Compassion is a desirable trait, a trait or virtue you want to have and one you look for in others. It’s a bit different from empathy or altruism, because it’s a direct emotional response to another person with the express intent of helping. Empathy is an emotional response, and altruism is an attempt to help, but only compassion captures both of those motives.
What happens when you act more compassionate? Researchers have broadly studied this topic, and the results are surprisingly impressive. Compassion, as it turns out, isn’t just good for the person you’re trying to help; it’s good for you, too. Here’s how:
You Become Happier
When we give things away to people, it makes us happy, or happier, than being on the receiving end. Similar to experiences, acts of compassion, like kindness acts, stick with us. When we buy new things, we enjoy them until they’re no longer new. When we do something good, similar to when we do something instead of buy something, we get that good feeling — and we proceed to get that good feeling every time we remember the experience.
Your Relationships Strengthen
Research has shown that strong relationships are vital to living a longer, happier life. Mentally healthy people benefit greatly from having solid relationships, regardless of their levels of introversion or extroversion.
By working with others, as compassionate acts generally require, you start to forge those strong bonds. You get a glimpse of others’ lives that encourages you to see them as whole people. That simple viewpoint can make for the strongest relationships.
Your Mind is Less on Yourself
Our American way of life places a strong value on individualism. That’s great, to an extent, but too much focus on yourself can make you feel pretty sad and inadequate. It’s often what leads people to feel down and like they’re in a rut.
If you choose to help someone who is experiencing problems that are different from yours, you can end up with a new outlook. Finding compassion for people often starts by volunteering. You get to know people you otherwise never would have, and you see the world in a new way. Sometimes, that’s just what you need to get a new lease on life.
Your Goodness Spreads to Others
Being a good person encourages others around you to be good people, like the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” In reality, it seems to be more of people rubbing off on each other. When you volunteer, you usually are with people who are dealing with intense situations. Some of those will be worse than anything you’ve had to deal with and some won’t be. Your compassion toward someone can help him or her become more compassionate as well.
You are Rewarded
When you spend your time and money on others, you leave feeling as if you have more of it too. This sounds counterintuitive, but it actually makes sense. The thought is that you don’t give things away unless you have enough. Therefore, when you give away your time, it makes you think you have enough time to give away. Technically, that’s not wrong! The same goes for money. The more you give away for no benefit to yourself, the more money you feel you have.
You Have Less Chronic Pain
Anger correlates with chronic pain. That is, the more pain someone feels, the more anger felt. Although it may seem like the pain is making someone angry, and that definitely does happen, it’s also been shown that an increase in compassion leads to decreased chronic pain.
The first part makes sense, but the idea that being compassionate, even toward yourself, can reduce pain and anger is less expected. Current research shows that any compassion, even when not geared toward chronic pain, can drastically help.
You Boost Your Immune System
Since you’re feeling better, are less angry and generally acting like your personal issues aren’t the main focus, your body is able to get a break from all the stress. Most people know stress lowers your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness and infection. Reducing stress, like you do when you practice compassion, reverses that. Your body has a chance to fight off infections properly, keeping you healthy longer.
You Live Longer
Once you combine all these factors together, you get one result – you have a longer, happier life. Compassion’s benefits help contribute to a longer life. That includes strong relationships, a brighter outlook on life, less pain and more happiness.
People are naturally compassionate toward others. We want to help. Both because it’s good for others and because it makes us feel good. When it comes to compassion, the only downside is that you’re not doing it yet. If a longer, happier life is one of your goals, then start with being more compassionate. When you give, you’ll get back even more.
Jennifer Landis is a mom, wife, writer, and blogger at Mindfulness Mama. She enjoys drinking tea, dark chocolate, and rainy day snuggles with her daughter. She enjoys sunny days, too, but finds they are less conducive for snuggles. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.