, become deeply engrossed in random thoughts (such as the lives of strangers), and love to know I am not weird or the only one! :)

  80. Beautiful post. I do like thinking about how we’re all connected, and that everyone is leading their own complicated lives, with ups and downs and everything in-between. Sending light and love out to strangers is a beautiful thing.

  81. I’m not very “religious”, but rather, spiritual. If you look back on the life of Christ, all he did he was LOVE others. It wasn’t about rules, and condemning others. It was about loving and praying for the sick, the sad, the poor, the hurt, the needy. Loving them, instead of only focusing on selfish needs. This is something I need to work on every. single. day. God is love and goodness. not a set of rules and requirements. Thanks for this post!

  82. From St. Francis:

    O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
    To be consoled as to console;
    To be understood as to understand;
    To be loved as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive;
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
    And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

  83. This is a beautiful post, Joanna! I am religious because I do believe we were made for love, to love and to be loved. God is love and not in a sentimental sort of way, but in the cross, in suffering with those who suffer, in seeking the good of the other, despite the personal cost. Thank you for sharing this!

  84. My friend dedicates her “intentions” during yoga sessions to people that she thinks need a pick-me-up or than have something going on in their lives. I love the idea of just putting good vibes out there even if you aren’t religious.

  85. This post was exactly what I needed- I’m in the middle of a pity party. When I was a dental student I had a patient who was in her late nineties. She was so gentle and wise- straight out of a book. One day she told me that she had finally learned the trick to praying. Its not about asking for things, its about thanking god. I’m going to add praying for other people now.

  86. I love this post. I am not religious but I don’t think you have to be to hold kindness and compassion in your heart for those around you, from family and friends to strangers on the street. I completely understand how trying to care about and relate more to people around you rather than dwelling in your own head could give you a greater sense of calm and perspective. I’ll be sure to remember this next time I am feeling overwhelmed. Thank you.

  87. I pray for people on the subway, it makes me feel more connected to the world around me and I don’t waste time worrying about all the worries that are constantly swirling around in my head…

  88. Lately I’ve been trying to find my way back to a daily medication practice called Tonglen. Here is a good description ( I am not religious, and haven’t felt prayer to feel authentic to me, but Tonglen feels helpful and hopeful.

  89. I am religious and pray often. I consider it a constant dialogue with God.

    I have found instead of committed my devotions to asking for things, I benefit more by be thankful. Even on the darkest day, being grateful for my blessings gives me so much perspective.

  90. One of the biggest problems with our modern way of living is that we are so focussed on ourselves. Praying for others is an excellent cure for a lot of what ails us.

  91. i teach improv in philadelphia and there are a lot of aspects of it that are oddly religious – one idea is that you exist at your highest level when you’re existing for people outside yourself. in any given scene, it’s less about saying funny things or making yourself look good and more about making your partner look amazing and genius. that’s what makes scenes function well and in turn, what makes us function well in ‘real life’. i love this idea.

  92. Joanna, this is such an interesting post! I recently stayed in a cabin in Big Sur where my husband and I found countless journals full of entries penned by previous inhabitants. We spent all night drinking champagne and reading out loud about all of the things that had happened in that room in the past. It was so surreal to hear about how a married couple rekindled their love for one another, how a man proposed to his girlfriend at the foot of the bed, how people fell in love, played with their kids, broke up, found themselves, and so much more right in that very room. I often wonder about the stories of strangers, too, so actually reading some was really fascinating!

    I just wrote a post about it, if you’re interested:

  93. This might sound bonkers, but I pray for my ex on a regular basis. Not because I am still wrapped up in him or want him back, but because praying for someone else and vehemently refusing to wish anything but the best for them is incredibly empowering and healing.

  94. I grew up going to a baptist school all the way through 9th grade. I still am a Christian, though I wish I did more about it (volunteering, going to church, etc.)

    We would always pray whenever we saw an accident on the side of the road or a firetruck pull out of the station with the siren going…I still do it! Just send up a little simple prayer for what those people are going through, pray that everyone makes it out healthy. I also pray for homeless people whenever I see one, which is rare where I live. Of course I also usually offer to buy them lunch/dinner as well!

  95. ‘m not religious but I do practice meditation and I’ve always been particularly moved by a practice called “compassion meditation.” It’s essentially the same thing–you are invited to concentrate your meditation on various people, including a person you love, one who has been a benefactor to you, and one who you consider difficult–as you think of these people, you are meant to wish each of them health and happiness and a peaceful life. The meditation gradually widens to take in your family, your community, and eventually your society as a whole. It’s a relief to concentrate on someone other than yourself, and it does inspire a great deal of compassion and solidarity with your fellow humans.

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  97. I love this : ) I am religious and I really like praying for others and have always found the practice to be very soothing and therapeutic. I agree that it helps put our own problems or concerns into a new perspective, but it also teaches us to be more selfless and compassionate, which are always good things.

