If you are reading this in the midst of a frantic day, you may be thinking swear words in your head. I don’t have time to even catch my breath, how on earth can I fit in compassion?!?
Harnessing more compassion for ourselves, and others, may be, however, just the tonic we need to help ease that frantic feeling. A myriad of research studies have demonstrated that increased compassion is related to increased happiness and decreased depression, stronger social connection, lower anxiety, increased psychological wellbeing and positive ageing! There is also increasing evidence that compassion can create more positive interactions in teams.
“If you want others to be happy, practise compassion. If you want to be happy, practise compassion.” – Dalai Lama
What do we mean when we refer to compassion? A definition we like describes compassion as the ability to understandthe emotional state of another person or ourselves. Importantly also, holding compassion includes a desire to alleviate suffering. Feeling compassion for someone can then also lead to feeling empathy.
Compassion and empathy are often confused, but they are distinctly different. Empathy is best thought of as the ability to put ourselves in another person’s place.
Self-compassion can be harder to define. Self-compassion involves thinking and acting kindly toward ourselves, especially when we fail or are finding things difficult. Some researchers suggest that perceiving our life experiences as part of the larger human experience aids self-compassion, as does “holding” (sitting with, not trying to ignore) painful thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes people worry that self-compassion will lead to a lack of responsibility, letting ourselves off the hook when we make mistakes. In fact, self-compassion can assist with accountability and balanced thinking about ourselves. Practising compassion involves holding the big picture when reflecting on our failures or weaknesses, keeping in mind what we are doing well, or even what we are just trying to do, as well as what we are doing poorly, or less well than we would like.
Perhaps most importantly, compassion is a skill. We can learn how to strengthen compassion and to get better at using it in our everyday lives, including when life is frantic. Some compassion researchers describe this process as increasing our compassion “bandwidth”. It can therefore be helpful to make a routine to practise, perhaps at a certain time each day, or when carrying out particular activities.
Increasing compassion for others:
- Start with genuinely wanting to understand or help others.
- Practise understanding using a totally different perspective than you would usually apply. What could be another reason for the person acting this way?
- Use the principle of “a good reason” – when someone has done something that hurts or upsets you, assume they had a good reason for doing it. Ask more questions and try to take account of the big picture.
- Carry out acts of kindness. See if you can do kind acts every day, for people you find tricky, as well as those you like.
- Practise meditation or mindfulness. Loving-Kindness-Meditation in particular has been shown to greatly improve compassion.
Increasing compassion for ourselves:
- Again, use the “good reasons” principle. What was my reason for behaving in this way? What can I do differently next time?
- Do regular meditation or mindfulness practice.
- View ourselves through the lens of people who hold us in high regard. X would say I am doing the best I can in these circumstances, Y tells me I’m coping well.
- Continue to ask questions and take account of the big picture when thinking about personal failures. What are all the factors that have contributed to this?
- Pay attention to, acknowledge and even write down personal successes or things we are proud of.
A good website to try Loving Kindness Meditation