We’ve all heard of the mind-body connection and that health relates to attitude. But, did you know, that feeling compassion is good for your health? In fact, compassion is so beneficial, programs now train people to exercise the trait better. It’s not communes using these programs; it’s the U.S. army and major league baseball teams. Teaching yourself to think kindly of others and care about their welfare helps you deal with stressful situations at work and socially, and measurably reduces the physical signs of stress. It also improves your attitude toward yourself and lends you a better sense of purpose.
Beyond simple wellbeing and quality of life, compassion has been linked to heart health. Practicing compassion can lower your heart rate. Feeling, and acting upon, empathy improves heart health in an “upward spiral.”
Charles Darwin believed that our species survived and developed because of compassion. Our communal nature helped us evolve into the cooperative beasts we are now and that it was already programmed into us by having a vagus nerve—present only in mammals, which is activated when we recognize pain in others. Researchers looking at young chimps and human infants saw that both species showed innate altruism and desire to help others without getting any form of reward.
Research from Stonybrook Univ. found that people who felt they had a great life had more damaging inflammation in their bodies than people who thought they had purpose in life. A study from UCLA garnered the same results.
Harvard studies have shown that our happiness is not based on our circumstances or possessions but on our interactions with others and how we treat people. Care and service to others improve our health and may lead to a longer life. This was seen in a study that showed people who volunteered lived longer lives than those who did not. But, only if they volunteered because they volunteered because they genuinely wished to be of service to others.
With all these studies in mind, perhaps you might be interested in looking into volunteer work that might be of interest to you, or the empathy training soldiers have found so useful. Or, if that’s not for you, try forgiving the neighbor who leaves their trashcans out or the person who speaks too much in meetings!