The net is awash in tips on how to be happy and self-help gurus are devoting so much energy to help us “be happy,” it’s fairly obvious that the pursuit of happiness is hot. In fact, it’s super hot right now. Of course, you probably know our perspective on happiness…
We’re of the belief that happiness isn’t something one searches for, but rather, is something we allow to come to life within us — meaning that happiness is actually within our grasp any time we chose to let it evolve and take root in our life.
However, to let that inner joy manifest itself, there are some things we need to do first, so we can unlock that happiness and let it flow within us. One of the keys to a life that is content and joyful, is to be a compassionate person.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou
The dictionary defines compassion as: “a deep awareness of and sympathy for another’s suffering and, sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama’s words reveal a universal truth: happiness isn’t exclusively about us. Happiness may always be within in us, but to really let it flow, we need to always think of other’s happiness as well.
“Scientific research suggests that being compassionate can improve our physical health, emotional well-being and naturally, our relationships. Some scientists believe that we have a “compassion gene“ suggesting that compassion may even be vital to the survival of our species.
Because compassion is a natural human instinct we believe now that is essential to a healthy and fulfilling life. Compassion naturally bonds and connects us to others. It does not require belief in a religion — but it is a sort of spiritual practice.” – Dr. Andrea Pennington
So compassion improves our physical and mental health, which are vital aspects of being happy in life. And, the great news is, we can actually train ourselves to be more compassionate.
So how can we tell if we’re compassionate or not?
You can relate to other people.
Finding commonalities with other people is a sign of being compassionate — when we can relate to others and empathize with them, we’re demonstrating an ability to seeing things from their perspective.
“Compassionate people are very outward-focused because they think and feel about other people. They have that ability to feel others’ feelings, so they’re very socially connected.” – Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone, Ph.D
You don’t put emphasis on material things.
According to a study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, while money doesn’t buy happiness, it also doesn’t buy compassion. Researchers concluded that as an individual’s social status improves, his compassion for others may actually decrease. Their conclusions bolster previous research published in the journal, Scientific America, which found that being in a higher social class also negatively impacts a person’s ability to pay attention while interacting with others.
So having wealth doesn’t guarantee compassion, and may actually weaken it. A truly compassionate person doesn’t solely focus on material gain for the self, but rather, puts an emphasis on always helping other people.
You have genuine empathy.
A significant element of being compassionate is giving and doing for others, even if only in small ways. Empathy, which is the action of being aware of, understanding and being sensitive to the feelings, thoughts and experience of another, is necessary to be able to give to and help others.
“When we take actions that are caring and loving, we feel more love in return. This is why compassionate people act on their kindness, whether it’s through volunteering or just being a shoulder to lean on — and overall they’re much happier for it. If you’re going after happiness, you don’t get as happy as you would if you’re going after generosity. A hedonistic way of pursuing happiness really doesn’t work for most people.” – Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone, Ph.D
You feel and show gratitude.
Even if you’ve not yet had the opportunity to truly be a compassionate person, odds are that at some point, someone has done something for you. Showing gratitude, which is an element of being empathetic, means you have been touched by that act of kindness and showed thanks for it.
“Just thinking about our gratitude for other people makes us feel happy. And it’s slowing down and expressing those types of things that makes us more caring and loving.” – Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone, Ph.D
You have self-compassion
Some people struggle with the concept of “self-love” because it seems so hedonistic. But, rather than call it “self-love,” “self-compassion” is more apropos. If you can’t cut yourself some slack, how can you be expected to do that for others? Be kind and compassionate to yourself, so you can be free enough to do so for other people.
“Self-compassion is actually really, really key to becoming a more compassionate person overall. It’s hard to feel for other people something we don’t feel for ourselves.”
“We often think the way to change bad behaviors is to beat ourselves up,” Firestone says. “But self-compassion is actually the first step in changing any behavior you want to change.”
— Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone, Ph.D
You share your knowledge.
Compassionate people don’t want to horde their talents and gifts — they want to share them, without thought for personal gain. Teaching, helping, showing, coaching — all are ways to be compassionate, because you’re giving something of yourself, in this case knowledge or skill, to other people.
“True compassion exists when you give your strength, guidance and wisdom to empower another so that you can see who you really are and live in a greater capacity and expect nothing in return. True grace exists when the ‘teachers’ realize that the gift was really theirs — to be able to teach another.” – Jen Groover
To forgive is to set yourself free from anger and bitterness. It’s also to set someone else free too. Compassionate people forgive — they may not always fully forget, for we are all human after all, but to forgive is vital. How can one be compassionate, if they never forgive?
“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” ― Steve Maraboli
There are of course many attributes of being compassionate. Perhaps the most important thing for us to remember, is that to let ourselves actually experience the happiness that is within us, we must be willing to give, help, support, encourage, uplift, motivate, share and care. For only when we do so for others, can we truly feel our own happiness wash through us.