Like so many others, I’m on a journey – a quest for the elusive secret to being truly happy – at work, at home, in life.
Fortunately, I’m not alone. This is a human journey, and I’m travelling this path learning from many brilliant thinkers and authors who have travelled this road before me, laying the groundwork for those who follow.
As far as I know, the jury is still out on whether the meaning of life is actually 42. Until that gets sorted, I’m learning that being more mindful in each moment, to hold more compassion for others and for myself, is a great place to start.
Rebecca Solnit explores compassion and empathy in her thought-provoking book, The Faraway Nearby. “Empathy means that you travel out of yourself a little or expand…Suffering far away reaches you through art, through images, recordings, and narratives; the information travels toward you and you meet it halfway.”
If empathy is feeling or experiencing someone else’s pain, then compassion is the ability to feel for another while seeing a bigger picture and helping to relieve suffering, where possible.
Adam Hoffman of the Greater Good Science Centre uncovers proof of the value of compassion, citing a recent study, which “suggests that we can better cope with others’ negative emotions by strengthening our own compassion skills…we can shape our own emotional reactions, and can alter the way we feel and respond to certain situations.”
Offering compassion to others takes us out of our own lives and minds; it gives us a break from dwelling on our own problems. Helping someone in need allows us to make a difference to another person’s life; it makes us feel like we matter. As Dan Gilbert notes in Stumbling on Happiness, “Impact is rewarding. Mattering makes us happy.”
There is so much hurt and pain in the world that sometimes it feels utterly overwhelming to know where to begin. As my beatific yoga instructor reassures us in each class, “Start where you are.”
Start with you, your family, and your colleagues. We are often hardest on ourselves, and those closest to us. This year, I’m trying to be more kind to myself, to be more mindful of the way I participate in the world, and the way I interact with others, especially close to home.