Compassion As Remedy

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New studies have found that extending compassion and care for others not only opens our hearts and helps others, but actually protects us from stress.  Participants in one study who showed more compassion toward others had lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, and lower levels of cortisol (which is a hormone that is released when we’re stressed), than the participants who showed less compassion toward others.

And the positive effects of our compassion don’t end with the giver and the receiver involved in the compassionate act, but also spread five or six degrees away from the giver.  That means that if you show compassion or give your care to one person, five to six other people, who are either helped by proxy, or who hear of the story and are inspired and touched, also reap the benefits.

Yet another benefit of widening our circle of care and compassion is called “helper’s high”.  When we take action to help someone we feel compassion for, we experience positive feelings that people describe as being uplifted or high.  These feelings contribute greatly to our own overall happiness and wellbeing.

Researchers have also found that showing our compassion by spending money on other people or good causes creates more happiness than spending money on ourselves.  For example, spending twenty dollars on someone else makes us far happier, and for much longer, than spending twenty dollars on ourselves.  Or as UC Davis psychologist Bob Evans says, “Filling a grocery bag for another rather than purchasing that coveted designer bag for oneself – is a promising route to lasting happiness.”

There are many ways to cultivate compassion in our lives.  The first place to start, however, is with ourselves.  Before we can have compassion and love for anyone else, we have to have it for ourselves. We can learn to see our shortcomings or challenges with kindness, and attempt to accept all parts of ourselves – even the parts we aren’t proud of.  When we accept even the parts we try to push away and reject, we are able to experience a greater sense of wholeness.

Jon Kabat Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts, has conducted a series of studies that show how cultivating compassion for ourselves reduces anxiety, depression, and obsessive rumination, all of which also have direct health benefits.

We might find a practice such as a loving kindness meditation helpful in cultivating compassion for both ourselves and others.  The following meditation is adapted from Sharon Salzberg’s book, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation.

Loving Kindness Meditation

 

Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down.  Close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Feel your body relaxing, allowing all the stress of the day to fall away.

Begin by offering loving kindness to yourself by saying silently:

May I Be Safe, May I Be Happy, May I Be Healthy, May I Live with Ease.

Repeat the phrase several times.  If your attention wanders, just gently bring yourself back again to the meditation.

May I Be Safe, May I Be Happy, May I Be Healthy, May I Live with Ease.

Now think of someone you’d like to offer compassion to. Someone who has been kind or generous to you, someone you are grateful for.  Wish for them what you wished for yourself:

 

May You Be Safe, May You Be Happy, May You Be Healthy, May You Live with Ease.

Now bring to mind someone who is hurting, or going through a challenging time. Picture this person in your mind, say his or her name, and say silently:

May You Be Safe, May You Be Happy, May You Be Healthy, May You Live with Ease.

 

You can now imagine sending loving kindness to all beings everywhere.

May All Beings Be Safe, May All Beings Be Happy, May All Beings Be Healthy, May All Beings Live with Ease.

Repeat these phrases throughout the day, whenever you are feeling stressed or worried, or when you see someone struggling in some way.  This is just one way to use compassion as a remedy.

 

 

Reference: Salzberg, Sharon.  Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation. New York: Workman Publishing, 2011.

Source: http://ucdavismagazine.ucdavis.edu/issues/sp11/happiness.html

Source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/raising-happiness/201002/what-we-get-when-we-give

 

 

 

About the Author

Lisa Nave

Lisa Nave is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Mill Valley, California.

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