“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But 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
When you see a person suffering, what do you feel?
Do you ever feel compelled to go to him or her and offer some piece of yourself as relief?
Do you offer money, food, your home, your time?
That feeling is compassion; true recognition of someone else’s hard time and the motivation to ease his or her burden.
And science tells us what you may already suspect.
When you extend compassion, you’re better for it.
Let’s consider what we know about compassion:
- Compassion feels loving and connecting. To our brains, performing compassionate acts for someone else feels like rewards for us. Studies show that donating money to others feels just as good as receiving money. According to the National Institute of Health, brain imaging reveals that key regions respond to compassionate behavior immediately and significantly, indicating happiness and pleasure.
- Compassion keeps us better connected. Human beings long for lasting love, happy families, secure friendships, and a kinder world. We need to be with each other. Compassion makes it possible to link lives in ways that matter most to us.
- Compassionate parents find that they are more caring parents in general. Brain scan research indicates that by practicing compassion, neural pathways that support caregiving are strengthened.
- Compassionate partners are in great demand and, once coupled, enjoy more optimistic and supportive relationships. In fact, studies on dating find that “kindness” tops the list of desirable traits for men and women.
- Compassionate friends are able to deepen and achieve higher levels of relationship satisfaction. The Mental Health Foundation notes that both sides of a friendship are benefitted when friends recognize that support is readily available.
- Compassion literally soothes the heart. Recent biological studies have discovered strong connections between physical health and compassion.
- Compassion protects the heart and reduces blood pressure by stimulating a release of oxytocin, a hormone triggered by warm, emotional feelings. Being compassionate also improves Vagus Nerve functioning, which helps prevent heart disease.
- A study by Steve Cole and Barbara Fredrickson indicates that people whose lives are filled with meaning, purpose, and compassion experienced less disease-causing inflammation compared to more self-indulgent lifestyles.
- Compassionate people also appear to be more resilient. Loving-kindness naturally reduces the amount of stress hormones that age a person and weaken the immune system.
- Compassion combats hatred and disunity. Our mental and emotional wellbeing are enhanced by compassion’s ability to dismantle our harsh perceptions of other people and aborts the disconnect that feeds negativity and isolation. Genuine concern feeds warm, trusting interaction. Compassion says, “I see you and care about you. I value you and will go out of my way to care for you.”
- Compassion laughs at loneliness. Happier, outwardly focused, connected people generally have less trouble with anxiety and depression. Compassion pulls you away from yourself to show you someone else’s problems and makes you a part of positive solutions.
In this age of video-enabled detachment, compassionate connection is needed more than ever.
But we shouldn’t allow technology or the rat race to callow us to dismiss each other so easily. Compassion is intrinsic to our humanity and wellbeing.
It feels good.
We all bloom together, emotionally, mentally, even physically, when we are moved to care for someone else in his or her time of need.