Compassion: Who needs it? We all do!

Exploring how cultivating and practicing compassion can be good for you, and for others.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, compassion is “a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.” Most of us realize that being compassionate can have benefits to others. Compassion involves unconditional acceptance, endurance, action and courage. It is different than sympathy and empathy, but both of those are important to moving people to the action of compassion. Compassion is caring about someone else’s happiness as much as you do your own.

Michigan State University Extension works to improve people’s lives through a variety of educational programs and informational articles, including information on being socially and emotionally healthy. Interestingly, there are clear ties to social emotional health and overall physical health. For instance did you know that practicing compassion can actually help keep you physically healthier? It can lower your risk of heart disease because when you practice acts of compassion your heart rate slows down. It can improve your immune system and make you more resilient to the negative effects of stress by lowering your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Compassionate people tend to have more social skills and therefore are less likely to suffer from loneliness and depression.

People are born with compassion, yet like any other human trait it needs to be encouraged and nurtured, especially in our children and youth. Parents practice real life compassion with children in everyday life as you work to encourage and guide them through their ups and downs. When we teach children to look for commonalities we help them to increase their capacity for compassion. A good book to share is “Accept and Value Each Person," by Cheri J. Meiners. This book does a wonderful job illustrating respecting differences, being inclusive and appreciating people just the way they are.

You can help cultivate compassion in children by modeling kindness with other people, animals and with them. Help bring out their inner hero and get them involved. Even very young children can show enthusiasm and creativity in community service projects. Another suggested book by Meiners is called “Reach Out and Give” which includes discussion questions, generosity games and ideas for community service projects. For more ideas you can try reading “26 Big Things Small Hands Do" by Coleen Paratore. The message of this book is that everyone, no matter how young or how small, can make a difference in the lives of those around them.

By building our own compassion traits, we not only become healthier adults, we set a good example to the children and youth in our lives. They, in turn, have a greater chance of turning into compassionate and healthy adults who work to improve overall health and wellbeing of our society. So, practicing compassion is good for us, our families and our world.

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