What do you think of the hurricanes and other natural disasters that struck the land of late?
The calamities visited upon us by mother nature these last several weeks have been terrifying to say the least. I can’t imagine the anguish the people who have experienced those events first hand must feel.
It is heartwarming and inspiring to see everyone pitching in to help in some way. Tragedies do bring us together by helping us to remember our common humanity. We do recognize that natural catastrophic events could just have easily been visited upon us as them – (something we often fail to recognize when other challenges are visited upon our fellow citizens.)
How would we want others to treat us if we had been in the wake of those tragedies and had our lives ripped from us? When we ask such questions, we are quick to act to treat the those effected as we would want to be treated had we been in their shoes. We saw this incredible unifying of citizens to help after 9/11 and pretty much in every national and even international tragic event.
In each of these situations we are showing compassion.
That is, we see people suffering and we are moved to help them. It is a natural human instinct, one that has helped us survive as a species. Compassion connects us to others, and that is one of our deepest human needs. We survived and thrived as a species because we created caring communities.
Compassion is not just a feel-good emotion. Researchers have been established that it is wired into our brains and our bodies. We feel good when we act compassionately. In other words, engaging in acts of compassion activates the pleasure centers in our brain. Researchers know this because they have performed MRIs on brains of people who have engaged in acts of compassion. There is further evidence that acting compassionately has other positive effects in our bodies such as reducing inflammation. It increases oxytocin in our bodies – called the love hormone by researchers. Social connections have powerful effects on our health. Living compassionately is actually good for our physical and mental health. It even helps us live longer.
When we see, other people engaging in acts of compassion we are moved to act compassionately. This is called “elevation” by researchers. In other words, compassion is contagious.
I believe we have all personally felt or experienced the feelings described by researchers as we watch the tragic events unfold and as we watch people on the ground working to help those whose lives have been uprooted. We are moved by their suffering to help and we feel good when we do help. We are inspired by the actions of others to do more.
How wonderful it would be if we could act and feel that way in our everyday lives? We, the helpers or givers, could experience:
· Experience emotional uplift and physical pleasure;
· Inspire others to act;
· Accomplish great change such as improving our health and living longer.
All this and more are easily attainable by engaging in simple, small acts of compassion every day.
We work so hard to find ways to be happy and feel good. This is such a simple way to achieve that.
It can be something as simple as opening the door for someone who is struggling to enter a room. It could be reaching out to a coworker who is having a bad day. There are so many opportunities in our daily lives, if we simply shift our focus from ourselves and our never-ending tasks to our surroundings where we can see what others might need.
This is our challenge: to act in our daily lives as we act in times of great tragedy. Imagine a world where we consistently remember our common humanity, so much so that we symbolically walk in the shoes of those who are suffering, and so we are moved to help others, thereby inspiring others to do so as well.
Keltner, Dacher; Marsh, Jason and Smith, Jeremy Adam: The Compassionate Instinct, (W.W Norton & Co. 2010)
Olds, M.D., Jacqueline and Schwartz, M.D., Richard S.; The Lonely American (Beacon Press 2009)
Seppala, Ph. D, Emma The Happiness Track ((Harper One 2016)
Kukk, Ph.D., Christopher: The Compassionate Achiever (Harper Collins 2017)