Why Compassion Is Important In Life Right Now

the importance of compassion

There are many reasons why compassion is important in life.

For starters, compassion is important for our health and happiness. And it can even have a significant effect on our careers and personal lives.

There are many character traits that we truly need. For instance, just consider the staggering benefits of hope. 

Compassion is one of those essential traits. 

For millennia, spiritualists have touted the importance of compassion in life. For instance, there are references to compassion in the Bible, Buddhist dharma, Hindu mythology, and most spiritual texts.

But just exactly why is compassion important in life.

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Why Is Compassion Important in Life?

Compassion is a sympathetic concern for the suffering of other people. Similar to compassion are kindness and empathy. Although, empathy can be a killer. 

Compassion, however, is always a positive thing.

The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology explains that compassion is about the desire to help alleviate the sufferings of ourselves and others.  

Ellen Berscheid [American social psychologist] calls kindness “Compassionate Love.” And Daniel Batson [American social psychologist] tells THE DAILY MEDITATION that kindness involves empathy, the ability to feel another person’s pain. 

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Kristin Neff [Postdoctoral research associate] tells us that self-compassion involves three components:

  1. Self-kindness (understanding our own shortcomings and not doting on failure or pain)
  2. Self-humanity (perceiving our own experiences as part of humanity rather than as reflections of ourselves as individuals)
  3. 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 is a definition of compassion. But why does it matter so very much?

Why compassion is important for life-expectancy

Both kindness and compassion are important in life. In the first place, they make the world a better place. Moreover, we need them for our health.   

In fact, compassion 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] 

In the book Self‑Compassion Step by Step: The Proven Power of Being Kind To Yourself, Dr Kristin Neff explains that we need kindness and compassion to live a healthy life.  

And in a piece for the BBC, Lauren Turner shared the fact that compassion makes us live longer lives. 

Her article was based on a study from UCLA’s Bedari Kindness institute. The study showed that kindness has a huge effect on our mental health, and our mental health impacts our physical health. In fact, it is quite literally impossible to be healthy without being compassionate. That’s why we should focus on being kind and compassionate more than focusing on ourselves.

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Here’s an interesting question for you: Do you feel better when you give than when you receive?

Giving and being compassionate actually make us happier than when we are self-serving.

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.

Similarly, kindness makes kids feel better. The University of British Columbia conducted a test on children. Kids were told to either have a treat themselves or to give it to someone else. Universally, kids who gave their treat to another kid felt better than those who had their own treat. [4]

Clearly, one reason compassion is important in life is that it makes us happy.

Additionally, there are health benefits of 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? 

Similar to these benefits of compassion are the benefits of kindness:

  1. Kindness helps maintain good health and diminish the effect of major and minor diseases and disorders. (5)
  2. Promotes the release of endorphins that make you happy
  3. Increases calmness
  4. Enhances sense of well-being. (6)
  5. Reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  6. Decreases negative feelings like anger and depression.
  7. Recalling previous acts of kindness increases positive feelings. (7)
  8. Stress-related health problems improve after kindness.
  9. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can cause heart attacks and other health problems. Kindness helps reduce the risk of these issues.   
  10. Promotes the production of T cells in the immune system, which helps fight illness and disease.

The Healing Power Of Compassion

As spiritual people, we want to heal the world. We want to heal others. Furthermore, we want to do it in compassionate ways. Because of this, I often discuss compassion in THE DAILY MEDITATION’s newsletter.

Truly we cannot underestimate the importance of compassion in life.

Consider the science. 

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. However, not only does compassion heal the individual who is being compassionate, but 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. As an illustration, they conducted research on diabetics.

“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 per cent higher, even after controlling for age, socioeconomic status, and gender. It also shows 41 per cent lower odds of serious complications from diabetes.”

Of course, this is just one example of how compassion heals. Similar studies are plentiful. For instance, studies show that patients who go into surgery have higher chances of survival when they are shown kindness and compassion before entering the operating room.

Ultimately, compassion heals because it calms the patient and enables them to be in an emotional state that is more conducive to recovery.

Historical Importance of Compassion In Life

Not only is compassion important in life for health, but historically it has proven essential. Overall, the world would not be what it is today if it weren’t for some very special people who chose to live compassionate lives.

Just consider these two historical events in which compassion changed the world.

During the Holocaust, German industrialist and spy Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi party. Despite the risk, he chose 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 that will move even a cold stone to warm tears.

Another man who embodied compassion was Abraham Lincoln. He brought about the abolishment of slavery.

Similarly, we have 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. Ultimately, 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

Compassion is arguably the most shared quality in all world religions. Consider these examples.

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 an elevated level of compassion.

Similarly, Jainism calls Karuna (compassion) one of the four reflections of universal friendship. The others are 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 it has inspired billions of people around the world to be compassionate.

Why Self Compassion Is Important in life

Self-compassion is the ability to observe and accept your weaknesses and mistakes with understanding and kindness. Particularly, 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. However, 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 of ourselves helps us to function more effectively. 

But it doesn’t really explain why self-compassion is arguably the single most important quality in the world. Indeed, why is self-compassion so staggeringly important that researchers from the University of California, Berkley call it the key to a successful life? [9]

Perhaps I can answer that by sharing something that happened to me.  

It was ten years ago. I had moved abroad to Canada, where I knew no one but my girlfriend. Imagine how I felt when I went through a painful breakup.  Basically, 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. The self-hating needed to stop. My friends and family stepped in and helped me to get a flight back home to England, where I spent months recovering. But the worst thing was that I hated myself. For months I treated myself like trash. And I became ill because of it.

Recovery was a gruelling process that was only possible when I decided to focus on self-compassion. I went through hell specifically because I lacked self-compassion. 

So, as you can see, there are many reasons why compassion is important in life. Now let’s look at how to cultivate compassion in our lives. 

How To Have More Compassion In Life

Now we know why compassion is important in life. Here’s how to have more of it.  

1: Practice 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. 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 for compassion. Buddhists believe that you cannot become enlightened until you develop 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. 

4: Advice from the happiest man alive 

According to a study conducted by Richard Davidson [neuroscientist, University of Wisconsin], the happiest man alive is Matthieu Ricard. A Tibetan Buddhist monk, Ricard’s number one tip for happiness is compassion.  Compassion for yourself, for other people, for animals, for the world. Ricard says he became the happiest person alive because he trains in compassion every day.

5: Generate more compassion with Aikido

Ironically, one of the best ways to develop compassion is by practising a martial 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.

Facts about compassion:

  • Research conducted by the National Institute of Health shows that the brain’s pleasure centres are activated when we perform acts of kindness.
  • You should stop spending on yourself and spend on others. The University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School research shows that people are on average happier when they spend their money on others.
  • If you’re single, you might also like to show kindness. Because science has proven that we are naturally attracted to kind people. And not just people who are sympathetic to us. People who are kind in general.
  • Acts of kindness make other people happy. Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia researched the effect of kindness on group mentality. He showed that people feel happier when they see kidneys from others. 
  • UC San Diego research shows that kindness is contagious. When people see someone being kind, they’re more likely to be kind themselves.  
  • Many studies show that kindness makes you more resistant to illness. And it increases longevity.
  • Compassion eliminates stress and depression.
  • Being kind makes you feel as though you have more time, not less.  
  • Improves happiness
  • Heightens connections to other people
  • Reduces the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Promotes oneness
  • Leads to reciprocal kindness
  • Reduces risk of stress-related illness. 
  • Improves your social life
  • Helps to increase our ability to forgive

SOURCES: 

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

2: Why being kind could help you live longer. 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, 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/

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By 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.

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