Transforming Your Life Through Compassion and Empathy
I've been thinking a lot lately about whether we are a compassionate society. There's no doubt we are following a horrific event like a school shooting or terrorist attack. But, are we compassionate on an everyday basis? Why is it important to be compassionate? How can we know if we are compassionate people? These are the issues I address in this blog.
What is Compassion?
Compassion has been defined in many ways. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” In the literature, there appears to be a broad consensus that compassion involves feeling for a person who is suffering and being motivated to act to help them. According to the Theosophical Society of America, the characteristic trait compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical, and spiritual traditions, directing us always to treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves.
Compassion is sometimes differentiated from empathy and altruism, although the concepts are related. Empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, and compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help them. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often motivated by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion. It could simply be that a person sees helping others as a way to add meaning to their life.
The Psychology of Happiness and Meaning
Research by Martin Seligman, a pioneer of the psychology of happiness and human flourishing, suggests that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better mental and physical health. A compassionate lifestyle leads to greater psychological health because giving to others is a pleasurable activity, if not more so than the act of receiving. It also broadens our perspective beyond ourselves and creates a sense of connection to others that generates a positive feeling and enhances well-being.
Empathy and compassion for others may be reciprocated. For example, let’s assume your next-door neighbor’s husband just died and you decide to cook some meals and bring them over so the family can grieve without worrying about the little things. Six months later, your husband passes away and your neighbor returns the favor. One good deed deserves another. We feel good about what we did and our neighbor’s actions. It gives us a sense of satisfaction and gratitude, two elements of happiness.
Things Compassionate People Do
Writing for the personal development website, Life Hack, Kyle Hart identifies 20 things only compassionate people would do. These are quite instructive so I decided to share the top ten compassionate acts I think more people do than the others (in my view) with my readers.
- Put other people’s needs above your own.
- Listen first, speak second.
- Never leave someone you care for, and always have their back.
- Forgive easily.
- Find something in common with everyone.
- Value people and experiences over money.
- Be kind to yourselves as you are to others.
- Be mindful of everything in your life.
- Understand that people have differences of opinion, and they express those in different ways.
- Bring out the best in others.
These are words to live by, in my opinion. Compassion is a lost art in our society. If you disagree, just go through the list and see how many characteristics define your behavior. If you’re not satisfied with the results, commit yourself today to being a better person by becoming more compassionate.