What is compassion?
Often regarded as something that is related to empathy, compassion is the feeling that comes when you notice someone or something, that is suffering. You may not be able to put yourself into the shoes of the person you are feeling compassionate about. However, having compassion for them means that at least you understand that they in difficulty. What happens after this feeling is felt does not necessarily flow from the sense of compassion. One might, for example, feel compassionate about a child that is in anguish but do nothing about its suffering. On the other hand, if it leads you to comfort the child or to alleviate its pain in some way, then this would be rightly regarded as a compassionate act. Compassion is first and foremost an emotional response, therefore, but it can lead to compassionate actions being subsequently taken, too.
What is compassionate psychology?
Many psychologists and theorists have tried to work out a general theory that can explain compassion and why we feel this emotion. Some see it as a way to create a safer society through greater contentment and peace. A compassionate act helps to maintain the social equilibrium in this view. For others, it has an exchange value. That is, if you show a compassionate side to others, then this is more likely to be reciprocated when you need it. As such, you can think of it like a social lubricant that helps team building. There again, the Dalai Lama has described compassion as something that is no mere social luxury but a necessity for living together.
How does compassion help?
In some scientific studies, compassion has been shown to have a specific neurological effect. This means that our biology is at play when we are compassionate. Our own compassion for others stimulates particular parts of the mesolimbic reward pathway. Essentially, the body rewards us for being compassionate. In addition, being compassionate is something of an expression of self-realisation.
Why is compassion important?
Essentially, by doing something compassionate, we are showing that we understand that the universe does not revolve around us as individuals. Of course, overall compassion reduces the levels of suffering around the world, even if it does not eradicate it. Therefore, it is a good thing, even of itself.
How can you be more compassionate?
Kindness and generosity are key aspects of compassionate behaviour. However, they are not the same as compassion itself since one can be kind or generous without this motivating emotion. To be more compassionate, it is best to be mindful of your own motivations for your benevolence and to ensure you are behaving in a more altruistic manner. Encouraging others as well as something as simple as hugging are acts of compassion, so don't be afraid to use them.