Seppala defines compassion as “the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help” (p. 20). She cites U.S. Department of Labor statistics that reported over 25% of us did volunteer work last year. One of the keys to true compassion is that it is motivated out of a desire to help others, not self-interest. Apparently we have a natural instinct to help others. Even so, being compassionate is good for us. Seppala discusses research that suggests:
- Compassion is pleasurable and buffers the negative effects of stress.
- Being compassionate “leads to greater psychological well-being”.
- “Giving to others . . . increases well-being above and beyond what we experience when we spend money on ourselves” (p.22).
- That happiness from giving is greater than happiness from receiving is not culture specific but “true across the world”.
- People with eudaimonic well-being (lives of meaning and purpose) have lower levels of inflammation that happy people who just live “the good life”.
- Compassionate people are less likely to be preoccupied with self, lowering the likelihood of significant anxiety and/or depression.
- Strong connections with others tends to increase our recovery from disease and even our longevity.
- “Compassion is contagious” (p. 24).
(1) The importance of compassionate leaders. Research on ethical leadership by Vianello, Galliani, and Haidt demonstrated “self-sacrificing” leaders were more influential and created more committed and compassionate workplaces. Self-sacrificing leaders put values and beliefs above personal interests. Ray Williams has suggested compassionate leaders are transparent leaders, flexible and adaptable, “willing to set aside rules, regulations and traditions for the greater good”, are mindful of “the effect their words and actions have on others.”
(2) Training can increase compassion and altruistic behavior. Perhaps in the billions we spend annually for training, there is room for compassion.
My take-away: So much in life seems to come back to just being nice and doing good. Service above self. Servant leadership. In the words of Bono, “we have to carry each other, carry each other.”
Seppala, E. (2013). The compassionate mind. Observer, 26 (5), 20-25.
Vianello, M., Galliani, E. M., & Haidt, J. (2010). Elevation at work: The organizational effects of leaders’ moral excellence. Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 390–411.
Williams, R. B. (2012). Why we need kind and compassionate leaders. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201208/why-we-need-kind-and-compassionate-leaders
The image of Habitat for Humanity volunteers is a work of the U.S. Federal Government and is in the public domain, free to use and share.