Give the gift of compassion

By Sally Evans

Times are quite tough for lots of people at the moment, and there is also a lot happening globally, which may give rise to additional worry in our lives. For this reason, I started wondering about the importance of compassion.

Compassion is defined as the feeling that we have when we are faced with someone else’s suffering and is not quite the same as having empathy. Empathy is actually how we perceive the emotions of other people and respond to them. Compassion is what makes us want help them and our desire for things to be better for someone else. On the other hand, altruism is an action that is undertaken to benefit someone else and doesn’t really demonstrate true compassion. You can be altruistic and help others but may not have empathy or compassion. Compassion almost always involves a real combination of empathy and an altruistic behaviour towards others. So, compassion is really the emotional response whilst really feeling someone else’s suffering and having an authentic desire to help alleviate a person’s pain.

Whether it is just how the world events are being reported, or really how things are, but there really feels there is lack of real compassion about at the moment. I don’t know if you feel the same?

But compassion is a crucial component of our lives and in many respects is what makes us human – the ability to really feel for what someone else is going through and want to help them. But if we have compassion for others, it actually helps us in so many ways ourselves:

• Compassion helps build resilience and can really help us consider how to manage our own stress effectively.

• Being compassionate has also shown to improve our immune system.

• Studies show that compassion reduces the risk of heart disease. This might be due to the stimulation of the vagus nerve, which reduces heart rate, which is beneficial in the long term for the heart muscle.

• Showing compassion helps us appear more adept in our emotional and social situations – we will appear less judgmental, less threatening and anxious, more open and even kinder.

And naturally, showing compassion helps with improving our own emotional and mental health and increases our own general life satisfaction. People who take care of other people, assist others in need, and teach others to act out of kindness are generally the most satisfied in life.

So, how we become more compassionate?

First of all, we need to be really mindful of how we are reacting and responding in situations. Are we truly listening to our colleagues, family and friends, or getting ready to jump in with solutions and advice for them to take?

Secondly, it helps if we learn to be a little more compassionate with ourselves – accepting our own imperfections, differences, and embracing our flaws.

Loneliness is a real ingredient of poor emotional health, and reaching out, having compassion for others, is one way to ensure you are rarely lonely. Being kind to yourself and others helps increase self-compassion as well as make others feel good about themselves. It might be tough to cultivate real compassion on your own; don’t avoid the subject - ask others how they show compassion in their lives. An outside perspective goes a long way to being creative in growing your compassion and living out a different life.

One of the greatest gifts we can give to each other is the gift of compassion. But sometimes having self-compassion is the place to start. Maybe, take a long hard look at how you honestly view the world – are you viewing the world in a harsh way; judging other people’s behaviours and being distrustful of others? If so, those feelings might be seeping out and other people sense that. How about you see if you can view the world as an optimistic and cooperative environment rather than competitive for change? Who can you show some compassion to today? It might just change your own life for the better.

Sally is the Founder of LifeBuddy. She is an Organisational Development consultant and is a Practitioner with the Association for Business Psychology.