Compassion Makes For A Better Life (According to Science)

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As we as a society show a greater interest in self-care, another important quality has become a subject of intense scientific study: the idea of self-compassion. Numerous studies have explored the effect of graciousness and self-love on well-being, and the answers have been largely the same: being gracious and kind to yourself by actively practicing self-compassion will ultimately improve your quality of life.

The Act of Self-Compassion

Most of us understand the importance of being kind to others. Easily overlooked, however, is the need to be compassionate and kind to oneself. How often do we put aside our own needs, curse our own shortcomings, or otherwise focus on weaknesses? Practicing compassion for oneself can help improve life quality by reducing stress and anxiety and increasing overall happiness.

But what is “self-compassion?” It’s treating yourself with the same compassion as you’d award others.

You can practice self-love by:

  • Being generous and kind about your own shortcomings
  • Accepting your pain as being part of the human experience
  • Being mindfully aware of your own painful feelings so you can respond to them appropriately
  • Being kind and understanding when it comes to shortcomings
  • Seeing your own pain as part of a greater human experience
  • Paying attention to, and being mindfully aware of, painful feelings and thoughts

Compassion, love, and self-worth are all connected, but they vary slightly in definition. Understanding these differences can help you better understand your connections with your own emotions so you can learn how to be gentle with yourself. A few terms we often use interchangeably regarding self-care are:

  • Self-compassion is a combination of exercising altruism, compassion, and empathy. By applying these characteristics to your daily life, self-compassion will naturally emerge.
  • Altruism is an act of altruism results when you do something nice for others, even if it is at your own expense or detriment.
  • Empathy is when we experience empathy, we understand the feelings that may result from another person’s plight, even experiencing those feelings for ourselves.
  • Compassion is slightly different from empathy; it arises from a need to mitigate pain and suffering in others.

By regularly practicing these principles, your self-compassion will naturally rise, enhancing your life quality.

How Can I Practice Self-Love?

To understand how self-love can benefit your life, it’s helpful to look at the concept through its foil, self-criticism.

“Rise and slay” culture has made mainstream society believe that self-criticism is a good thing.  Modern society has taught us to be competitive, to work harder than others, to be the best – sometimes at all costs. This naturally leads to a mindset that is self-critical, since our self-worth begins naturally to depend on doing better than those around us. Self-criticism, however, is tantamount to self-defeat. Studies show that self-criticism:

  • Leads to higher levels and anxiety resulting from fear of failure
  • Makes us react defensively to criticism
  • Leads to feelings of isolation from competition
  • Sabotage our progress

The combined principles above ultimately impede our ability to seek love, feel like we belong, and enjoy success.

Self-love, on the other hand, is an alternative to self-criticism that leads to empowerment and allows room for mental and emotional growth. When we practice self-compassion, we learn:

  • How to be kind and understanding with ourselves, much as we would be with a struggling friend.
  • That we are not alone in making mistakes and experiencing failure; this is a normal part of the ebb and flow of life.
  • How to identify our emotions and validate them, without focusing too much on them or using them to belittle or reserve judgement for ourselves.

The Benefits of Practicing Self-Compassion

Switching from a self-critical mindset to one rooted in self-compassion has documented benefits. Studies show that self-compassion:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety, leading to an increase in overall happiness.
  • Increases a person’s intrinsic motivation for improvement. Contrary to popular opinion, those who practice self-compassion are more likely to improve and grow, since they do not fear failure as much as someone with a self-critical mindset.
  • Boosts positive outlook and mood. Researchers found self-compassion leads to increases in happiness, optimism, curiosity, and wisdom.
  • Enhances a person’s sense of self-worth. As study in the Journal of Personality Psychological Compass found that self-compassion allows people to feel good, despite failure and imperfection.
  • Makes people more resilient. Failure and tribulations are a natural part of life. In fact, showing yourself a little kindness is a key aspect of overcoming adversity. A 2011 study showed that those who reported higher levels of self-compassion experienced a better emotional recovery from marital separation or divorce.

In addition, exercising a little self-compassion can have a synergistic effect. High levels of stress and anxiety, for example, can affect your immune system and your ability to fight off illness. A self-compassionate mindset can aid in recovery time and improve quality of life.

Self-compassion also decreases the isolation that constant competition can cause. Renewed compassion connects you better to others, which also promotes longevity and well-being. Exercising compassion for ourselves and for others heals and rejuvenates the mind and spirit.

Putting Self-Compassion Into Action

Self-compassion may not come naturally to a lot of people. Thankfully, it is a discipline that can be learned. Follow some basic tips for practicing self-love and learning how to value yourself.

  • Practice yoga with guided imagery.
  • Participate in mindfulness meditation, letting the thoughts come and acknowledging them but not reserving judgement or “adding fuel to the fire.”
  • Seek counseling or dialectical behavioral therapy.
  • Use deliberate exercises when confronted with negative feelings or obstacles. For example, imagine how you would treat a small child in the same situation and give yourself the same grace.
  • Remind yourself that you are not alone. Remember that “to err is human, to forgive, divine.” This concept applies to yourself as well as to others. Whatever you are going through right now, so have millions of others. By recognizing our shared humanity and accepting negative emotions and experiences as a part of the human condition, you are more likely to be gentle with yourself and recover more quickly from adversity.

Compassion is a natural step in the evolution of human nature. The inherent competition in today’s society is isolating and produces anxious, stressed-out humans. Rather than focusing on rising above everyone else, which translates to a self-critical mindset, try exercising compassion instead. By learning to exercise love for yourself and others, you will strengthen social connections, improve your own motivations, and ultimately set yourself up for more success and a happier life.

Self-Compassion Is Living the Good Life

Society as a whole is beginning to move in the right direction. In the midst of the competition and criticism in an emerging interest in self-care. People are beginning to forgive themselves and others, accepting a notion that science has known all along: that self-compassion and self-love improves well-being. Being gracious to yourself and kind to others has several benefits. A few of them include improved social connections, lower levels of stress and anxiety, and more intrinsic motivation to be better, in all areas of your life. By exercising self-compassion, you can improve your life quality and boost your overall happiness. If you naturally sway toward self-criticism, don’t fret: self-compassion is a discipline that can be learned, by improving your own self-love through exercises or by seeking professional help with a therapist.

Improving your overall happiness is integral to living your best and most fulfilling life. Improving quality of life is an imperative aspect of being happy, and changing your mindset to one of self-compassion can help. Reduce stress and anxiety and improve your life with self-love.

About Cassandra Gibson-Judkins, LCSW

Assistant Executive Director Cassandra Gibson-Judkins, Assistant Executive Director, is a licensed clinical social worker who has dedicated her career to providing services to children, youth and families. She has been a loyal employee at Eggleston since 1978. During her tenure at Eggleston, she has held numerous leadership positions in residential treatment, foster family, adoptions, and behavioral health program divisions. In addition, she served at the Department of Children and Family Services form 10 years, specializing in adoption services.