Science Reveals Importance Of Compassion In Life

Scientific research highlights the staggering importance of compassion in life. Not only is compassion important for our health and happiness, it can even have a significant effect on our careers and our personal lives.

For millenia, spiritualists have touted the importance of compassion in life. You’ll find exegeses on compassion in the Bible, in Buddhist dharma, in Hindu mythology, and in nearly all other spiritual texts.

But just exactly why is compassion important in life.

Why Is Compassion Important in Life?


Compassion is sympathetic concern for the suffering of other people. And kindness is the quality of being generous and caring.

We need both kindness and compassion in our lives. And not just to make the world a better place. We need both these traits for our own health.

Simply put: Without kindness and compassion, it is impossible to have a healthy mind. And without a healthy mind, you will not have a healthy body.

Many people confuse compassion for empathy.

However, there are key differences. And where it can be hard to live with too much empathy, it is almost impossible to live without compassion.

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 the individual. 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.

Health Benefits of Compassion And Kindness

One reason why compassion is important is that it holds significant benefits for our health. In fact, it may have played a pivotal role in our survival as a species.

Positive Psychology founder Martin Seligman tells us that connecting with others in a meaningful way [being compassionate] improves physical and mental health and even helps prevent diseases. [1]

Here’s why compassion is important to our health:

It is a fact that people who are compassionate live longer. [2]. It has a huge effect on our mental health, and our mental health impacts our physical health. It is quite literally impossible to be truly healthy without being compassionate.

That’s why we should focus on being kind and compassionate more than focusing on ourselves.

Do you feel better when you give than when you receive? 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.

This is true for kids too. The University of British Columbia conducted a similar test on children. Kids were told to either have a treat themselves or to give it to someone else. Almost universally, kids who gave their treat to another kid felt better than those who had their own treat. [4]

So we know that part of why compassion is important in life is because it makes us happy. What about the health benefits of compassion?

More benefits of compassion:

Want even more reasons why compassion is important in life? Consider these benefits.

Compassion:

  • Helps stop anger
  • Helps us to be nonjudgmental
  • Makes us more accepting of other people
  • Gives us understanding and appreciation for how other people feel
  • Makes us better listeners
  • Improves social skills
  • Improves inner peace
  • Creates a more harmonious atmosphere in group settings.
  • Improves workplace productivity.
  • Basically, makes you a better person, don’t you think?

And here’s why kindness is important in life

Psychological Definitions of Kindness

Ellen Berscheid calls the strength of kindness “Compassionate Love.

Daniel Batson’s definition tells THE DAILY MEDITATION that kindness involves empathy, which is roughly translated as the ability to assume the position of others or to understand how others feel, being upset by another’s suffering and uplifted by another’s joy.

Kristin Neff’s research tells us that self kindness involves three components: self kindness (understanding our own shortcomings and not doting on failure or pain), self humanity (perceiving our own experiences as part of humanity rather than as reflections of ourselves as individuals) and mindfulness (holding in balance our sense of success / failure, happiness / pain etc.).

Patty O Grady has written a great article about the definition and effects of kindness on Psychology Today.

So that’s a definition of kindness.

But just why exactly is kindness so important, other than the fact that we all want to be good people?

Mental Health Benefits of Kindness

Here are six mental health reasons why kindness is important in life:

  1. Kindness helps maintain good health and diminish the effect of major and minor diseases and disorders. (5)
  2. Kindness promotes the release of endorphins that make you happy, promote calmness and improve your sense of well-being. (6)
  3. Kindness can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  4. Kindness decreases negative feelings like anger and depression.
  5. Recalling previous acts of kindness increases positive feelings. (7)
  6. Not to mention, kindness makes people like you and want to be with and around you.

Physical Health Benefits of Kindness

Here are three physical health reasons why kindness is important in life:

  1. Stress-related health problems improve after kindness. (PROOF (see above))
  2. Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues can cause heart attacks and other health problems. Kindness helps reduce the risk of these issues. (PROOF (see above))
  3. Kindness is important because it promotes the production of T cells in the immune system, which help fight illness and disease.

Compassion Heals

As spiritual people, we want to heal the world. We want to heal others. And we want to do it in compassionate ways. That’s why I am continually discussing kindness and compassion in our newsletter.

And now, research shows that we can heal other people by being compassionate towards them.

In their new book, Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarell [a team of physician scientists] state that compassion is the key to healing. The book is called Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference.

The book provides convincing evidence that compassion heals. This is revolutionary because not only does compassion heal the individual who is being compassionate, it also heals the recipient of that compassion.

Speaking to The Washington Post, the authors illustrate how significant a difference compassion can make in the healthcare field.

