How important is compassion?
Human compassion is one of the most important things in the world.
The Dalai Lama said, “We can live without religion. We cannot live without human compassion”. And he’s right.
As you know, I delve into a lot of different spiritualties because I believe an open inquisitive mind is one of the most important traits you can possess. And I’ve recently been in Buddhist mode. Part of my recent spiritual development has been finding lots of excuses for random acts of kindness. And honestly, being randomly kind is probably the most enjoyable thing in the world. Just the look on a stranger’s face when you do something amazingly kind for seemingly no reason… it’ pretty amazing.
And I wanted to share what I have learned about compassion with you guys.
My motivation here is to inspire people to be more compassionate. If you share that passion, please share this article on Facebook and Twitter.
So let’s get started.
To begin with, I have created an infographic to help illustrate the importance of compassion. Please feel free to share using the code below.
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The Historical Importance Of Compassion
The world would not be what it is today if it weren’t for some very special people who chose to live compassionate lives.
If you look back at history, compassion has been one of the most important things in the world.
Of course, as an enlightened reader you will know all about the Holocaust.
During the Holocaust, German industrialist and spy Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi party. He risked his own life to employ 1200 Jews in his enamelware and ammunition factories. His love and kindness is a prime example of the beauty of compassion, and even led to one of the most touching movies in history in Schindler’s List, a movie which will move even a cold stone to warm tears.
Abraham Lincoln was another man who embodied compassion, bringing about the abolishment of slavery. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Mother Theresa…. When you look back at the history of the world, it’s not the ultra wealthy or the glamorous celebrities that we remember. It’s the people who sacrificed themselves to make a difference in the world. It’s the people who embodied the most important of traits: compassion.
And compassion is immensely important in every religion too.
In Theravada Buddhism, living through Karuna (or living through compassion) is seen as the key to attaining great happiness in life. It is one of the four “divine abodes” (brahmavihāra), along with loving kindness (Pāli: mettā), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). It is considered impossible to become a bodhisattva (one who has achieved enlightenment) without achieving a high level of Karuna.
In Jainism, Karuna is one of the four reflections of universal friendship, the others being amity (maitri), appreciation (pramoda) and equanimity (madhyastha). These four reflections are used in Jainism to stop the influx of karma.
Recently, I was listening to Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm (Phra Visuddhisamvarathera), a British Theravada Buddhist monk. He’s the author of several books including the wonderfully named Kindfulness (you can pick up a copy of Kindfulness on Amazon )
Honestly, Ajahn Brahm is such a beautiful and inspiring man. He’s the type of guy that reminds me why I spend countless hours every day working on this blog and spreading kindness and compassion. He’s the type of learned monk who has so much wisdom it’s impossible not to just sit and listen to him for hours on end whenever you get the chance. And he’s very friendly. He reminds us that we don’t need to become Buddhist monks to se the wisdoms of the Buddhist dharma.
Ajahn Brahm reminds us that we need to give people back the wisdom that they have somehow lost. As the enlightened ones, you and I are charged with the responsibility of being leaders in a new age of compassion.
How I personally learned the importance of compassion in life
I personally realised the importance of compassion six years ago when I went through a terrible time in my life. I had moved abroad to Canada where I knew no one but my girlfriend. A painful break-up left me homeless thousands of miles from family. I hit rock bottom. Depression crept up on me like Mara crept up on Buddha. Depression hit. I considered taking my life. I needed compassion then more than ever. My friends and family stepped in and helped me to get a flight back home to England, where I spent months recovering. I have never been more aware of the importance of compassion in life than I was right there and then. I vowed to dedicate my life to kindness and compassion. This very blog is the result of thousands of hours of work done in the hope of helping people. And it’s all inspired by the compassion of friends and family. Compassion saved my life, and compassion led me down a new path.
But the importance of compassion goes beyond this. We know that compassion is needed to change the world and to help those in need. And you and I put our everything into doing that, day in, day out. Whether you’re looking after that stray cat outside that needs you (hi, Matey (my stray feline friend)) or whether you’re working in a nursing home looking after the elderly you need compassion.
Compassion doesn’t just help the person on the receiving end, though. It helps us, the compassionate ones, too.
Scientific research has proven that compassion is one of the most important things for both your physical and mental health.
But just what is compassion anyway? A psychological definition.
What exactly is compassion and how is it different to altruism and empathy? Because there is a link between those things. A highly empathetic person is far more likely to be compassionate. Compassion is also a lot like kindness (and kindness is very important too).
So what precisely is compassion?
Compassion is often confused with empathy. Empathy is an emotional response to other people’s feelings. Someone else feels sad, we feel sad for them. It’s an emotional mirror between two people, and it creates real feelings in us. That’s empathy.
Compassion is different. The best definition of compassion is that it is empathy plus the desire to help. The important thing is that you don’t just feel the emotions of another person, you also want to help them because of those emotions. You can read more about how compassion is different to empathy on Greater Good.
