By Derek He
Think back to a time when someone went out of his or her way to help you when you were struggling. How did you feel? For example, one day I had gotten into a serious argument with a family member, and I was visibly upset the entire day. One of my friends noticed how I wasn’t talking much and was keeping to myself. He approached me to reassure me that things were going to be fine. Because he knew how much I liked music, he suggested that we play the piano and sing together later that day.
This simple suggestion instantly lit up my day. It is moments like these when thoughtfulness and compassion can make others feel valued. That is the beauty behind compassion.
To strengthen your relationships with family, friends and coworkers, here are five practical tips to cultivate compassion:
1) Put yourself in other people’s shoes
Think back to when you witnessed someone else in a tough situation. Now imagine if you were that person. What would your day have looked like? What would you be thinking? How would you be feeling? Immerse yourself in these questions and feel the suffering that they were experiencing. Now ask yourself, if you were that person, what would you want others to do for you? Give you a smile, or a compliment? Be a person to talk to?
Your answer can guide you in how to help someone who is suffering. And in the future, aim to do this when you see others needing help.
2) Muse over what makes you similar to others
When it comes to compassion, it ultimately comes down to remembering our shared humanity, the things that make us human and lovable. For example, we are all trying our best to provide for our loved ones and ourselves. We all have fears. We all have goals. We all want love and affection. We are all vulnerable to certain things. We all need protection of some kind.
At the end of the day, these commonalities as well as many others, make us beautiful. Start appreciating how we are all similar and relatable. By doing this, you grow your empathy and compassion.
3) Strive to be compassionate to all people
Many of us have grown to distrust certain groups of people. Whether they have a different appearance, belief system, or socioeconomic background, we may distance ourselves because of our preconceived notions of who they are. However, we need to be compassionate to all people, not just the ones that we choose.
We should even be compassionate for the people who have wronged us. Often times, those people couldn’t help it. As Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
If you had grown up with the same parenting, same environment, and same life experiences, you would probably act the same as them. This does not excuse their behavior, but it can allow you to empathize with those who have hurt you before.
4) Be deliberate in writing about compassion
It’s not enough to have occasional thoughts about wanting to be more compassionate. Your thoughts have to be deliberate to become second nature. That’s what writing can help do—it makes your thoughts and feelings more ingrained in your mind.
I challenge you to make a journal or find a loose-leaf piece of paper and start writing thoughts about your journey in developing compassion. You can reflect on how good you are at it, or on memories relevant to helping others, what you can do to be more compassionate, etc. The point is that journaling helps rewire your brain. You now start seeing more things through the lens of compassion.
5) Care for yourself
It’s hard to care for others when you are in a bad position yourself. Strive to maintain your mental health. Ask yourself if you are content with your life. And if not, then ask yourself why. A lot of the troubles in our lives are not things that are actually real, but things that we make up in our minds.
Realize that your toxic thoughts don’t have to control you. You can slowly remove or replace them with ones that build you up.
Self-love is also essential. Realize that you are enough. Realize that your life would be dull if you were perfect because your imperfections make you more human and life more exciting. You only have one life to live, so spend your time enjoying it.
Compassion is a virtue that can transform your life. It guides you to do things that you otherwise would not do. It makes your mind clearer and opens your heart. Ultimately, your life becomes fuller when you cultivate compassion.
About the Author
Derek is a blogger about meditation, mindfulness, and happiness at westernmonks.com. He is passionate about sharing his unique experiences and insights with others and improving people’s lives. His favorite article is about using cold showers to train people in mindfulness.