We’ve all heard of the Carbon Footprint and I recently read a great article on our Stress Footprint, but have you ever considered your Compassion Footprint? Being mindful of the ways we benefit others is part of the revolution from the inside out – its a simple way for ordinary people to change the world!
Compassion is what is going to save our species. – Dr. James Doty, Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University School of Medicine
Compassion is concern for suffering and the desire to reduce or eliminate it. It takes great courage to live compassionately, because in order to experience it we must allow ourselves to make contact with what is conventionally seen as unpleasant, unwanted, and difficult. Fortunately, our compassionate thoughts and actions don’t just benefit others. They also happen to increase our own happiness and joy, and the consequences of this ripple out far and wide creating a beneficial cycle.
A compassionate lifestyle has favorable effects on our health and wellbeing. Research shows compassion provides a buffer against stress and increases our sense of connection with others. Lower stress and greater social connection are correlated with increased longevity. Higher levels of compassion go hand in hand with more positive emotions and greater levels of reported happiness, which are negatively correlated with mental illness and inflammation in the body.
To top it all off, these benefits are contagious. Seeing someone else act with compassion gives us an uplifted feeling and makes us more likely to act with compassion ourselves. Acting with compassion leaves a footprint – it makes an impression and changes the landscape for the better. Since we are all connected, one person’s compassionate thoughts and actions benefit us all.
If we aren’t mindful, the stresses of the world can desensitize us causing compassion fatigue. When we feel unsafe, our self-preservation instincts tend to dominate. Fortunately. we can train ourselves to be more compassionate and resilient, even in the face of difficulty. Research shows that the more compassionate we are, the more that suffering elicits in us care, nurturance, and positive social affiliation rather than sadness, aversion, or pain. So the more we practice compassion, the easier it gets.
It turns out, mindfulness is an important skill for cultivating compassion. This is because we are able to be more openly aware of suffering when we are mindful. We become more aware of our habits and patterns and are better able to let go of constriction, guardedness and defensiveness when it makes sense to. An added benefit of mindfulness practice is that, on its own, it has been shown to increase compassion.
A wonderful practice for increasing compassion is loving-kindness meditation (LKM). Research indicates that even small doses of this practice can have positive effects on wellbeing. Consider trying this 13-minute guided LKM with MAM Founder and Mindful Self-Compassion teacher, Aimee Eckhardt, every day for a week. We’d love to hear what you discover!
Seppala, E., Rossomando, T., & Doty, J. (2013). Social connection and compassion: Important predictors of health and well-being. Social Research, 80(2), 411-430.
Jazaieri, H., McGonigal, K., Jinpa, T., Doty, J. R., Gross, J. J., & Golden, P. R. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of compassion cultivation training: Effects on mindfulness, affect, and emotion regulation. Motivation and Emotion, 38, 23-35
Shapiro, S. (2013). Does Mindfulness Make You More Compassionate? Greater Good Magazine, February 27.