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OBW MAGAZINE

COMPASSION IS CONTAGIOUS

COMPASSION IS CONTAGIOUS

"When we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection - or compassionate action."

Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

We could all do with feeling happier and more connected with ourselves and others. This is when being compassionate can help.  It seems so timely to take a good look at what we mean by compassion, why it's important, and how we can develop it.  

WHAT'S COMPASSION

Compassion is experiencing feelings of kindness towards another person's affliction or suffering and, sometimes acting upon these feelings with solution-focused behaviour. It's related to, but a little different from empathy, which is feeling with someone or sharing the other person's emotion.

Compassion certainly seems to a be key factor in coping with life's challenges, but often overlooked. Various research has shown that the compassionate tend to have deeper connections with others, are more forgiving and have a stronger sense of life purpose.  

On a personal level, compassionate people tend to be healthier, resilient, self-confident and more content.

WHY IS COMPASSION IMPORTANT

Compassion Uplifts & Spreads

Research by Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia suggests that seeing someone helping another person creates a state of "elevation." Social scientists James Fowler of UC San Diego and Nicolas Christakis of Harvard demonstrated that compassion is contagious and creates a ripple effect. People tend to keep this altruistic behaviour going for hours. You may not know it, but by uplifting others, you are also helping yourself for a better state of wellbeing.

Compassion Makes You Happy

A brain imaging study by neuroscientist Jordan Grafman showed that the pleasure centres in the brain (parts of our brains that are active when we experience pleasure like exercising, eating certain foods and sex), are equally active when we see someone giving money to charity. Giving to others even increases wellbeing above and beyond spending money on ourselves.

Compassion Makes You Attractive

Most of us want to be loved or desired. We seek love at work in the form of recognition, with our families in the form of respect and kindness and in our romantic relationships in the form of intimacy and social support. Ideally, we want to have good relationships, and we want people to like us. In seeking this love, we can go to any lengths, including focusing on our appearance (think anti-wrinkle creams, chemical peels or muscle-inflating protein powders). We sometimes put on a show to impress others and to conceal our weaknesses and vulnerability. However, many studies examining the trait most highly valued in potential romantic partners suggest a different story; Both men and women rate kindness as one of their most desired traits.  

Compassion Boosts Your Health

Research by  Martin Seligman suggests that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better mental and physical health, but also speeds up recovery from disease. Stephanie Brown at Stonybrook university has shown that it may even lengthen our life. It seems that people who were happy because they lived the "good life" known as hedonic happiness had high inflammation levels. However, people who were happy because they lived a life of purpose or meaning, also known as eudemonic happiness, had low inflammation levels. A life of meaning and purpose is one focused less on satisfying oneself and more on others. It is a life rich in compassion, altruism and greater meaning. 

HOW TO DEVELOP COMPASSION

Although economists have argued to the contrary, a growing body of evidence suggests that, at our core, both animals and human beings have that "compassionate instinct." In other words, compassion is a natural and automatic response that has ensured our survival. However, we can also develop more compassionate behaviour through compassionate training and every day, small, cumulative acts.

7 everyday ways of becoming a more compassionate person

  • Have self-compassion: Give yourself a break and tame that inner critic.
  • Reach out with genuine concern: With so many ways of connecting these days, there's no excuse not to care about someone's situation and keep them front of mind.
  • Listen fully: Listen with intent. Try not to be thinking about what you need to cook for dinner when someone has reached out to you.
  • Speak from my heart: Be honest but measured about your responses, so that people know you are emotionally invested in them
  • Employ a Growth Mindset: Have a positive attitude towards learning and your ability to progress and achieve. Be open.
  • Gratitude: It’s easy to forget that we have a lot to be thankful for and many of us 'have' more than we will ever need. Thinking about what we don't have is psychologically unhelpful.
  • Be Mindful: Be in the moment and present with yourself and others. Don’t think about the past or the future. It's all happening now.

 "May you be well and happy."
"May you be free of pain."
"May you be peaceful."
"May your heart be filled with love."

Developing compassion further with compassion training

Compassion training has helped others who experience regular stress in their work. After compassion training, doctors and nurses who suffer a lot of professional burnout become better caregivers and feel empathy without internalizing a patient's distress as their own.

Dr. Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi developed a cognitive-based compassion training program at Emory University that is based on Tibetan contemplative methods. Negi has seen stressed students and members of the public make remarkable progress.  His studies have documented success in specific patient populations, including breast cancer survivors, people with PTSD and life-threatening conditions.

"Creating an environment in which people can learn soft skills and emotional intelligence is so important," Negi said.

The happiness that can come from compassion training is the kind that lasts. Unlike the fleeting feeling of hedonic happiness that comes from buying a new dress, for example, happiness derived from compassion is sustainable.

 Sometimes it can be challenging to practice compassion in a world filled with negative headlines and individualistic lifestyles. However, we can all learn to practice compassion for ourselves and others so that we can improve our wellbeing and make our world a better place.

 SOME GREAT RESOURCES 

TED Talks

The Science of Compassion – Dr James Doty

Dr James Doty, the founder, and director of the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University talks about the Science of Compassion in his TEDx Talk, "The Science of Compassion."

Reimaging compassion as power – Tim Dawes

Tim Dawes talks about the concept of compassion done powerfully. In this TEDx Talk, Tim focuses on demonstrating the power of compassion to not only influence and lead but to create better outcomes in both business and life.

Books

Compassionomics Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli 

In Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference, physician-scientists Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli uncover the eye-opening data that compassion could be a wonder drug for the 21st century.

Find the book on Amazon.

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself Kristin Neff

Kristin Neff's extraordinary book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, offers expert advice on how to limit self-criticism and offset its negative effects to help you achieve your highest potential and find more contentment from life.

Find the book on Amazon

The Neuroscience of Empathy, Compassion, and Self-Compassion  Larry Charles Stevens and C. Chad Woodruff

In The Neuroscience of Empathy, Compassion, and Self-Compassion, Stevens and Woodruff provide contemporary and unique perspectives on the related domains of empathy, compassion and self-compassion (ECS) in a brief and easy to comprehend fashion.

Find the book on Amazon.

A Look at the Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook

The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive, is a science-based workbook written by renowned leaders in the field of self-compassion: Dr Kristin Neff and Dr Christopher Germer.

Find the book on Amazon.

The Compassionate Mind Workbook: A step-by-step guide to developing your compassionate self  Dr Chris Irons and Elaine Beaumont

The Compassionate Mind Workbook utilizes ideas and practices from Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)—which draws on insights into emotion regulation and identity formation, neuroscience, interpersonal psychology, and other psychotherapeutic models—to help readers with a range of mental health problems to develop self-compassion.

Find the book on Amazon.

The Self-Compassion Workbook for Teens: Mindfulness and Compassion Skills to Overcome Self-Criticism and Embrace Who You Are Karen Bluth, Ph.D., and Kristin Neff, PhD

Find the book on Amazon.

The Science of Mindfulness and Self-Compassion: How to Build New Habits to Transform Your Life Kristin Neff, PhD (Author, Narrator), Shauna Shapiro, PhD (Author, Narrator)

Find the audiobook on Amazon.

 

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