Today I read a fascinating article about compassion. I learned that our entire body changes when we feel compassion. It is a known fact that when we feel true compassion our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people. And did you know that compassionate people tend to think less about all the negative things that have happened in their life and they worry less about the future than those who do not show compassion?
So, if compassionate people are happier, worry less and have no fear of the future, then how do we become more compassionate people? I have written earlier blogs on compassion but in this blog, I want to examine exactly what compassion is and what does ‘acts of compassion’ actually look like.
So, what exactly is compassion anyways? I will begin by telling you what compassion is not. Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, although they are closely related. Let’s begin with empathy. According to Webster’s Dictionary, “empathy is the feeling that you get when you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings”. For example, if I see someone crying over the death of a loved one, I could feel sad and cry with them because I feel bad about what happened. That is empathy.
Altruism is when someone gives unselfishly to the welfare of others. It is usually expressed through finances. An example of this would be when a wealthy person donates a large sum of money to a charity, they would be considered, “altruistic”.
You might be thinking to yourself, “both scenarios sound like compassion, so what’s the difference?” Well, here’s the difference. The difference lies in the compassionate person’s desire to alleviate other’s distress. A compassionate person can feel the pain of others (that would be empathy), but then deeply desires to alleviate it (that would be compassion). Compassion literally means “to suffer together.”
Although it may appear that the altruistic person is acting out of compassion, that may not be the case at all, because altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion. I know an altruistic man who is recognized for his large donations to charities, but the truth is, he only gives in order to receive a tax break for his donations. He is altruistic, but there is nothing compassionate about his giving.
So if being compassionate is healthier, how can we develop a more compassionate character? If compassion doesn't come naturally to you, did you know that you could work on being more compassionate? Here are just a few things that you can do to build compassion into your character.
- Listen without judgment. As you listen, try to imagine yourself in the person’s shoes. You will feel empathy and as you work on this, it will turn into compassion.
- Act out your empathy. When you feel empathy towards others, put those feelings into action by trying to help the person, then watch your empathy turn into deep compassion.
- Feel gratitude and express gratitude. Thinking about gratitude makes us feel happy. When we feel happy, we are more likely to feel caring and loving towards others. When these emotions developed within us, they lead towards developing real compassion for others.
- Acts of kindness lead to compassion. Don't simply wait until an empathetic moment comes your way to begin to build compassion, start today. Start by thinking of ways that you can bless others and by doing so, your small acts of kindness will turn into compassionate acts.
- Love. The most important act of all!
Love leads to compassion; they go hand in hand. Those who have the ability to deeply love are the most compassionate people. So give love a chance and watch your compassion grow. It's hard work, but remember if it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you! Let's change for the better.
Love, Ms. B.