How important are compassion and kindness?
Human compassion and human kindness are two of the most important things in the world.
As the Dalai Lama quote goes:
“We can live without religion. We cannot live without human compassion”.
Random acts of kindness and compassion are the most enjoyable things in the world. That’s one reason why Buddhist monks have a meditative medhods for developing sympathy that they do every single day.
But you don’t need to be Buddhist or even spiritual to understand the importance of compassion in life.
Why Compassion Is Important In Life
Just the look on a stranger’s face when you do something amazingly kind for seemingly no reason… it’s pretty amazing.
Compassion is good for:
- Making others feel good
- Making others feel validated
- Improving your self esteem
- Improving your heart rate
- Improving your sense of worth
- Boosting your happiness
- And many other things as we will reveal in a moment.
Science has proven that compassion is so important in life we literally cannot live without it. But why?
What are compassion and kindness? A psychological definition
Compassion is basically 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 actually need both these traits for our own health.
Simply put: Without kindness and compassion you will not 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 difference. 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 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.
Health Benefits of Compassion And Kindness
One reason why compassion and kindness are important is that they have big benefits for our health.
A whole wealth of scientific research shows that one big reason why compassion is important is that we need it 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. 
It is a fact that people who are compassionate live longer lives. 
Here’s why compassion is important to our health:
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.
This is even true for kids. 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. And almost universally the kids who gave their treat to another kid felt better than those who had their own treat.
So the science clearly shows why compassion is important in life.
More health benefits of compassion:
Want even more reasons why compassion is important in life? Consider these benefits:
- Helps stop anger
- Helps us to be non-judgmental
- 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 us 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 short comings and not doting on failure / 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? I mean, other than the fact that we all want to be good people and love being nice?
Mental Health Benefits of Kindness
Here are six mental health reasons why kindness is important in life:
- Kindness helps maintain good health and diminish the effect of major and minor diseases and disorders. (3)
- Kindness promotes the release of endorphins that make you happy, promote calmness and improve your sense of well-being. (4)
- Kindness can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. (5)
- Kindness decreases negative feelings like anger and depression. (6)
- Recalling previous acts of kindness increases positive feelings. (7)
- Not to mention, kindness makes people like you and want to be with / around you. (No need for proof).
Physical Health Benefits of Kindness
Here are three physical-health reasons why kindness is important in life:
- Stress related health problems improve after kindness. (PROOF (see above))
- 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))
- Another reason why kindness is important is that it promotes the production of T cells in the immune system, which help fight illness and disease. (8)
Just being kind can have such a huge impact. And thankfully we’re all really kind people (in my experience, 99% of the readers of The Daily Meditation are extremely kind people, so I guess that means you’re all happy and successful too. Woo hoo!) Love you guys!
As spiritual people we want to heal the world. We want to heal other people. And we want to do it in compassionate ways.
And now, new 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 some seriously impressive evidence proving what you and I, and people like us, have believed for years: compassion heals people.
As you probably know, there are some serious health benefits of compassion.
Those benefits are usually for the person who is being kind. But science shows that not only does being compassion heal us, it also heals the people we are being compassionate towards.
How Compassion Heals
Speaking to The Washington Post, the authors illustrate how big a difference compassion can make in the health care field.
“About 30 million Americans have diabetes,” says Trzeciak. “The estimated health-care costs of this is $327 billion annually. What happens if a health-care 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 percent 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. This compassion heals because it calms them putting them in a much better state for an operation.
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.
It is one of the most important things in the world, historically. Consider these facts.
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.
Spiritual and religious importance of compassion
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.
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. 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 my guide to developing the attitude of gratitude.
4. Advice from the happiest man alive
The Happiest Man Alive is Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard.
More than anything else in the world, Ricard say if you want to be happy, 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. 
If you want to be happy, self compassion is the key.
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 out chances of success and does not necessarily make us happier.
The reason why self compassion is important is because it does the opposite. Self compassion is important because it let’s us work on both our strengths and our weaknesses.
Breaking research by the University of California Berkley science department has shown that self compassion is 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.
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. That’s one big reasons 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 3 key facts to know:
- High self esteem prevents us from acknowledging our weaknesses, so we cannot work on them.
- High self compassion helps us to accept our weaknesses so we can improves.
- That’s why high self esteem can be a negative, where high self compassion is always a 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 around. And to establish this mentality you can practice self compassion meditation.
How I personally learned the importance of compassion in life
It can take a little bit of wisdom to realise why self compassion is important in life.
I personally learned 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.
I considered taking my 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 (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.
Compassion. It’s what the world needs more of.
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