Happy New Year, dear friends! I hope 2013 has taken off to an amazing start for you and all your loved ones. [caption id="attachment_14502" align="aligncenter" width="272"] Photography by ©iStockphoto.com/A-S-L[/caption] As 2012 drew to a close, I had the chance to spend some quality time with my family and friends and reflect on all that happened over the past year. It was a busy year filled with ups and downs that have changed me forever. You see, in the middle of 2012, I lost my father. Regardless of your relationship with your mum or dad, losing a parent can be one of the most trying experiences in your life. In the months following his passing, I was left to deal with a range of emotions that were new to me... and they weren't consistent. One moment I was sobbing uncontrollably, and the next, I was smiling because of a silly joke he told me as a child. I learned very quickly, though, to let myself experience each and every one of these emotions, because in the end, they would help me heal. I won't say I'm quite there yet, but life is a journey and I'm letting myself go through the motions. There's a reason I'm sharing this story with you in my first post for 2013. I learned a lot about myself and the people around me through this experience, and my perspective has shifted in many ways. Here are five important life lessons I learned in 2012: 1. It's important to surround yourself with positive energy. Don't let people tell you how you should feel. Those who love you and care about you will stand beside you through it all -- the ups, the downs, and the puzzling moments. Positive enforcers go a long way when you're having a dull day. 2. Focus on the relationships you do have, rather than the ones you've lost or expect to have in the future. I think we often forget how limited our time is on this earth, so it's important to make memories in real time, rather than to focus on the past or the future. It's okay to reminisce and dream about your life, but it's more import to be present in the present. 3. Find time to see those who make you smile. Whether it's a friend, a family member, or that barista at your favourite coffee shop, if the person puts a smile on your face, you should see them more often, if possible. We tend to spend a lot of time focusing on negativity in our lives, so it's important to spend just as much time (if not more) with the people who bring us joy. 4. Find out what makes you happy and do it. Indulge in a hobby that puts a smile on your face. Take classes to get better at something, whether it's knitting or dancing or cooking or improv. If you like to travel, you should travel. If money is an issue, the trips don't have to be across the planet or to different countries. Consider local trips outside your city or town (or within your city or town, for that matter). A change of scenery can mean a change of perspective. 5. Finally, and most importantly, one of the best pieces of advice I received in 2012 was this: Be kind to yourself. Life is tough, and sometimes we're put through tests that shake our very core. During times like these, we tend to be our biggest critics. It's important here, to take a step back, to take a few deep breaths and to realize that we're all human. We make mistakes, we live and we learn. Let yourself be and don't beat yourself up for things that are out of your control. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others.