It's becoming increasingly essential in our world today that we need to develop compassion on a larger scale. Compassion is the recognition of another person's suffering and the authentic desire to reduce suffering. Compassion supports our survival and it's not something that we need to create within ourselves, we just need to uncover it and to cultivate what is already there. There is growing evidence that we have an instinctive compassionate way of being. Research from the German Max Planck Institute found that infants will purposefully engage in helpful behaviours even if it means getting past obstacles. A reduction in suffering seems to bring us satisfaction; this appears to be whether we are helping others or observing supportive actions.
In terms of survival, compassion supports our general wellbeing, not only our physical but our psychological health too. Pioneers in human flourishing and positive psychology have suggested that social connectedness and authentic compassionate actions lengthen our lives and rapidly increase recovery from difficult emotional or physical health issues. Interestingly Steve Cole, University of California and Barbara Fredrickson, University of North Carolina reported that cellular changes in the body were more likely to be found in people who described themselves as living a hedonic (the good life) happy lifestyle in comparison to those describing living a life of eudemonic happiness ( a life of purpose and meaning). We understand that cellular changes are at the root of many diseases.
Social connectedness itself is linked to lowered blood pressure, reduction in overeating leading to obesity and a better functioning immune system. Feeling a greater sense of social connectedness to others improves and promotes pro-social behaviour and this increases compassion towards ourselves and others, forming an ongoing loop. What we generally find when we develop greater compassion is that not only our physical health improves but also our insight and perspective develops. Perspectives that are more far reaching than just awareness of ourselves. Often feelings of angst and low mood are associated with a primary focus upon ourselves. When there is a development in increased awareness of those around us and genuine desire for others to feel a sense of ease in their lives, we experience higher self esteem, greater trust and feel more co-operative. This intern increases the amount of co-operation, trust and happiness others feel towards us. Physiological changes can also be noted in response to compassion, evidence for emotional intelligence can be seen by Leung et al (2013) study demonstrating increased gray matter of the brain in areas linked to emotion regulation.
Cultivating compassion isn't hard work; we are uncovering something that is present in all of us. Loving kindness meditation is one way to develop a compassionate practice, originating from Buddhist traditions it has been shown to slow respiratory rate in just ten minutes of practice. This is the wonderful thing about loving kindness meditation; there are immediate benefits, but also ongoing longer term changes to be seen. Long term research shows regulation of emotion increased and higher reported positive emotions. During a practice of loving kindness meditation individuals go through stages of wishing a sense of ease happiness and love towards themselves and then to those around them. We spend so much time facing the outer world, a ten minute loving kindness meditation can bring so much to our inner world and wellbeing.