Cultivate Compassion

Get compassionate to get happy and healthy.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” (Dalai Lama)

The Dalai Lama has long known the benefits of compassion—and now science is backing him up. There are physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits to practicing compassion. People who practice compassion produce more DHEA (the anti-aging hormone) and less cortisol (the stress hormone).[1] What’s more, compassion leads to happiness, both for yourself and those around you.

What Is Compassion?

Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. Compassion is often accompanied by action—we see suffering and we move to alleviate it.

Cultivating Compassion

Who doesn’t want less stress and more happiness? It sounds simple, though not easy. But compassion takes practice and commitment. Want to cultivate more compassion in your life? Here’s how:

1.Practice empathy: Developing empathy for fellow human beings is critical to cultivating compassion. In order to truly experience empathy for another, we must take our focus off of ourselves and instead imagine ourselves in another’s shoes. To hone your empathy skills, imagine that a loved one is suffering from a terrible loss. Get specific—imagine the pain they are feeling in as much detail as possible. After practicing for a few weeks, shift to imagining the suffering of people you don’t know. Keep the focus on the other person, rather than shifting your focus to your own experiences and memories of suffering.

2.Practice commonalities: Most of us spend more time focusing on the differences we have with others rather than recognizing what we have in common. While we may be different, we are all human beings and we share the same basic needs—food, shelter, love, and joy. Spend time focusing on commonalities with others rather than differences. When you meet someone new or encounter someone challenging, you may quietly reflect: “Just like me, this person seeks happiness, love, and freedom from suffering.”

3.Practice kindness: Developing an intentional, ongoing spirit of kindness in your daily life will bless the lives of those around you—and you’ll find that you are different because of it. Make kindness a daily practice. Offer kind words, smiles, hugs, your time, or a listening ear. Make it your mission to ease the suffering of others, even in the smallest ways.

4.Practice forgiveness and empathy for your enemy: Perhaps the most difficult component of compassion is finding a way to extend it to everyone, including those who have mistreated you. You may think that only a spiritual master such as the Dalai Lama can achieve this level of compassion, but you may surprise yourself. Try this: when faced with anger or conflict, withdraw. Later, in a calm setting, reflect on the person who mistreated you. Imagine their childhood, their background, or the current circumstances that might influence their behavior. Try to imagine the suffering that may have led to their mistreatment of you. Practice empathy for the person and imagine relief of their suffering. Now reflect on your own past—have you ever mistreated anyone? What would it feel like to have the person you mistreated extend compassion toward you? This powerful exercise takes practice, but leads to new levels of compassion and forgiveness.

5.Practice gratitude:Gratitude opens the door to a positive, happy mindset. It is an emotion, an attitude, and a way of life. By counting your blessings, you help yourself shift into a state of appreciation for life and all that it offers, good and bad. By practicing gratitude, you train yourself to see the glass as half full rather than half empty—and this, too, paves the road toward compassion for self and others.

Reference:

[1] Pace TW, Negi LT, Adame DD, et al. Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2009; 34(1):87-98.

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