The Power of Compassion
“I try to share with other people that the ultimate source of happiness is within us; it’s not found in money and fame. I promote fundamental human values on the basis of scientific findings and common sense. Evidence that basic human nature is compassionate is a source of hope.” –Dalai Lama
When I learned that I had to have lung cancer surgery, I told my pulmonologist Dr. Amy Case that I wanted a surgeon who would see me as a real person. Tall order for a surgeon! Dr. Case suggested I meet with Dr. Africa Wallace.
It was obvious that I was overwhelmed and not thinking straight. I asked for the doctor’s phone number so I could call her when I got home. Instead she asked her scheduler to arrange a consult so I could see her right now.
I tried to catch my breath before I opened the door to Dr. Wallace’s office. I was greeted with a big smile and an offer to help me fill in the necessary paperwork. The receptionist was focused on making me comfortable and to cut through my obvious anxiety.
I was overwhelmed by the surgical description and all the doctors and tests I needed before my surgery. Of course I hadn’t taken any notes! She said, you have enough on your mind. We’ll do all the heavy lifting and arrange your appointments. All you have to do is show up!
Every time I told that story people were amazed! There is no doubt in my mind that Drs. Case and Wallace increased the positive outcomes that I experienced.
Once my brain fog started to lift somewhat I started to wonder what it was that effected me and inspired my commitment to get better.
The Power of Compassion
Compassion is the feeling of empathy towards people in need. It is a shared suffering and is generally regarded as the cornerstone of humanity. Compassionate people are able to listen to, understand and act on other people’s experiences.
Compassion replaces judgment with acceptance. It embraces our rich diversity and treats everyone as equals. It benefits those who receive it and those who share it. Compassion involves your willingness to give your time, talent and abilities to make a difference. It involves kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity.
There are multiple benefits compassion. By showing compassion to other people it not only helps them, but ourselves. Everything we do in life is linked through a cause and effect system. By doing good to others we receive positivity and contentment.
Here are some of the benefits of compassion:
- GETTING RID OF THE BLUES – When we feel anxious or depressed, we’re likely to sink into a deep funk. But instead of being focused on our negative feelings, it can be great to put our focus on other people, according to Emma Seppala, Ph.D., director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion. By turning our focus on others and helping them with whatever they need, we gain better perspective on our own problems. This helps us work through our feelings instead of living with them.
- ELEVATES US – Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University, has found that when we see other people be kind to each other, we feel a sense of “elevation.” You can likely relate to this. Do you ever feel inspired and more compassionate when you witness the heroic actions of others? Most theories have shown that our actions and feelings are usually motivated purely by self-interest — but when we do good deeds or feel compassion for others, we gain a warm, uplifting sensation.
- LOWERS INFLAMMATION IN OUR BODIES – A significant amount of research has shown that being compassionate to others is linked directly to improved physical and mental health. Inflammation is at the root of cancer and other diseases and is generally high in people who live under a lot of stress. A life of meaning and purpose is one focused less on satisfying oneself and more on others. It is a life rich in compassion, altruism, and greater meaning.
- INCREASES OUR “EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE” – There are many qualities that define an emotionally intelligent person. Most of the time, people who have high “EQs” show both their strengths and weaknesses to other people, and deeply care about being a good, moral person. Making a habit of paying attention to others — of going out of your way to help someone in need, or even just to say hello — will increase your emotional intelligence, because it means you aren’t focused solely on yourself.
- INCREASES OUR CONNECTION TO OTHERS – Compassion may boost our well-being by increasing our connection to others. One telling study showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. Strong social connections lead to a 50 percent increased chance of longevity. Social connection strengthens our immune system. Research by Stephen Cole, Ph.D. shows that genes impacted by social connection also code for immune function and inflammation. People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression.
- INSTRUMENTAL IN HEALING PATIENTS – Scientific research described in the book Compassionomics shows that an empathetic connection between physicians, nurses and patients result in better outcomes. This includes greater physical and emotional functioning, better adherence to recommended treatment plans and more confidence in her ability to help herself. Compassion also mitigates burnout experienced by healthcare providers.
Self-compassion refers to a way of relating to the self with kindness. It is not to be confused with arrogance or conceit, which usually indicates a lack of self-love.
Psychologist Kristin Neff was the first person to measure and operationally define the term “self-compassion.” She describes self-compassion as kindness toward the self, which entails being gentle, supportive, and understanding: “Rather than harshly judging oneself for personal shortcomings, the self is offered warmth and unconditional acceptance.” In other words, being kind to ourselves in good times and bad, in sickness and in health — and even when we make mistakes.
When we have self-compassion we have greater social connectedness, emotional intelligence, happiness, and overall life satisfaction. We also have less anxiety, depression, shame, and fear of failure.
Compassion is deeply embedded in our consciousness. This is a wonderful time to become self-compassionate and in turn build connections with others.
I hope you join me on this journey!