The Health Benefits Of Compassion

Decades of clinical research has focused and shed light on the psychology of human suffering. That suffering, as unpleasant as it is, often has a bright side to which research has paid less attention: compassion. Human suffering is often accompanied by beautiful acts of compassion by others wishing to help relieve it.

What led over 12 million Canadians to volunteer in 2013? What propels someone to volunteer serving food at Haven Toronto, pull over on the highway in the rain to help someone with a broken-down vehicle, or feed a stray cat? What is Compassion? The definition of compassion is often confused with that of empathy. Empathy, as defined by researchers, is the visceral or emotional experience of another person’s feelings. It is, in a sense, an automatic mirroring of another’s emotion, like tearing up at a friend’s sadness.

Altruism is an action that benefits someone else. It may or may not be accompanied by empathy or compassion, like making a donation for tax purposes. Although these terms are related to compassion, they are not identical.

Compassion often does, of course, involve an empathic response and an altruistic behaviour. However, compassion is defined as the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help.

Is Compassion Natural or Learned?