At WishWell, we define compassion as the act of love.

We have all said I love you; compassion is when you do an action of love towards another or yourself.  What’s amazing is that many studies have shown that the giver, the receiver, and even the witness of compassion all benefit. And the body has many indicators of its positive effects.  The hormone oxytocin is elevated, which is our feel-good hormone, and is released when we are bonding with each other.

A study also showed that the brain changes, called neuroplasticity, it form new networks that lead to more positive decisions.  The ripple effects are impactful and include affecting your health, sports, your connections, your work, and how you see the world. Dig deep into compassion and you will be in good company.  We are all about being a compassionate connected world.

We’ve collected the most recent research, books, and further resources to dive into the science of compassion.

The Healing Power of Compassion

Compassion holds the power to heal and transform suffering. When faced with pain or the suffering of others, our instinct may be to avoid or push it away, but this reaction only amplifies our own suffering. To navigate suffering with compassion, it is important to become aware of our reactions and learn to respond with care and empathy. Cultivating a compassionate response involves being present with the pain, letting go of judgment, and providing a nonjudgmental and supportive environment.

Compassion helps survivors of trauma heal by offering a sense of connection, allowing them to share their stories, and promoting self-care. Judgment and self-criticism hinder compassion, intensifying suffering, but by turning towards pain with an open heart and the intention to heal, we can experience the profound healing power of compassion. Developing self-compassion involves awareness, presence, and kindness towards ourselves, recognizing the signals of reactivity and grounding ourselves in the present moment. By extending compassion to ourselves and others, we replenish the heart, energize the body, and nourish the soul, fostering a reconnection with life and love.

This article explores the power of compassion and its benefits for both the giver and the recipient. It highlights an act of compassion by Naomi Osaka towards Coco Gauff during the U.S. Open and emphasizes that compassion involves a genuine desire to alleviate someone’s suffering. The article suggests that expressing compassion can reduce inflammation, increase happiness, provide stress relief, promote longevity, broaden perspectives, and enhance social connections. It shares personal experiences and encourages readers to look for opportunities to offer small acts of kindness in everyday life. The practice of loving-kindness meditation is also recommended as a way to cultivate compassion. Overall, the article emphasizes the positive impact of compassion and encourages readers to engage in compassionate acts.

Compassion is crucial in psychology for numerous reasons. Without compassion, the world would lack the benevolent and selfless actions of individuals like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. Compassion inspires heroic deeds and positive behaviors that benefit both individuals and society. Researchers define compassion as a response to serious, unjust, and relatable situations, requiring awareness, concern, and empathy. It prompts positive action and discourages judgment without understanding. Psychology also emphasizes self-compassion, which involves self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-compassion promotes mental health, reduces anxiety and depression, and enhances well-being and connections with others. In the field of positive psychology, compassion is valued as it fosters positive emotions, traits, and behaviors that contribute to overall well-being. Empirical studies have shown that compassion, gratitude, and mindfulness are predictors of increased well-being. Therefore, compassion continues to be a vital concept in psychology, deserving ongoing exploration and research.

How Compassion Can Change the World

To change the world we need to scale compassion. We found that gifting your time, attention, and intention to another was a meaningful act and very powerful.  The WishWell app leverages technology by creating an opportunity to gift your attention to someone’s wish and then display it on a global map.  Each minute is tracked and displayed for us all to see.  Each drop of compassion ripples out that the world sees, becomes, and knows.

Compassion Creates Peace in the World

This article emphasizes the power of compassion and acts of kindness in creating peace in the world. It highlights that inner peace leads to compassionate actions, while discord and fear lead to violence, both of which can spread through social networks. By embodying and living stories of connection, love, and kindness, individuals can challenge narratives of division and scarcity, and instead promote unity, respect, and love. The road to compassion may involve experiencing pain and suffering, but practices like tonglen meditation can help transform those experiences into compassion and bring about positive change. Ultimately, the article encourages individuals to step up and become their highest expression of peace, demonstrating the strength and courage to break old narratives and weave a new story of compassion and unity.

