Is Compassion The Missing Ingredient In Optimal Health?

Treat others how you’d like to be treated – I’m sure many of us would lose count of how many times we were reminded of this as children. Yet many adults seem to throw this saying out the window, in the name of urgency and efficiency, in the frantic pace of modern life.

We know that being kind and showing compassion is absolutely essential to humanity but what effect does it actually have an our health? Researchers from Stanford University have found that as little as two weeks of practicing compassion with intention has a positive physiological effect on the body. It can lower blood pressure, boost your immune response and increase your calmness. Essentially, if it was a pill we’d take it.

Not only does compassion have physiological effects, people who are actively practicing compassion are happier and live a better life. It also has a significant effect on others, motivating them to be kinder, thus creating the ripple effect about which I’m so passionate!

Encouraging people to sit silently for 20 minutes a day and contemplate kindness, or write in a gratitude journal may enhance production of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is typically released at times of nurturing and eases anxiety and stress-related symptoms. It is also thought to increase our generosity.

But how do you practice compassion for the person that cut you off on the motorway this morning, your colleague who thinks blunt and abrupt is the only way to communicate or your partner who still hasn’t figured out that socks and underwear don’t actually magically fly to the washing machine?

5 ways to deepen your compassion

  1. Look for similarities, rather than differences when it comes to challenging relationships, this automatically calms your nervous system and assists with feelings of contentment.
  2. Listen – often when are listening to someone speak we are formulating a response, waiting for our opportunity to offer some advice. Instead just listen. Suspend your judgment and let them express themselves freely – respond to the emotion not just the words, as many people have trouble communicating their thoughts clearly.
  3. Drop the judgement. Remember that everyone is on a journey in life, just as you are on your own. Instead of judging other people’s decisions or opinions learn from them or bring curiosity to the situation. Curiosity keeps communication open. Judgement shuts it down.
  4. Look inward and question areas of your life where you lack compassion, trust, forgiveness or acceptance. Explore why this is the case, be patient and kind with yourself but actively work on these areas.
  5. Random acts of kindness – pick some flowers for a colleague, pay for a friend’s lunch, send someone a thank you card – just for being them, or compliment a stranger. You never know how far this simple gesture will reach in that person’s day. It might mean they don’t throw to anger, or that they think about how they can positively impact someone else’s day or that they simply walk away from your interaction with a smile on their face and warmth in their soul.

I leave you with this wonderful quote from the Dalai Lama – “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

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