    Thank you for sharing the article–I’m going to pass it along to family and friends : )

  98. Very well said. The world needs so much more of it….Prayer, positive karma, love sweet love, whatever you’d like to call it. I live close the HS whose students were victims of the knife attack yesterday. Showing and sharing kindness is what gives this life beauty, and when we do we are all the better for it.

  99. Joanna-
    Reason # 1,000 why I love this blog!!This article is so true. Praying for others is a great distraction from ones problems. I would also suggest gratitude as a help when times are bad. Theres nothing like being thankful during a bad time. Just being thankful that the situation is not worse than it could be is enough for me. Even being thankful for waking up every morning is a blessing and it always gets me out of any funk I’m in. :-)

  100. I read somewhere a long time ago about a woman who was in a car accident. Her injuries were severe and she related that she had an out of body experience and was hovering over the freeway. She could hear all the frustrated, impatient thoughts of the people trapped in traffic by the accident. And then from one car she heard/felt “I hope everyone is ok”. That kind thought was enough to send her back into her body and she survived. I don’t have very strong beliefs about out-of-body experiences, but I do absolutely believe that the energy we put out into the world affects those around us. Every time I hear a siren I stop what I’m doing for a moment and think “peace”. It feels like an all encompassing prayer — for whoever is at risk, for the ambulance crew/police/firemen and it makes me pause in my life and feel gratitude that I am not the one at risk.

  101. I love this! It reminds me of the phrase “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Good to keep others in mind as we go on about our days :)

  102. Thank you so much for this beautiful reminder! I tend to read and pray on the subway on my morning commute and when I first moved to the city a few years ago I made it a regular practice to pray for the people on the subway with me. I’d start by praying for one or two people on the train individually, and then expand it to the whole car, and eventually to the whole of New York City. It definitely increased my compassion for the people around me and reminded me of how large and beautiful and complex our world is. It also reminds me of this C.S. Lewis quote (sorry for the length!) which I love:

    “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

  103. Beautiful! I’m a Christian and pray frequently, but I often focus way too much on myself and my own needs or the needs of my immediate family. Praying for other people is something I definitely need to do more often. I think remembering that everyone is going through tough stuff that could be addressed in prayer is so important for our overall mindset regarding others and their actions, especially when they don’t treat us nicely! Praying for people who are rude to me or even downright hurtful really helps me let go of the hurt and forgive them.

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  105. Yes, I do the same thing. I first read about praying for other people in Norman Vincent Peale’s book known as The Power of Positive thinking. He was a long time pastor at Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. And I usually say a prayer too when I hear the ambulance because the person they are trying to reach or inside the ambulance will need our prayers. :)

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  107. Thank you so much for sharing this, Joanna :) I agree, along with others, that this reminds me of the phrase, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” It is so true, and we often get so pigeonholed in our own struggles and to-do lists that we forget every else feels similarly. Often it requires perspective of others to be able to pull yourself out of dark places. And it’s so encouraging to know others that have worked through tough times. I personally am a Christian and taking the time to pray for others on my way to work sets the most unique start to my day. I’m already contributing to the good of those around me, and so when I begin my work, I begin it with the mindset of serving others. It makes me so much more passionate about what I’m doing, and often gives me the kick in the pants that I need to produce quality work :) Love you lots and hope this is helpful to you as well! Thank you for being you!

  108. I can’t say I’ve ever wondered about strangers’ interior lives, but this is probably what makes you an empathic, relatable person. :) It’s enough to make you pause and reflect when you see someone who looks stoic and/or nondescript but whose life inside you’ve glimpsed. Makes me think of HGW XX/7 in the final scene of The Lives of Others.

  109. This is lovely. It reminds me of the quote that’s often attributed (incorrectly I think?) to Plato…

    “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

    Very helpful when I become impatient or annoyed with people around me. It opens the heart.

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  111. Yes, although I feel like I don’t pray for others as often as I should/mean to. But I’m trying to get into a habit of even something as simple as “Lord, please help them.” I truly feel like I wouldn’t be where I am without others’ prayers. And I’m so thankful for them.

  112. I’m not super religious but I do pray for strangers. As life goes by and I witness more and more heartache from people, it makes my heart ache for everybody.
    You never know what people are going through. It could be something significant such as losing a loved one. Or something seemingly insignificant as forgetting where you parked. My thoughts are almost always with everybody I see.

