“Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity” Pema Chödrön
Faraway from troubles, currently surrounded by lush rainforest in a tropical, coastal town, I am slowly learning of recent world events. I read news reports and Facebook posts, aware of my changing emotions: anger, compassion, guilt. For while so many people suffer, my recent days have been shaped by ease and serenity.
I feel a strong desire to help and do something useful, but where do I start? I do know that compassion has been a strong driving force in my life and, like so many others, it has inspired me to take positive action, which has enriched my life and made me happier as a result. Can a compassionate lifestyle really make us happier and healthier?
Research from UCLA and the University of Carolina evaluated cellular inflammation in 80 healthy adults who were screened for two types of happiness. The first type of happiness was derived from self-gratification and pain-avoidance, often referred to as 'hedonic' happiness. The second happiness, known as 'eudaimonic' happiness, focuses more on the long-term and the degree to which a person is fully functioning. It is a self-realised happiness that comes from having a sense of purpose and engaging in activities for the greater good.
The study revealed high cell-inflammation and an impaired resistance to viruses among the pleasure-seeking, hedonistically happy people. Although these people displayed happiness, their genes reacted in a similar way to people who experience depression and live under a lot of stress. Those who were happy through living a self-accepting, compassionate lifestyle exhibited low cell-inflammation and higher immunity to viruses.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion” Dalai Lama
Soft in its approach but powerful in its effect, it seems that we all benefit from a bit of compassion. Here are 5 simple practices that can be done daily to cultivate compassion.
- Kindness Reflect on the kindness of others. Consider how you too can be kinder – this can be through the simplest of gestures, such as a smile.
- Listen attentively Give others your full attention and focus. Listening with genuine interest, empathy and without judgement conveys to others that they are valued. It strengthens relationships, increases mutual understanding and improves trust and communication.
- Be less judgmental We are often quick to make judgements. These are mostly based on assumptions and without knowledge of the full picture – we don’t always know what others are going through. By comparing we focus what is not satisfactory to us and are not accepting things as they are. By focusing on differences we typically inhibit our ability to learn from and understand other people.
- Accept We can cultivate compassion through accepting and even embracing differences – we are all in this together after all. Self-acceptance is another way we can cultivate compassion. By accepting ourselves and extending kindness towards ourselves as well as others, we are giving ourselves an opportunity to flourish as individuals.
- Meditate When something makes us angry, how can we access compassion? I recall past conflicts and consider how I may have handled these better. I am allowing myself time these days to meditate. Contemplating the concepts of kindness, honesty, generosity and compassion, I reflect on two words – soften and expand – and bring these into my being. I still get angry (often with reason!), but I find solutions faster when I breathe into the agitation. I remind myself not to react, but to respond and to soften and expand.