“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

~ The Dali Lama

Compassion is the sense of concern that arises when we see another suffering and the motivation to see that suffering relieved; the word literally means “suffer together.”

Compassion includes opening the door for a mom with full hands, serving food at a homeless shelter, feeding a stray dog, or speaking up for people who need it. It’s not just about doing something for someone; it’s about doing something that’s good for the whole.

Compassion, many great leaders have said, is the one virtue that will result in true happiness. Those same leaders have voiced again and again that compassion is the only way to truly change the world. And guess what? Compassion is also the single common trait that defines all great leaders.

I’ve been reflecting on compassion a lot over the last several years; It seems to me that our society has been slacking on it. Interestingly enough, after researching, I learned that both humans and animals have a compassionate instinct. Right from birth, we are generous, loving, and kind—there are many studies to prove it. One study revealed that infant’s pupils increased in size (a sign of concern) when they saw someone in need. Their pupils shrank when they saw someone help that person (a sign of relief). Crazy enough, even rats show compassionate behaviors, they will help another suffering rat! We are born compassionate beings.

The question I have is: if compassion makes us happier AND we are born with a compassionate instinct, why aren’t we as a society showing more compassion? Is it because we worry that people will take advantage of us? Do we think it will make us look weak? Do we not help others because we are afraid that they will think we are self-interested and get suspicious of us? Regardless of the answers to these questions, compassion is a powerful character, and we can cultivate more of it.

Here’s how:

1. Have compassion for yourself. It’s easy to be critical of yourself and to beat yourself up—as long as you do this, you will find it challenging to have compassion for others.

2. Remember and notice kindness; it will cultivate that part of our character.

3. Reduce the amount you judge others. Instead of labeling what someone is doing as “right,” “wrong,” “good,” or “bad,” what if we just say that life is hard, and everyone is doing the best they can?

4. Practice a Buddhist Tradition: Next time you meet another person, say silently to yourself: “just like me, you want to be happy. Just like me, you want to be free of suffering.”

In addition to happiness, the Dali Lama says compassion is the pillar of world peace. Wouldn’t that be great?

So, whether you want world peace, be happy, a great leader, or just be a good person, remember to have compassion (or at least to cultivate it) today!

Tiffany Determan is a resident of Chisago County.

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