Meditation Makes Us Act with Compassion

A study published in Psychological Science suggests that mindfulness meditation can increase compassionate behavior and overcome the “bystander effect.” Participants with little to no meditation experience were assigned to mindfulness meditation classes or put on a waitlist. After eight weeks of practice, those who underwent meditation training were significantly more likely to give up their seat in a waiting room scenario to a person in need compared to non-meditators. The study found that meditation, whether focused on compassion explicitly or not, enhanced compassionate responses. This research highlights the interpersonal benefits of mindfulness meditation and its potential to foster compassion in various contexts, even in situations where compassion may typically be discouraged.

Social Connection Can Help With Chronic Pain

A study suggests that individuals with a stronger sense of connection and belonging tend to experience pain differently. Chronic pain can impact various aspects of life, including mood and relationships. Pain relief is a complex process involving physiological and social-psychological factors. The study examined chronic pain sufferers and found that those who were more socially connected experienced less pain compared to those who were less socially connected. This finding indicates that having a sense of belonging can provide some level of protection against pain, regardless of specific interventions. Social support and reduced anxiety may contribute to the pain-relieving effects of social connection. The study adds to growing research emphasizing the importance of social connectedness for overall well-being, including managing chronic pain. 

Self-Compassion Improves Quality of Life for Complex PTSD

We cannot change our clients’ painful past experiences, nor is it entirely within our power—no matter how effective the treatments are—to fully alleviate their suffering. Self-compassion can provide a resource for therapists to protect themselves against compassion fatigue, to increase therapists’ holding capacity to avoid shaming or retraumatizing their clients, and to offer a safe haven until client have developed safe havens within themselves. The suggested principles for integrating compassion into treatment for PTSD can help to strengthen clients’ attachment systems, improve their capacity for emotion regulation, and enhance their interpersonal functioning in a safe way and ultimately to improve the qualities of lives of people with complex PTSD.

Random Acts of Kindness Go a Long Way

A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology highlights the underestimated power of random acts of kindness. The study found that individuals who perform kind gestures often underestimate how much the recipient will appreciate them, which may deter people from engaging in such acts more frequently. Through a series of experiments, researchers discovered that individuals consistently undervalue the impact of their own kind actions. For example, participants who gave away a hot chocolate to a stranger were surprised by how much the recipient valued the gesture. The study emphasizes the importance of recognizing the significant impact of small acts of kindness and encourages people to engage in them more often, as they have been shown to boost well-being and create positive ripple effects.

When Empathy Hurts, Compassion Can Heal

A neuroscientific study suggests compassion training can help individuals cope with the distress of others. The research found that excessive empathy can lead to negative emotions and emotional burnout, but strengthening one’s compassion skills can be beneficial. The study involved participants attending a loving-kindness meditation class, where they practiced extending warmth and care towards themselves and others. The training resulted in increased positive emotions when viewing distressing videos and a shift in brain activation patterns from an empathic network to a compassionate network associated with love and affiliation. The findings highlight the potential of compassion training to reshape emotional reactions and enhance resilience in stressful situations. The article also mentions other ways to cultivate compassion, such as encouraging cooperation, practicing mindfulness, and being receptive to others’ feelings.

Humanizing Politics and Inspiring Global Change

In an effort to help students navigate the overwhelming humanitarian crises they encounter in today’s world, Michael Kokozos, an instructor at Gulliver Preparatory School and the University of Miami, developed a framework for his global politics course. He encourages students to develop an “action-orientation mindset” by considering practical solutions to problems while cultivating critical consciousness. The framework includes self-reflection exercises on self-compassion, engaging in acts of care for classmates, analyzing social activism throughout history, and understanding power, privilege, and oppression. Students also explore hashtag activism and apply compassion mapping to a specific global crisis, such as the U.S.-Mexico border crisis. Through these activities, students gain a deeper understanding of compassion and develop the skills to take compassionate action in their communities and the world.

