Written by Rylie Ortiz.
Compassion is not always championed as relevant currency in today’s secular society, where material success and achievement often rule ahead of human virtues and social consciousness. Compassion has long been a central tenet in many major spiritual traditions, espoused as a powerful virtue by thought leaders including Jesus, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and the Dalai Lama. Only recently has scienfitic evidence emerged showing that compassion can also play a vital role in our health and happiness.
By definition, compassion is the sympathetic awareness of others’ distress, coupled with a desire to alleviate suffering. It’s empathy plus prosocial action to improve the condition of others. To be compassionate requires attention, insight, and engagement, says Joan Halifax, Ph.D., a Zen Buddhist nun and researcher. Interestingly, while the practice of compassion is inherently about helping others, emerging science shows that it can also help improve the physical health and psychological well-being of the person doing good.
Research demonstrates that compassion plays a key role in social connection and that this conscious interconnectivity can protect us from stress, affecting the heart rate and cortisol levels, among other positive results. Studies have also shown that when we are focused on ourselves, we experience less happiness. This means that when we are giving of ourselves, we tend toward greater pleasure. The potential to positively affect health and longevity has been revealed in those who actively engage in altruistic volunteerism.
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