“About 30 million Americans have diabetes,” says Trzeciak. “The estimated healthcare costs of this is $327 billion annually. What happens if a healthcare provider is compassionate? Research shows that the odds of patients having optimal blood-sugar control is 80 percent higher, even after controlling for age, socioeconomic status and gender. It also shows 41 per cent lower odds of serious complications from diabetes.”

This, of course, is just one example of how compassion heals people. There are myriad similar examples. Studies also show that patients who go into surgery have more chance of surviving when they are shown kindness and compassion before entering the operating room. Compassion heals because it calms the patient and enables them to be in an emotional state that is more conducive to recovery.

The Historical Importance Of Compassion And Kindness In Life

If you really want to understand why compassion is important, consider history.

The world would not be what it is today if it weren’t for some very special people who chose to live compassionate lives.

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 societal benefits of compassion. It even made 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 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.

The spiritual and religious importance of compassion

In Theravada Buddhism, living through Karuna (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.

In the bible: Jesus’s sacrifice is considered the ultimate act of compassion and has inspired billions of people around the world to be compassionate.

How To Have More Kindness And Compassion

1: 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. I’ve created a complete guide to Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta meditation) to help you get started.

 

2: 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.

 

3: Be thankful for what you’ve got:

The more thankful you are for what you’ve got, the more you will want to give back. To cultivate gratitude, read my guide to developing the attitude of gratitude.

4: Advice from the happiest man alive 

According to a study conducted by Richard Davidson [neuroscientist, University of Wisconsin], the happiest man alive is Tibetan Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. And Ricard’s number on tips for being happy is to practice compassion—compassion for yourself, for other people, for animals, for the world.

Ricard says he became the happiest person alive specifically because he trains in compassion every day.

5: Generate more compassion with Aikido

Ironically, one of the best ways to develop compassion is by practicing a marital art: Aikido.

Aikido is not like other martial arts. Lessons in Aikido teach us to stop a fight through peaceful means. Aikido is about non-violent conflict resolution—basically, how to be compassionate when you want to punch someone.

Why Self Compassion Is Important

So you now know why compassion is important. But here’s another question: Why is self-compassion important?

New research at the University of California, Berkley, reveals that self-compassion, not self-esteem, is key to success in life. [9]

If you want to be happy, self-compassion is essential.

This is interesting because many people choose to focus on self-esteem over self-compassion.

Actually, scientific studies show that high self-esteem prevents us from accepting our weaknesses.

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. Because of this, self-esteem does not increase our chances of success and does not necessarily make us happier.

The reason why self-compassion is important and significantly more important than self-esteem, is that it let’s us work on both our strengths and our weaknesses.

WHAT IS SELF COMPASSION?

Self-compassion is the ability to observe and accept your weaknesses and mistakes with understanding and kindness. It is accepting the less-than-awesome aspects of yourself in a nonjudgmental manner.

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 present with understanding and compassion. That’s one crucial reason why self-compassion is important in life. By accepting and understanding who we presently are, we gain knowledge. We become aware of both our strengths and our weaknesses. This broader perspective or ourselves helps us to function more effectively.

Here are three key facts to know:

  1. High self-esteem prevents us from acknowledging our weaknesses, so we cannot work on them.
  2. High self-compassion helps us to accept our weaknesses, so we can improve. 
  3. That’s why high self-esteem can be negative, where high self-compassion is always positive.

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.

How I personally learned the importance of compassion in life

It takes wisdom to realise why self-compassion is important in life.

I learned the importance of compassion six years ago when I went through a horrific episode 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.

I considered taking my own life.

I needed self-compassion more than ever. I needed to stop hating myself, to forgive myself, and to find hope. [because hope is important in life too].

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, 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. It heals the world.

Leave a comment and remember to subscribe to our newsletter.

SOURCES: 

1; Compassionte Mind, Healthy Body, EMMA SEPPALA https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/compassionate_mind_healthy_body

2: Why being kind could help you live longer, By Lauren Turner,  BBC News, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50266957

3: Brain Imaging Reveals Joys of Giving https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/brain-imaging-reveals-joys-giving

4: Kindness key to happiness and acceptance for children, The University of British Columbia https://news.ubc.ca/2012/12/26/kindness-key-to-happiness-and-acceptance-for-children/

5: The heart and science of kindness, Melissa Brodrick, MEdMelissa Brodrick, Med  https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-heart-and-science-of-kindness-2019041816447

6: Compassion and the science of kindness: Harvard Davis Lecture, Nigel Mathers, British Journal of General Practice https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4917056/#:~:text=Individual%20acts%20of%20kindness%20release,and%20less%20effort%20to%20exercise.

7: Can Random Acts of Kindness Increase Well-Being? Erika Stoerkel, MSc. https://positivepsychology.com/random-acts-kindness/


Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation. You can read his books on Amazon

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