The world might benefit from more compassionate acts and attitudes, and the change can start with you.
Compassion is closely related to empathy. Empathy is about understanding and relating to someone else’s challenges. Compassion is the part of you that naturally wants to offer help.
Without compassion, life as we know it would be very different. Compassion is part of what drives positive change in the world. It inspires us to assist people in their individual lives as well as on a global scale.
Compassion is limitless and far-reaching. It can impact humans, animals, the planet, and future generations. It can enrich your life as well as the lives of those around you.
Compassion is considered both innate and learned,
Expressions of compassion don’t come easily to everyone. If that describes you, it doesn’t mean you lack compassion.
According to Michael Kinsey, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in New York City, behaviors you’ve learned throughout your life can get in the way of expressing compassion.
“The first tip I would give anyone seeking to feel more compassion for others is to remember that it comes to you naturally,” he says.
Unless you live with a condition that affects your ability to experience empathy, Kinsey notes that “finding compassion is just a matter of returning to your natural state of being.”
Connecting with your inner essence can help you be more compassionate by constantly reminding you to adjust your perspective in every situation and see things from your heart.
Self-compassion is real, though you may find it easier to show kindness toward others than to yourself.
Albert Nguyen, a licensed psychotherapist from Palo Alto, California, recommends practicing self-compassion in small ways, like allowing yourself to rest when you’re tired.
“Give yourself permission to take a break or to feel your emotions,” he advises, “and accept that you’re
human. Give yourself encouragement. Take yourself out on a date. Write yourself a self-compassionate letter.”
Even eating healthy and exercising can be considered forms of self-compassion, Nguyen says.
Though research from 2017 suggests that self-compassion doesn’t necessarily boost compassion toward others, it can be an important tool in managing your overall well-being.
Envy can be the gatekeeper of compassion, warns Wakefield. If you want to be more compassionate, try to keep envy at bay.
Envy is that feeling of resentfulness and longing for the blessings you see in someone else’s life.
To help shift feelings of envy into a more helpful emotion, Wakefield recommends changing your perspective from envy to ambition.
“Envy can be hard to deal with, but I like to encourage people to see it as desire in disguise,” he says. “Perhaps someone else’s good fortune can lead you to set a goal for yourself. Envy is only a problem when it makes you want to tear others down.”
When you’re feeling envious, you can help change your inner dialogue by asking yourself what you can do to create the same positive changes in your own life.
Compassion doesn’t have to take the form of big, sweeping gestures. Nguyen suggests showing compassion through the act of listening.
“Get better at active listening skills,” he says. “Since many of us are constantly sharing opinions, relating to others, sharing our stories, judging, or giving advice, we’re not great listeners. Seeing people through active listening and deep listening skills is a precursor toward healing in therapy.”
You can practice active listening skills by:
- making eye contact
- allowing someone to speak from start to finish
- asking clarifying questions
- repeating back what you’ve heard in your own words
- avoiding reactions based on assumptions
- focusing on listening and understanding, instead of judging
- gently keeping the conversation on topic
Finding things you have in common with others can help you feel more aligned with them. In turn, it can help you be more compassionate.
“I say the highest common denominator because of course we are all human. Try to find a higher level of commonality,” suggests Wakefield.
He recommends considering factors such as:
- What if you knew more about another person’s challenges or inner world?
- What if you learned that the person you have difficulty feeling compassion for also has a overly critical mother or a domineering father?
- What if you have some common challenges with people you can’t seem to connect with?
“This benefits us, too, not just others,” he says. “I see in my practice all the time people learn about their biggest pain points and darkest emotions by having some profound and unexpected fit of compassion for someone they see suffer on the news.”
If you have a hard time finding ways to express compassion, Nguyen suggests small gestures. You can even keep a list of go-to ideas while you’re carrying on with your day.
Small but meaningful ways to express compassion include:
- calling loved ones to say hello or check in
- giving small gifts you know will make someone feel loved
- actively expressing gratitude by thinking about what you feel fortunate for
- apologizing when you’re in the wrong
- treating someone to a random act of kindness
Here are some practical examples of how to be more compassionate:
- buying a cup of coffee for a stranger you see having a bad day
- asking someone who appears upset if there’s anything you can do
- giving up your date night to go and listen to a loved one who is going through a challenging time
- volunteering in shelters and food pantries
- sending a thoughtful, supportive message to someone you know is going through a rough patch in life
- picking up after yourself so someone else doesn’t have to
- helping with house chores
- not taking everything for you, whatever it may be
- being inclusive and making space for people with different experiences and preferences
- yielding the way to someone who seems to be in a rush
- offering your seat to others in public transportations
- asking yourself what else you can do for others today
3 tips to help your children be more compassionate
If you’re working on being more compassionate and also want to promote compassion in your little ones, this can help:
- “I find one of the best ways to nurture compassion in children is through getting them involved with pets,” Nguyen says. “Having a pet(s) provides a consistent and daily practice of nurturance and empathy.”
- “Where many adults go wrong teaching kids about compassion is offering praise for ‘empathic’ responses,” cautions Wakefield. “Children need to learn that compassion and empathy offer their own rewards and should not be about pleasing an authority figure.”
- Wakefield also recommends guiding children toward compassion through questions that help children pause, observe, and attune emotionally to others, like “What do you think that person is feeling?”
Compassion is more than empathy. It’s the desire to help others and alleviate their pain or troubles. It’s actively doing things for others when you are aware of their difficulties.
Small gestures, thoughtfulness, generosity, and turning envy into goals can help you grow in compassion toward yourself and others.