Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering but a compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness. Over the past few thousand years, many religious traditions have developed but all of these traditions carry the same message of love and the purpose of all these traditions is to promote and strengthen the value of love. We know that basic human nature is compassionate, that compassionate concern for others is instinctual, and that we are hardwired to connect and care, but it takes time. We must grow and learn how to be compassionate, how to be caring, how to be human. After all, this is the one thing we possess that opens us up to all other virtues.
But despite how much we think we know about compassion, it’s often misunderstood. Compassion been defined by professions and philosophers as a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to see that suffering relieved. It’s what connects the feeling of empathy to acts of kindness, generosity, and other expressions of altruistic tendencies. Compassion comes from the Hebrew root word for womb. as it is from our mother’s nurturing that we learn compassion. It is from being nurtured, and in turn nurturing our own children, that we discover the very nature of compassion and compassion is in many ways expanding this maternal instinct that was so pivotal to the survival of our species.
While we all carry the seed of compassion from our own experience of being nurtured by others, compassion is actually a skill that is cultivated. It’s something that we can learn to develop and then use to extend our circle of concern beyond our immediate family to others. And this skill is further flourished through the recognition of our shared humanity. We can all agree that compassion is a worthy goal, but it’s hard for many people to understand it or put it into practice. Since we are social animals, our survival depends on the rest of the community so if we want a happy life and fewer problems, we have to develop a serious concern for the well-being of others. That way when someone is passing through a difficult period or circumstance, there’s an automatic concern that kicks in. And if there’s a possibility to help, then we feel the pull to help, whether it just be wishing them well, or actively helping in the moment. All social animals have this same sense of concern for others — not just humans. It’s a precious quality and as humans, we have this brain causes a lot of suffering because it’s always focused on the me. But the more we think about alleviating other people’s suffering, our own suffering is reduced too.
This is the true secret to happiness.
It’s a very practical concept but it’s also a very difficult concept to think about theoretically; it’s something we have to workout in actual life. You may think, “I have to do my job and I don’t have money. If i’m compassionate, others will take advantage of me, because it’s a dog-eat-dog world.” But we need to try out being kind in our real world. For example, take a walk down the street and say good morning to the people you are passing, or smile when you are not feeling like it. In a very short period of time, you’ll find that this pall of (negative) self-regard lifts. See, we really are wired to care for others and when we go against that fundamental law of our being, whether we like it or not, it’s going to have deleterious consequences for us. So instead of thinking “I have to” or “I need to”, shift that to “How can I help?”, even in the midst of your anguish and you’ll see your pain transformed. It may not be completely taken away, but it somehow becomes more bearable than when you were solely concentrating on “poor, poor me.”
It’s a process to not be so self-regarding and so conscious of your anguish but compassion is absolutely essential to a joyful life. It’s the oxygen to our happiness.
DAY 39. Love, Ro