  113. I’m not religious but I think “praying” or just wishing good things for other people is always a good thing! A great article too and shows the power of possibility. :)

    – Michelle at

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  115. I haven’t read the article you mentioned but I probably will now so thanks for posting about it. I remember I used to hate prayer because it felt like a required practice of Christianity which is the religion I grew up with. It was in college that I actually came to realize the purposes of prayer and that it’s so encouraged because, when done with a pure heart, it can be awesome! It’s one of the strongest glues that hold me to God and truth. It helps me realize what’s in my own heart. Praying for others is better than praying for myself I have come to find out because it’s humbling. Jesus went so far as to say, “Pray for your enemies.” Turns out this is good advice because when I do this consistently I find I have less and less enemies and those whom I would have previously called enemies I start to see as broken individuals who hurt others out of their own hurt. In this way my own hurt and anger are dissolved. Basically, I like your post a lot and agree whole heartedly that prayer is a special way to handle our thoughts.

  116. I think what you are talking about is the self-sacrifice Christianity is predicated upon. Living for others is so powerful … and so so difficult most of the time.

  117. This reminds me of part of that Charles Bukowski quote, “We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t.” I sign every letter, blog post and e-mail with “Be blessed” because if being a teacher and friend has taught me one thing is that everyone’s battle is hard. Kindness and care for others goes along way, not just for the other person, but for ourselves. Such a good post featuring a great article!

  118. Isn’t it funny how when you take the time to think about or pray for strangers the world becomes so much more human! And even so much less lonely.

    I’m 27 years old — I’m still very young. I’m newly married, I love to decorate, I love good wine and cute clothes and hosting parties and beauty secrets and all the things you usually write about — and I’m also a new pastor! (Fingers crossed, I’ll be ordained this summer after many years of study and exams!) I was so delighted to see prayer come up on one of your posts! It’s such a simple way to add a depth of beauty to your daily routine.

    There are few better ways to connect with others and to connect with God and to lighten your spirit than spending some moments in prayer.

  119. I love reading your blog, but this post really touched me: last week, I was watching the movie ‘Her’ when my labour started…a few hours later I held my beautiful baby girl in my arms for the first time. Since then, I haven’t stopped praying for her…. I saw the picture in your post and I felt overwhelmed with love for this little creature and I started praying for all women going into labour right now…

  120. This is such a beautiful post, Joanna. I will read the article again and again as I rock my not-so-baby babies to sleep through their trials — some literally, and some just with my mind and with an abundance of “I love you. I love you. I love you” as I do.

  121. Joanna – I am a new follower I am loving this new post! I am not religious, but I have been working on intentionally sending positive vibes to others. It is almost like I take a ‘namaste’ approach and am mentally bowing to the divine within each person I meet. I find that sending positive vibes to others helps improve my own mental health and wellbeing. Yes yes yes. Thank you for sharing!

  122. Yes. Yes. I love this. I live in the city where Thomas Merton had a very similar epiphany, he wrote: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.”

  123. I think you would love the book Love 2.0–it’s about the science of feeling love–the researcher who wrote it talks about the buddist practice of loving kindness meditation where you pray for yourself as well as others and visualize good things for the people in your life–it makes you feel more love for them (scientifically and emotionally) and helps life feel more full. I am obsessed with the book and dabble with the meditation/prayers and I always find it helpful with whatever challenges I might be facing. I love it.

  124. This is very interesting and so lovely to think of – that there might be people who don’t know you caring about you. It reminds me of a lovely inspiring piece that came to me via your friend Leigh of Marvellous Kiddo. It was called Manifesto of Encouragement and soothed my soul when I was going through an awful lot personally, stuff I couldn’t talk about to friends really (I did have my beautiful boyfriend and wonderful homeopath though, I wasn’t completely alone!). Here is a link. It still buoys me so much. We hear all the bad stories in the news but so much of us want so much good for everyone, ourselves included.

  125. So cool! Yes, I am religious and yes I pray for others though I love the idea to pray for stangers. Great advice. I remember years ago when I was going through a messy break-up, I was terrified of running into my ex in our small-ish town. Whenever I felt fearful, I would pray for him, and the fear instantly went away, and eventually the thought never crossed my mind again.

  126. Beautiful, Joanna. Based on your final comments, I can tell you are an incredibly compassionate person. You would be a wonderful Christian :)

  127. I’m religious and my husband and I attend church regularly. I love this article and the thought of praying for random strangers during a time of personal grief is beautiful. Rarely do we ever read an article, the internet or any social media these days that encourage ‘thinking of others first’ and *gasp* prayer. Whether it be praying or sending out positive thoughts/affirmations, for others, it beautiful and should be encouraged. Maybe if we continue to care for and be kind to strangers, our society would become more generous, patient and caring.

    Great post Joanna!! Thanks!

  128. Reading this post makes me feel less stressed already! Thank you for sharing the article.

  129. At the end of my yoga practice, I always send the light and energy of my practice to someone in my life who needs it then. I have no idea if it actually benefits anyone other than me, but hey – worth a shot.

  130. I love this post, Joanna. Thanks :)