The Staggering Health Benefits of Compassion
A whole wealth of scientific research shows that compassion is very good for your health and well-being. In fact, compassion may have played a pivotal role in our survival as a species.
Positive Psychology is a field of psychology that deals with the positive aspect of health. These scientists look at what makes people happy. And may I just say, “Thank God”, because it’s about time science focused on the positives.
Positive Psychology founder Martin Seligman tells us that connecting with others in a meaningful way improves your physical and mental health and will even help prevent diseases. That’s why people who are compassionate live longer lives.
What’s more interesting is the reasons why compassion is healthy. Have you ever noticed how it feels better to be the person giving something feels better than receiving something? Brain-imaging tests by the National Institutes of Health show that when you give something you activate the pleasure centres of your brain. Giving even makes you feel loved.
In one test, two groups of people were given money. One group was told to spend the money on themselves. The other half were told to spend the money on other people. The groups were then studied. And the results unanimously showed that spending money on other people feels better than spending money on yourself.
By the way, this is even true for kids. University of British Columbia did a similar test on children. They were told to either have a treat themselves or to give it to someone else. And almost universally the kids who gave their treat to another kid felt better than those who had their own treat.
So clearly, compassion makes you feel great.
But what other health benefits does compassion offer?
It helps you to be non-judgmental
Makes you more accepting of other people
Gives you understanding and appreciation for how other people feel
Makes you a better listen
Improves your social skills
Improves inner peace
Creates a more harmonious atmosphere in group settings.
Compassion at work improves productivity (one reason many bosses are introducing mindfulness at work).
Basically, makes you a better person, don’t you think?
So clearly compassion is very important. It’s a win / win situation. The more compassionate you are the happier and healthier you and everyone around you will be.
Now, I know that you, are Zen-sational readers, are already in the top echelon of compassionate people. But what if you want to be even more compassionate?
Here are some great ways to boost your compassion levels
Loving Kindness Meditation: Loving Kindness Meditation is one of the most important meditation techniques in the world. It is used to develop equanimity and universal love for all. And it will naturally heighten your levels of compassion. I’ve created a complete guide to Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta meditation) to help you get started.
Karuna Meditation: Karuna meditation is the number one Buddhist meditation technique for compassion. Buddhists believe that you cannot become enlightened until you develop a very high level of compassion. That’s what this technique is all about. Take a look at my guide to Karuna Meditation Technique.
Be thankful for what you’ve got (because this will make you want to give back): The more thankful you are for what you’ve got, the more you will want to give back. And I know that you, are readers, are pretty much the leaders of the attitude of gratitude. But if you want to be even more grateful, take a look at this lguide to developing the attitude of gratitude.
New research at the University of Califfornia, Berkley, reveals self compassion, not self esteem, is key to success in life. 
If you want to be happy, self compassion meditation is the key.
Of all the subjects covered by self improvement books, perhaps the most poplar subject is self esteem. Amazon has 5000 books on the subject of self esteem, books that argue that self esteem is the number one key to success. It’s a viewpoint shared by the majority of Western civilisation.
Championing self esteem is only natural. After all, if you feel good about yourself you will be more motivated and generally happier. However, there’s one terrible pitfall about self esteem – it prevents us from accepting our failings.
If self esteem is about feeling great about yourself then you’re naturally inclined to turn your eye from the weaker sides of your character. Perhaps this is why recent research has revealed that self esteem does not, in fact, lead people to become more successful. It turns out that high self esteem causes people to think they are more successful but not to actually be more successful.
But if self esteem is not the key to success in life then what is?
Recent research by the University of California Berkley science department has shown that self compassion is actually more important than self esteem.
WHAT IS SELF COMPASSION?
Self compassion is the ability to observe and accept your own weaknesses and mistakes with understanding and kindness. Self compassion is accepting the less-than-awesome aspects of yourself in a nonjudgmental manner. Self compassion has been scientifically proven to improve optimism, happiness levels and personal wellbeing.
With self compassion, you are still aware of your shortcomings and mistakes and you still strive to be the best you can be, but you accept where you are at the present time being with understanding and compassion.
By accepting and understanding who we presently are, we gain knowledge. We recognise that, for example, we tend to forget things often. Were we looking from a point of self esteem we might say to ourselves “I have a great memory” even though, really, we don’t. This faulty viewpoint makes us incapable of working around our weak memory because we are choosing to ignore its existence.
In contrast, when we accept that our memory is not the best, when we recognise and understand this weakness in ourselves, we are then able to look objectively at ways to work around the problem.
So, the next time you screw up, accept it in a nonjudgmental manner. Be realistic and understanding. Recognise what went wrong and what led to the error. That way, you can work around the situation the next time around. And to establish this mentality you can practice self compassion meditation.
Compassion. It’s what the world needs more of.
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