What exactly is compassion and how does it contribute to your mindfulness?
Many definitions of compassion are confused with ‘being ‘empathetic towards others’.
This isn’t entirely correct.
Empathy is simply about being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes.
Compassion is about having the ability to understand the emotional state of either another person or oneself.
Compassion then involves going one step further. Compassion is feeling a desire to reduce or alleviate that suffering of another person or oneself. It is about being inspired to help!
Compassion can simply be about loving people and accepting them as they are. You can’t change other people. The sooner you accept people as they are, the sooner you’ll be able to relate to them, their circumstances and understand why they might be behaving in a certain way. You might even then be able to help them!
But, compassion isn’t always about other people. And no, this isn’t selfish…
The Dalai Lama suggests that we must show compassion towards ourselves before we can show compassion to others. Let’s illustrate why this is crucial…
Showing yourself compassion means accepting your humanness.
You aren’t perfect.
You will make mistakes.
Judging and criticising yourself isn’t the solution to those mistakes. This creates negative resistance. Actually accepting yourself, showing self-compassion, is the crucial first step to changing things.
And guess what? This isn’t just hearsay. Practising self-compassion, in a University of California study, was found to increase people’s motivation for self-improvement.
Learn to embrace your life circumstances and practice ‘self-love’. Our lives are so busy that we forget to look after ourselves.
Invest time in yourself.
The key to becoming a more compassionate person really is to practice self-compassion.
Why practice compassion? What are the benefits of compassion?…
Sometimes people avoid being compassionate for self-interested reasons.
Our powerful brains enable us to feel the pain of others. Many people believe the best way to protect themselves is to retract from providing compassion to others in need.
Yet, compassion truly is the key to happiness that money simply can’t buy.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”
– Dalai Lama
Scientific research has found that by helping others we really do help ourselves, by increasing our own levels of happiness.
Being compassionate in our everyday lives activates the pleasure circuits inside of our brains. The activation of these pleasure circuits is linked to longer lasting increases in happiness. Essentially, because of the way our brains work, the pursuit of compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness in its own right.
And if you really need any more motivation, being compassionate can improve our…
…Social relationships: by showing more compassion to those around you, your relationships can transform. In any social relationship each individual brings something to the table. If you bring more compassion, inevitably, the dynamic of the relationship will change for the better. It provides the opportunity for those around you to be more compassionate too.
One study in particular found that when one friend aims to support their friend more compassionately, both friends then experience greater levels of satisfaction and growth within their relationship.
… Work relationships: Compassion can extend to your professional relationships in work too. Studies have found that greater levels of compassion amongst workers results in people enjoying their jobs more and feeling more committed to a workplace.
How to cultivate compassion…
Myth buster… Some people aren’t born more compassionate than others!
In Darwin’s 1871 book ‘The Descent of Man’, he states that sympathy is mankind’s strongest instinct, stronger than self-interest.
We are all capable of sharing compassion with those around us. Here are a few tips…
1. Be present
Compassionate people are mindful. They are fully present when they are listening and helping others. You don’t need to start formulating your response as they are talking. Other distractions such as mobile phones should be put to one side. Just listen.
2. Suspend all judgement
Pay careful attention to what is being said and the emotions that are being portrayed. Don’t judge. It is easy to think ‘I would act differently’, but remember, this person isn’t you! If someone has made a mistake, try to understand the circumstances of why they might have behaved the way they did. Help them with consideration of who they are…
3. Be inspired to help
Being compassionate involves responding in a warm and caring way to the suffering of those around you. All you have to do is be open-minded, offer your understanding and desire to help.
4. Respond to emotions rather than words
Words may hide how a person is truly feeling. Angry words may well be hiding an underlying sense of fear. Try identify and respond to the underlying emotions.
5. Look for commonalities with those around you
Studies suggest that our levels of compassion increase when we discover a common connection with one another. It could simply be that you are both human beings; we all need support, advice and love. Set aside the differences.
6. Recollect the compassion you have received
Take a moment to consider the support network that surrounds you. Research suggests that the more we recollect how others have been compassionate to us, the more willing we are to help others in need.
7. Overcome those who ‘mistreat’ us
Always consider the fact that you don’t fully know what is going on in someone else’s life. There may valid reasons why someone isn’t behaving in their usual manner. Don’t take things personally. You don’t always need to know the full story to provide a few kind words of compassionate advice.
8. Don’t focus on the size of the issue at hand
Focus on what you can do. However big or small. Action is better than no action. Believing that you can make a difference will make you less likely to curb your compassion!
You only get out what you put into it
With compassion, you really do get out what you put in.
Aim to be more self-compassionate, and use the above tips to extend your compassion to those around you. Add more compassion into your life and discover the true route to happiness in your social relationships.