“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” - Dalai Lama
Derived from the Latin, compassion technically means “to suffer with,” but compassion goes far beyond suffering. Combining empathy, sympathy, care and concern, compassion involves feeling for another person and a willingness to express or share that virtue. Compassion involves looking beyond one’s own life and plight and seeing into another’s eyes, circumstances and soul. In other words, compassion is caring put into action.
Compassion in action can be as simple as standing up to let someone else have your seat on the bus or allowing another car into your lane in traffic. It can be donating holiday gifts to a local family in need, writing a hand-written letter or card to let someone know that you’re thinking of them, or talking to a friend about a struggle that he or she is having. Compassion can be a word, a hand, a look, a thought or a notion.
Compassion knows no gender, no age, no nationality, no culture, no race and no religion. It is a universal value. Likewise, compassion is integral to the global values of love, peace, integrity, respect and responsibility, all human values that provide evidence of caring, of noticing, of a willingness to reach out and make a difference, regardless of any perceived differences.
Further, compassion offers both short- and long-term benefits; scientific studies have shown that compassionate people produce more of a hormone that can slow down the aging process and less of a stress hormone that can speed the process up. Likewise, compassion can engender more appreciation, happiness and better relationships. If you are a parent or caregiver, a leader in your community or simply a concerned citizen or friend, you can make yourself a paragon of compassion.
Following are five helpful ideas for sharing and showing compassion in your community:
1) Make compassion a part of every single day. When you wake up each morning, simply hold the word or the idea of compassion in your mind for a few minutes, determining how you can offer a little more compassion during that particular day.
2) Focus on what you have in common with others, rather than your differences. Teach your children to do the same through discussion and modeling. Most suffering occurs when we believe that we’re separate, rather than connected. Recognize that others are going through the same things you are – maybe not at the same time or in the same way, but everyone wants to feel safe, happy, secure and loved.
3) Practice random acts of kindness. Pay for a stranger’s coffee, leave a thoughtful, anonymous note for someone who could use a boost, smile more, say “thank you” a lot. Small acts of kindness and compassion can add up to a pretty big deal.
4) Practice loving-kindness meditation. Set aside five minutes to find a comfortable, quiet space, close your eyes and sit up tall. Repeat the following phrases silently to yourself: May I be safe. May I be healthy. May I be happy. May I live with ease. (You can substitute other statements that resonate more with you, if you prefer.) After three to five rounds, move on to someone you care about, envision that person in your mind’s eye, and repeat the same statements silently to them: May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you live with ease. Then, do the same thing, without judgment, for someone who you struggle with. Lastly, send these thoughts of loving-kindness out on a global level. Notice a warm glow from within as you finish and sit silently for a few moments.
5) While compassion in action is particularly powerful, don’t be afraid to talk about it and define it with your kids. Let them know that compassion is important.
In a recent study at Harvard Business School, social researcher Michael Norton gave undergraduates money to spend on themselves or on others. Interestingly, the ones who spent money on others – who gave money away – were happier than those who kept the money for themselves. Likewise, those who reported giving money to charity were happier than those who didn’t. The website DonorChoose.org helps people benefit others, and, in turn, themselves. Money can buy happiness – when you spend it on someone else. Indeed, compassion in action can have incredibly powerful internal and external applications and effects. Give, care, contribute – you’ll make your world better and contribute to more global happiness.