Compassion – why it changes lives
Compassion is a confusing concept. For some it’s as simple as being there for someone else, but for others it implies weakness in showing emotion. The range of feelings and perceptions surrounding the word is staggering. As emotional intelligence become more and more sought after in the workplace and beyond, compassion does too. Let’s look at the definition more closely.
In a study on compassion published 2017* the complexity of the definition becomes apparent. Some regard compassion as pity, some as ‘suffering with others’. For some being compassionate is an action, and for others it’s a feeling. There is no definitive definition of the concept. The word is defined in the Oxford dictionary as ‘Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.’ As is evident from the wording in this particular definition, there are different elements to compassion. Sympathy, empathy, concern and pity are all associated with compassion from a feelings point of view. But those feelings are all different and have different perceptions and interpretations again. Compassion is complicated, but an unmissable piece of the puzzle in today’s environment.
*Compassion: Concepts, Research and Applications, edited by Paul Gilbert
As with many other emotions and skills, the ability to show and feel compassion can be built up and learned. Many studies have been conducted to understand if, and how, compassion can increase and what the results are in the longer term. Results have indicated that not only does increasing capacity for compassion and empathy have beneficial effects in everyday interactions, but it affects the way our brains work by stimulating different areas. Compassion, like other skills improves and increases by regular practice. How can we achieve this?
According to the Charter for Compassion there are many things you could do everyday to help you on your path to becoming more compassionate:
- Make a habit of expressing your appreciation of others every day.
- Ask yourself, “What is this person feeling?” especially in trying situations.
- Keep your promises to others.
- Ask gentle questions: What can I do for you? What do you need?
- Become an observer of how people express their feelings.
- Build a work culture that is emotionally safe and friendly.
- Ask for feedback about your behaviour, decisions, and words.
- Develop a sincere interest in other people by asking yourself what they have to teach you.
- Open yourself up to others and be willing to share your feelings and emotions, it creates trust.
By practicing just one of these actions a day we could significantly improve our ability to feel empathy and understand the complexity of the lives around us. Imagine a world where everyone tries to achieve one act of compassion a day.
As important as compassion for others should be the compassion we feel for ourselves. Self-compassion means giving ourselves the same care and support we’d give a good friend or others in need. This is sometimes difficult to achieve because of the way we have been socialised into believing that self-care is indulgent or that self-compassion is equated with self-pity. But instead of mercilessly judging or berating ourselves when we fail or have a bad experience, we could treat ourselves with understanding and care. The only way to increase our self-compassion is through practice. Here are a few tips to help you develop yours:
Be forgiving – don’t judge yourself for failing. Remember that you are worthy and deserving of unconditional love and kindness, just as others are. Self-love allows you to take better care of others and the world.
Say thank you and be grateful – Gratitude reminds us of all the ways our lives are great and is a simple way to reinforce what you find amazing about yourself. Consider writing three things you are thankful for in your gratitude journal daily.
Be mindful or use meditation – (eg love and kindness) as a tool to being present, understanding yourself better and knowing what does and doesn’t bring out your best self.
Taking care of your body is a great form of self-compassion. Eat healthy meals, sleep for 7 -8 hours a night or take a nap and exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. Looking after your physical health contributes to your mental health.
Compassion is for everyone. Each of us has the ability to help, heal and support ourselves and others through the practice of compassion.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”- Dalai Lama XIV
“Compassion & empathy is the antidote to judging yourself or others. It recharges your batteries and renews your vitality”-Shirzad Shamine, Positive Intelligence.
“Science of Well-Being, Yale University- Professor Lauri Santos