How Being Compassionate Makes Us Healthy & Happy
We've all heard things like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “It’s better to give than receive,” and of course the classic, “Mean people suck.” But did you know there are actually measurable health benefits to being compassionate and kind?
It's true. In fact, compassion has been proven so beneficial that actual programs exist called “compassion training.” As CNN reports, these programs involve intensive exercises in mindfulness, with the goal being to provide a framework for compassion in participants. Everyone from soldiers to school children to the Chicago Cubs have practiced some form of compassion training. The results have lead to things like being more resilient and experiencing less stress.
What qualifies as compassion? When translated literally, compassion means, “to suffer together.” It’s similar to empathy, but not quite the same thing. Where empathy is the ability to share in someone’s feelings, compassion has the added element of wanting to alleviate another person’s pain. Essentially, compassion is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and going, “Oh, these shoes hurt. Let’s find you less painful shoes.”
Some psychologists say the desire to take care of each other is one of the defining characteristics of being human. There is certainly a greater feeling of being connected to our humanity when we receive compassion from another person. But because it’s always better to give than to receive (scientifically speaking), here are seven ways showing compassion makes you a happier, healthier person.
1It Reduces Stress
One study suggests that exercises in compassion (like meditation-based compassion training) can decrease stress levels. Stress takes a toll on your body. So, reducing it through compassion can alleviate some of those stress-related physical problems.
2It Makes Us More Forgiving
A study entitled ‘The Plasticity of Social Emotions’ found that compassion can be linked to forgiveness and behavior like it. Compassion has also been thought as an alternative form of forgiveness. While saying “I forgive you” can be tinged with disdain, feeling compassion adds an element of humanity and understanding when trying to cope with how another person’s actions negatively affected you.
3It Can Reduce The Risk of Heart Disease
Compassion for others is good for your heart in both the metaphoric and scientific sense. Certain studies have found that a happy heart is also a healthy heart, with compassion being linked to lowered heart rate.
4It Gives Us A Greater Sense of Purpose
Exercises in compassion, like loving-kindness meditation, have been found to show significant results. In one study, participants who practiced compassion found “increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions” from increased mindfulness to life purpose. The effects weren’t necessarily short term and even “predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.”
5It Increases Our Self-Esteem
Practicing compassion has been found to improve self-esteem. One study cited this improvement being even more significant in anxious individuals, finding those participants even “reported greater decreases in depressive symptoms” after an exercise in compassion.
6It Helps Your Relationships
7It Helps Us Love Ourselves More
Not only does compassion for others make us more confident, compassion for ourselves has measurable health benefits. Practicing self-compassion (i.e. being less critical of yourself) is also good for your mind, body, and soul. It can make you more resilient, less stressed, and lead to a greater sense of self-worth.