Today, increasing number of scientific studies are telling us how compassion is key to many aspects of our wellbeing – healthy relationship, resilience, dealing with stress, even physical health and longevity. Compassionate people are able to benefit more from other’s kindness, are able to maintain their optimism even in the midst of adversity, and do not suffer from acute loneliness. Studies on young children and undergraduates show how individuals experience greater happiness when they are given a chance to buy things for others than asked to spend the money on themselves. Some describe compassion as “the best kept secret of happiness.” Fortunately, studies also reveal that compassion and empathy are part of our basic makeup as human beings. We only need to nurture them and allow their expressions in our life.
Now, we humans have recognized the importance of compassion for a very long time. In fact, all major faiths extol its virtue and arguably compassion is at the root of the teachings of all faiths when it comes to living a good life. What is new is the appreciation of compassion’s role in our own personal happiness, and how we can relate to compassion not as a moral injunction but as an important basis of our own wellbeing.
If compassion is so good for us, and furthermore, if it is part of our natural disposition, how is that we do not give it prominence in our life? It turns out, intriguingly, that we also bring lot of resistance, even fear, when it comes to compassion. We are afraid that if we are too kind and compassionate others will take advantage of us. We are afraid if we are too kind, say to a family or a friend for example, he or she might become too dependent on us. So in the pretext of “tough love” we often close ourselves to a loved one so that we do not have to feel the pain. We are afraid that others might think we are too soft and weak. We are afraid that we might be overwhelmed if we let ourselves to feel compassion for someone else’s problem. When we see other’s kindness we suspect that there might be a hidden agenda. We are afraid to open ourselves to other’s kindness because we fear that we might become too vulnerable. We bring similar resistance when it comes to self-compassion as well. We fear that if we let ourselves to be self-compassionate we might become a looser. In addition to these, there might also be culturally acquired resistance to compassion as well. For example, because of the tendency to explain human behavior primarily in self-interest terms, many struggle with the idea of genuine compassion. As a society, we also worry that emphasizing compassion might undermine justice for it might mean letting criminals go scot free.
All these fears result, in one or another, from misunderstanding what compassion is and how it relate to justice and our responsibility towards ourselves and others. The fact remains, however, giving compassion an important place in our everyday life, in our self-definition of who we are as a person, and relating to ourselves and others and the world around us from It is ultimately in our own best interest. More compassion leads to greater happiness and more meaningful relationship with others, especially our loved ones. It also brings greater sense of purpose to our life.