Want a happy life? Try compassion
It’s not in chasing happiness that we find it, but by practising gratitude and compassion, that makes us feel deeply connected and fulfilled, and that is what really makes us happy.
Alot is said these days about the power of gratitude. And rightly so – practising gratitude for the good things we already have in our lives creates a powerful foundation for happiness. However, according to Dr Amit Sood, a Professor of Medicine from the famous Mayo Clinic, if you want to really turbo-power your happiness, then gratitude is only part of the story. The other key ingredient is compassion. While empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes – to understand their situation and share their feelings – compassion is the concern and pity for their plight. It’s the ability to feel their pain, and to want to soothe it – just as you would want to soothe that pain if it were your own.
Compassion and gratitude work synergistically. When they are combined, they can feed into and support each other in a way that boosts the power of both.
If we are compassionate towards others, it can help us to have a greater appreciation and gratitude for our own blessings in life. For instance, when we empathise with someone who is sick, it helps us to appreciate the great blessing of our own health.
And if we have a strong sense of appreciation and gratitude in our own life, it can in turn help us to have a greater capacity for empathy and compassion towards others because a strong gratitude practice puts us in a mental position of resiliency that can fortify our ability to empathise.
Dr Sood says, based on research findings about the brain: “Because of the way that your brain operates, the pursuit of gratitude and compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness.”
Wow. That is quite an insight. And frankly, it explains a lot!
So many of us are pursuing happiness, and yet it remains elusive. Why is that? Often the things that we think are going to make us happy, actually don’t. Or, they give us a temporary boost of happiness, but then the effect wears off quickly.
It’s like we have a set point, or baseline, of happiness and we keep returning to it. This is actually a theory about happiness, called the ‘set point theory’, which has been supported by psychological studies.
Our happiness set point is often determined by the happiness we experienced (or didn’t experience) growing up, and is affected by both our environment and inherited genetic factors. It can also be affected by traumatic events at any time in life.
So what if we want to increase our happiness set point? How do we do that?
Dr Sood’s insight shows that the quickest way to greater happiness is