Compassion is defined as ‘a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate their suffering.’
NHS administrators now see the value in ‘teaching’ compassion to nursing and medical staff. Obama emphasizes the need for compassion amongst people in his Christmas message.
Research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin and regions of the brain linked to feelings of pleasure light up which often results in us wanting to approach and care for other people.
Compassion makes people more resilient to stress. It lowers stress hormones in the blood and saliva and strengthens the immune response. Compassionate people are generally happier as their mind does not focus too much on what has gone wrong in their lives or might go wrong in the future. They make better parents, friends and spouses as a they tend to be more optimistic and supportive when communicating with others. They are more socially adept, making them less vulnerable to loneliness. Employees who receive more compassion in their workplace see themselves, their co-workers and their organization in a more positive light, report feeling more joy and contentment, and are more committed to their jobs.
Stanford University’s Compassion Training Programme’s top tips are:
- Look for commonalities: Seeing yourself as similar to others increases feelings of compassion. A recent study shows that something as simple as tapping your fingers to the same rhythm with a stranger increases compassionate behavior.
- Calm your inner worrier: When we let our mind run wild with fear in response to someone else’s pain (e.g., What if that happens to me?), we inhibit the biological systems that enable compassion. The practice of mindfulness can help us feel safer in these situations, facilitating compassion.
- Encourage cooperation, not competition, even through subtle cues: A seminal studyshowed that describing a game as a “Community Game” led players to cooperate and share a reward evenly; describing the same game as a “Wall Street Game” made the players more cutthroat and less honest. This is a valuable lesson for teachers, who can promote cooperative learning in the classroom.
- See people as individuals (not abstractions): When presented with an appeal from an anti-hunger charity, people were more likely to give money after reading about a starving girl than after reading statistics on starvation—even when those statistics were combined with the girl’s story.
- Don’t play the blame game: When we blame others for their misfortune, we feel less tenderness and concern toward them.
- Respect your inner hero: When we think we’re capable of making a difference, we’re less likely to curb our compassion.
- Notice and savor how good it feels to be compassionate. Studies have shown that practicing compassion and engaging in compassionate action bolsters brain activity in areas that signal reward.
- To cultivate compassion in kids, start by modeling kindness: Research suggests compassion is contagious, so if you want to help compassion spread in the next generation, lead by example.
- Curb inequality: Research suggests that as people feel a greater sense of status over others, they feel less compassion.