Sat­is­fac­tion with shar­ing other peo­ple’s joy

Num­ber of ways to cul­ti­vate pos­i­tive em­pa­thy: chil­dren, an­i­mals, beauty in art, ath­let­ics

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY GERRY CHIDIAC

Some pro­fes­sions, like teach­ing, lead more eas­ily to de­vel­op­ing pos­i­tive em­pa­thy. But it’s an at­tribute within every­one’s grasp. It has more to do with how we in­ter­act with oth­ers than what we do in our work.

Hav­ing worked in ed­u­ca­tion for more than 30 years, I con­sider my­self one of the luck­i­est peo­ple on the planet. I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing in my pro­fes­sion un­til I’m in my 70s.

What is it about what I’m do­ing that gives me such joy? How does one achieve pro­fes­sional sat­is­fac­tion?

Stan­ford Univer­sity psy­chol­o­gist Kelly McGoni­gal may have found the an­swer in her study of pos­i­tive em­pa­thy, which is ba­si­cally shar­ing other peo­ple’s joy. As a teacher, this is very easy to do. Chil­dren are full of joy, laugh­ter and cu­rios­ity. When we share these with them, we feel happy as well. It could be some­thing as sim­ple as wish­ing a child a happy birth­day, com­pli­ment­ing them on a suc­cess or shar­ing the joy of a mo­ment of en­light­en­ment. In class dis­cus­sions, for ex­am­ple, I reg­u­larly find that stu­dents come up with in­sights that have eluded me and that’s al­ways a thrill.

One of the great­est joys of teach­ing is run­ning into former stu­dents who tell me what they’re do­ing in life and about their ac­com­plish­ments. I of­ten tell my classes how I look for­ward to hear­ing their own sto­ries, be­cause I know I will.

I wit­ness the good in my stu­dents on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and I’ve learned to point it out. They do so many kind things for each other. They ad­mit when they make a mis­take. They per­se­vere when deal­ing with chal­lenges. They’re in­spi­ra­tional and I al­low my­self to be in­spired.

It was very af­firm­ing for me to read that these are also some of the key find­ings in McGoni­gal’s re­search.

They ex­plain why through many years in a very chal­leng­ing pro­fes­sion — one filled with bud­get cuts, long hours of mark­ing and plan­ning, ev­er­chang­ing cur­ricu­lums and nu­mer­ous other stress points — I still look for­ward to go­ing to work ev­ery morn­ing.

Hu­mans also feel the pain of oth­ers. We cringe when we see some­one get­ting in­jured. We nat­u­rally re­spond em­pa­thet­i­cally when we see oth­ers in stress­ful sit­u­a­tions. These are all good, es­pe­cially when they mo­ti­vate us to help oth­ers. They can, how­ever, have a detri­men­tal im­pact on us if we’re not care­ful. Some sug­gest con­sciously block­ing the neg­a­tive emo­tions of oth­ers, es­pe­cially in the work­place.

How­ever, McGoni­gal em­pha­sizes that “pos­i­tive em­pa­thy” also keeps us en­er­gized. The chal­lenge is that it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily hap­pen as au­to­mat­i­cally as feel­ing the neg­a­tive emo­tions of oth­ers; it needs to be con­sciously cul­ti­vated. There are sev­eral ways this can be done. One of the most ef­fec­tive ways is to spend time with chil­dren, al­low­ing our­selves to em­brace their joy and laugh­ter. This would cer­tainly ex­plain why many teach­ers and child­care work­ers are so happy in their pro­fes­sions.

We can also en­joy the play­ful­ness of an­i­mals. We can ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty of art and ath­let­ics sim­ply for the joy of see­ing them done well. We can al­low oth­ers to do nice things for us, not just for the sat­is­fac­tion that it brings to us but for how happy it makes oth­ers to give to us.

Fi­nally, we can make a con­scious ef­fort to see the good in oth­ers. Shar­ing com­pli­ments makes us feel good. Some­times we may feel a pang of jeal­ousy, but if we can progress through this and share a sin­cere com­pli­ment, we be­gin to de­velop a pos­i­tive habit that of­ten leads to progress in our own lives.

Some pro­fes­sions, like teach­ing, lead more eas­ily to de­vel­op­ing pos­i­tive em­pa­thy. But it’s an at­tribute within every­one’s grasp. It has more to do with how we in­ter­act with oth­ers than what we do in our work.

As the proverb states, “A joy that is shared is a joy made dou­ble.”

Gerry Chidiac is a cham­pion for so­cial en­light­en­ment, in­spir­ing oth­ers to find their per­sonal great­ness in mak­ing the world a bet­ter place.

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