Compassionate Leaders Are Changing the Workplace

Compassionate leaders possess certain common traits that enable them to lead effectively and create a positive work environment. These leaders have a learning mindset, seeking feedback and embracing vulnerability. They remove internal and external barriers that hinder success for their teams. Their focus is on making a lasting positive impact on customers and stakeholders. They seek to influence rather than control, delegate power, and foster trust. Compassionate leaders bring individuals together, recognizing their unique qualities while working as a cohesive unit. They create a culture of openness and honesty, promoting trust and freedom of expression for innovation and creativity. Compassionate leadership is crucial in today’s work-from-home reality, requiring a more compassionate approach as organizations navigate the challenges of the pandemic. Compassion, paired with leadership competence, is essential for effective leadership. Combining wisdom and compassion enables leaders to make tough decisions while being empathetic and genuine. Purpose should also be embedded in the company culture for it to reach its true potential. To practice compassion, leaders should start with self-compassion, check their intentions, and make compassion a daily habit. By leading from both the head and the heart, businesses and teams can flourish.

Findings from a pilot survey indicate that compassion occurs with relative frequency among a wide variety of individuals, suggesting a relationship between experienced compassion, positive emotion, and affective commitment. A complementary narrative study reveals a wide range of compassion triggers and illuminates ways that work colleagues respond to suffering. The narrative analysis demonstrates that experienced compassion provides important sensemaking occasions where employees who receive, witness, or participate in the delivery of compassion reshape understandings of their co-workers, themselves, and their organizations. Together these studies map the contours of compassion at work, provide evidence of its powerful consequences, and open a horizon of new research questions.

Compassion Drives Bottom Line

Kindness and compassion can be the missing elements that set your organization apart and drive your bottom line. Lloyd H. Dean, president and CEO of Dignity Health, emphasizes the power of compassion in healthcare and beyond. Empirical studies have linked emotional and physical well-being, showing that kindness and compassion can lead to quicker healing. Dean believes that compassion should guide businesses in all industries, promoting balance and valuing caregivers and frontline workers. UCLA’s health system experienced significant improvement in patient satisfaction by prioritizing the human touch. Dignity Health employs concrete practices like sacred rounds with patients and providing charitable care, showing that kindness and compassion can be integrated into decision-making processes. By embracing compassion, organizations can create a better world, leading to longer and more prosperous lives for individuals and a better society overall.

Why Compassion is Important in Health Care

Compassion is crucial in healthcare, as highlighted in the book “Wonder Drug.” The authors, Anthony Mazzarelli and Stephen Trzeciak, discovered through extensive research that compassion not only benefits patients but also has measurable advantages for healthcare workers. They found over 250 studies supporting the positive impact of compassion on patient outcomes and the well-being of healthcare professionals. Interestingly, compassion is also a therapy for the giver, promoting resilience and reducing burnout. This led to their book’s subtitle, which emphasizes the scientifically proven ways in which serving others can lead to a long and fulfilling life. Compassion has numerous benefits, including improved physical and mental health, increased happiness, and professional success. The research suggests that even small acts of compassion can make a meaningful difference, with a threshold of around 100 hours per year associated with personal benefits. However, it is important to note that genuine altruism, rather than strategic motives, is key for reaping these rewards. To become more compassionate, starting small and focusing on the people in one’s immediate environment is recommended, along with simple gestures like acknowledging others and seizing daily opportunities for empathy. Engaging in acts of service and experiencing the positive effects of compassion create a virtuous cycle that fosters an ongoing desire to give and serve.

Supporting Student Athletes

Athletes often believe that self-criticism is necessary to avoid complacency, but this attitude can lead to anxiety and stress. Research shows that self-compassion is an adaptive way to relate to mistakes and challenges. Although there are many benefits of self-compassion, fear that self-compassion harms performance may discourage athletes from adopting this approach. This study developed and tested an online self-compassion intervention for athletes called RESET (Resilience and Enhancement in Sport, Exercise, & Training), adapted from the Mindful Self-Compassion program. Between-group analyses (multilevel modeling; MLM) and withingroup analyses (paired t-tests) were used to assess the effectiveness of the intervention on athletes’ ability to respond compassionately to failure, improve well-being, and increase perceived sport performance. Compared to the waitlist control (n = 102, 71% women), the intervention group (n = 148, 90% women) experienced greater increases in self-compassion, decreases in self-criticism and fear of self-compassion, and greater improvements in perceived performance. In general, the intervention was more effective for those who had the most room for growth. Within-group analyses supported the MLM findings while also showing that athletes who participated in the RESET program experienced reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. Program evaluation measures, including participant testimonials, extend the quantitative findings and demonstrate that RESET was engaging, well-liked, and effective. 

