One of the best things you can do for yourself – and actually the world if you’re into saving the world and that kind of stuff, is to act with compassion.
This means extending kindness. Connecting with others not in empathy, when you share their pain, but as a helper who wants to ease it. Compassion has huge physical and emotional benefits not only to those who receive your kindness, but to those who extend it.
Research by Steve Cole, Barbara Fredrickson, Lara Aknin, Martin Seligman, and others shows that when we act compassionately we feel happier, less stressed and we experience greater well-being.
But another thing happens in the moment when you act compassionately: you feel good. Better about yourself. Better able to cope with adversity.
Yet, there are plenty of times when we are ticked off: Guy cuts you off on the freeway, someone pushes in front of you in line, or those dang telemarketers just keep on calling – and we just don’t feel like being nice.
We take the bad behavior personally. See it as a sign of disrespect and that fires us up.
Thing is, it’s never about us. The guy is simply not thinking on the way to a work meeting. The woman in line? A single mom trying to get home to her sick kid. Telemarketers? Just trying to pay the bills.
Rather than getting caught up in the actions of others, we can act with compassion and ease the upset for them and for us. Here’s how.
Five Things about Compassion
- Remember we all make mistakes. People are screw ups. Seriously. Imperfection is one thing we ALL have in common. If you haven’t made a mistake yet, get ready, because you are due. And when you blow it you’ll want the kindness of others on the other side. Make sure you offer the same.
- It is not about you. Everyone has a backstory. What’s going on in their lives is none of your business but you can assume something is because we are human and we all have our own crap to deal with. Their alleged disrespect or rudeness had nothing to do with you, it’s what is within them. Therefore you acting schmucky back teaches nothing, changes nothing, just leaves everyone feeling bad and stressed and unhappy. Don’t be that grouchy guy.
- Even grumps need love too. Often the grouchiest people are those that feel the most alone and forgotten in the world. A little kindness can make a profound difference for them and then they will offer it to their kids or wife or the world. That is a game changer.
- Compassion is a choice not a reward bestowed. Emotions and good feelings spread. And so do the bad. What legacy do you want to leave in the world. Are you the one to leave things better, or contribute to the stress and hostility that already abounds? Your choice. No one has to do anything to earn compassion. Everyone is deserving. In fact, whether you act compassionately or not has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s simply a choice you get to make – to be kind or not.
- Compassion is active. Empathy allows us to share emotions with others, but compassion is active. It requires you to do something to ease the suffering of another. To reach out. Offer support or encouragement or kindness. And we all feel better. Unlike stress, hostility and anger which can harm our bodies when carried around too long, compassion can help us heal.
In Wednesday’s post I’ll offer up some specific ways to be compassionate when others aren’t.