Compassion. In today’s hurried lives, is it worth the personal time, energy, and money it takes to express compassion? The answer in terms of common humanity is yes. But many may not know the health-giving effects of compassion and its accompanying feeling of happiness.
In “The Best Kept Secret to Happiness: Compassion,” Emma M. Seppala, Ph.D. discusses how people are constantly searching for happiness, and that giving of ourselves generates happiness within. Seppala is the Associate Director for the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, where she focuses on health psychology, well-being, and resilience. She has found that acts of compassion make other people happy, which in turn allows those who received compassion to express compassion in their own lives.
Dan Gilbert, host of This Emotional Life, a PBS broadcast, discusses the link between happiness and compassion and that there are many incorrect views about how to obtain happiness. Seppala shows that “compassion and service don’t just make us happy but they also have a host of other associated benefits and they even contribute to a longer life.” Seppala also concludes from the research of Ed Diener and Martin Seligman that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps to cultivate better mental and physical health.
And even more than cultivating better mental and physical health, compassion opens our innate spiritual capacities. It is our way of expressing Divine love to each other, mirroring the Divine’s love for us. In his book The Compassionate Mind, psychologist Paul Gilbert, who heads the Mental Health Research Unit at the University of Derby (UK), writes “that the essence of compassion is being here, now, with another – not there, then, with your thoughts.” He addresses the importance of compassion in developing emotional well-being by promoting spiritual growth.
This human connecting with others – and the compassion expressed – is evident in the story that a local trolley car driver told a relative of mine. He expressed what writer and theologian Mary Baker Eddy wrote in the late 1800s: “…we find that whatever blesses one blesses all, as Jesus showed with the loaves and the fishes…”
For the past two years I have given afternoon trolley rides to Tom and his special-needs friends. Marie did not speak for the first year. Mike calls me Captain and always repeats what I say. Don is always very nervous about when we’ll be stopping at the end of our three laps. Mark puts out his thumb to hitchhike when we pull up. He loves wrestling and watches it every Monday evening. If the trolley doesn’t have other guests, Mark and I sometimes talk about wrestlers past and present. The gang knows my favorite wrestler is George “the Animal” Steele from the 1970s. George, who looked like the Missing Link, was known for eating the turnbuckle between the ropes during his matches. Recently Marie had on a Santa cap and bright red Christmas sweater. Tom carried a brown supermarket bag, which I thought was his lunch. Inside the bag was my Christmas present, an old action figure doll of George “the Animal” Steele! Tom said they wanted to thank me for the many special rides over the past two years. Mark said I looked like George and they all laughed.
Compassion for others, for every individual, is a worthwhile pursuit, one that benefits everyone involved – mentally, physically, and spiritually.