Scientific Evidence that Serving Others is Best Medicine

In their research and books, Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli and Dr. Stephen Trzeciak explore the scientific evidence behind topics related to morality, ethics, emotions, and sentimentality. They emphasize the importance of data and evidence-based medicine, as advocated by renowned systems engineer W. Edwards Deming. In their first book, “Compassionomics,” they demonstrated through a review of over 250 peer-reviewed papers that compassion has significant and measurable effects on patient outcomes and the well-being of healthcare workers. Their latest book, “Wonder Drug,” expands on this research, revealing how serving others can be a life-changing therapy with numerous benefits. They present compelling evidence, derived from 250 additional studies, that being others-focused not only activates the brain’s reward center and promotes positive emotions but also reduces stress, lowers cardiovascular risk, and contributes to longevity. Serving others is associated with happiness, well-being, improved relationships, and professional success. The authors challenge the notion of self-centeredness by showing that focusing on others can ultimately benefit oneself. However, they stress that genuine altruism is crucial, as serving others for strategic or selfish motives undermines the positive effects. The authors encourage starting small and seeking opportunities to help those in need in one’s immediate environment, as this can have profound effects on both the giver and receiver.

Clinicians Can Create Compassionate Connections with Patients in Less Than a Minute

A study reveals that clinicians can establish a compassionate connection with patients in less than a minute, challenging the perception that lack of time hinders compassionate care. The study highlights that compassionate connections improve patient experience, which is crucial for quality care and financial performance in healthcare. Despite the evidence on the benefits of compassion, 56% of physicians feel they don’t have time to be compassionate. However, research shows that being compassionate takes minimal time and can have significant positive effects. Compassionate care has been linked to improved patient outcomes, reduced anxiety, and fewer emergency department visits. It also benefits clinicians by reducing burnout and promoting resilience. Recognizing the importance of compassion in healthcare can enhance patient experience, organizational performance, and overall well-being.

  • 56% of physicians did not believe they had time to be compassionate with patients.
  • Compassionate connections with patients boost patient experience, which is a driver of quality care and financial performance in healthcare.
  • Clinicians who are compassionate with patients are less likely to experience burnout.

Compassion Helps Both Patients and Physicians Heal

This article emphasizes the importance of compassion and empathy in healthcare, highlighting the impact it has on patient outcomes and the well-being of both patients and physicians. It discusses how medical training often focuses on technical expertise while overlooking the human connection with patients. The author shares personal anecdotes and research findings to demonstrate the positive effects of compassionate care, including shorter and less severe episodes of illness, better treatment adherence, and improved disease management. Furthermore, compassion helps physicians combat burnout and contributes to their own well-being. The article stresses the need for healthcare providers to prioritize human connection, understanding, and empathy in order to truly heal patients.

Books on Compassion

Here are some great books to read on Compassion. This list explores different aspects of compassion, including its benefits, scientific research, practical techniques, and its connection to happiness and well-being.

  • “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams
  • “Compassion: Bridging Practice and Science” by Tania Singer and Matthieu Ricard
  • “The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness” by Dacher Keltner, Jason Marsh, and Jeremy Adam Smith
  • “The Art of Happiness” by Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler
  • “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions” by Christopher K. Germer
  • “Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself” by Kristin Neff
  • “The Altruistic Brain: How We Are Naturally Good” by Donald W. Pfaff
  • “Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN” by Tara Brach
  • “The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life” by Piero Ferrucci
  • “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm
  • “Fierce Self-Compassion” by Kristin Neff
  • “Compassionomics – The revolutionary scientific evidence that caring makes a difference” by Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarell
  • “Wonder Drug” by Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarell

Resources for Further Learning

Some popular online platforms, organizations, or resources that focus on promoting compassion and empathy:

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