How to Cultivate Compassion
Imagine a world with less bullying, racism, and prejudice. Envision a world where fighting injustice is priority and heroic acts are commonplace. Picture yourself as happy at home and in the office, involved in respectful and reliable relationships. Could this world exist? Yes, it could, and it does in many ways. Empathy is the psychological ingredient that makes this behavior possible. Without it, selfishness, disregard, neglect, hate, and greed succeed. It is what makes life more tolerable in the space people share, and it can lead to immense personal growth.
Why Empathy is the Magic Ingredient
While it may be difficult to convince everyone on the planet that empathy is good for them, you can start your own personal journey toward being a more empathetic and compassionate human. Before you can become more empathetic, it is first essential to know what it is. Most people think of empathy as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. This definition is correct. But reading other people’s emotions and responding adequately is also part of the equation. These two aspects of empathy beget understanding, which nourishes intimate relationships, social responsibility, and self-development. It’s key to happiness and harmony.
If you’re still not convinced that empathy is a necessary quality for peace, health, and prosperity, take note of its many benefits:
· Researchers have discovered that empathetic practices can help diminish racist and prejudicial behaviors, as well as reducing bullying.
· Studies have shown that people with higher levels of empathy act on behalf of others more often, especially when they are taught to do so in childhood. Adversely, the more inequality people feel, the less empathy they exhibit. This is especially true of people from higher socioeconomic backgrounds who tend to demonstrate less empathy.
· Physicians and employers who express empathetic attitudes typically nurture health and satisfaction. At work, it can promote collaboration and innovation, as people with more empathy can identify with others’ needs.
· In intimate relationships, compassion and understanding can prevent conflict and aid in finding solutions to interpersonal static. It also helps people feel a sense of connection to each other which is essential for human development.
· Personally, having a more empathetic perspective can improve psychological well-being, such as diminishing anxiety, depression, and feelings of self-pity. Having a healthy perspective about the events in your life will help you accept and embrace life’s challenges.
And the list goes on and on. While empathy works to negate alienation, fear, and hatred of others, it works to promote self-exploration, self-awareness, and self-respect.
How to Begin Practicing Empathy
Step 1: Connect with yourself.
Take time to be by yourself. Regularly, schedule time to be alone with your thoughts. For some people this may be easy, for others this practice will be difficult. You may feel lonely in your isolation, but out of loneliness comes raw emotions and authenticity. During this time you can meditate, pray, journal, listen to music, or sit in nature. Your objective is to become comfortable in your own skin, which is the next step toward being able to put yourself in others’.
Step 2: Connect with others.
It’s easy to try and connect with others through meeting up, planning trips, or just talking on the phone, but it’s more difficult and essential to truly bond. Active listening allows us to do this. Have deep conversations, truly listening to someone, with no personal motivations. Since it is easier to control your own listening, you may find it necessary to talk to someone who is trained to do so. Active listeners abound on the Internet (people can “listen” via online discussions, too), and counseling is always available. You don’t need to have a clinical diagnosis to see a therapist. Being listened to can help you identify your own emotions and connect with yourself.
Step 3: Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness requires that you pay attention, turning off the auto-pilot. Not only should you pay attention to your own feelings, recognizing and embracing each one, but also pay attention to the emotions of others. Watch people’s reactions and their facial expressions; try to think about how they may feel. When you get upset with someone, think about how they feel in that moment. This is especially important toward helping you grow as a calmer, patient, and less anxious person.
Step 4: Read more.
Research has found that fiction readers exhibit more empathy. Plots have a structure, and the antagonist is always entangled in a conflict. Participating in the characters’ struggles can help us understand how other people think and act, as well as feel sorrow, joy, and the heartaches of injustice. Of course non-fiction can also spark compassion, especially when it consists of human triumph and injustice.
Step 5: Get involved.
Donate your time, money, goods, and services. If you don’t use something for a year, give it to any number of charities. Give your time by reading to children, playing games with seniors, or preparing meals for the homeless. Give money and food when you can to community pantries. There are so many causes to give to; you can even start your own charity. Write letters to the editor and your government officials to spark change. Follow the Golden Rule, and it will follow you back.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
Building a Culture of Empathy - Benefits of Empathy. (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2015, from http://cultureofempathy.com/References/Benefits/
Empathy Definition. (2015). Retrieved March 12, 2015, from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/empathy/definition#how_to_cultivate
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