Monday, January 7, 2019

how to be happy: be compassionate


Every morning I talk with Waverly, our 16-month old daughter and as we cuddle, I tell her that she is smart, brave, kind and empathetic, among other things, depending on the day. (She is also funny, sweet, generous, inquisitive and gentle.)

Lately, I have been wondering about the difference between empathy and compassion. I visited The Chopra Center for a better understanding between the two terms. To be empathetic means that you feel viscerally what someone else is feeling. If you watched me step on a Lego, you might  move your foot back protectively. You can imagine my pain.

To be compassionate, however, goes beyond feeling for someone. When you show compassion, you feel their pain but you also try to alleviate it.

"Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D. is the Dalai Lama's principal English translator and author of the course Compassion Cultivation Training. Jinpa posits that compassion is a four-step process: 

1. Awareness of suffering.
2. Sympathetic concern related to being emotionally moved by suffering.
3. Wish to see the relief of that suffering. 
4. Responsiveness or readiness to help alleviate that suffering.

The Dalai Lama famously said in the book "The Art of Happiness,"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

The way I interpret this and the way that I will teach Waverly compassion is that empathy is a passive action but compassion is active. For example, if we see someone outside the market drop her shopping bag, empathy would be "Bummer. Maybe the store will replace her eggs." Compassion is seeing her drop her bag and helping her to pick up her groceries. It means listening intently as someone shares something with you. When you act compassionately, you are showing someone that you care. When someone is going through an issue, all they may need is just to have one person understand and acknowledge what is happening.

I hope that as Waverly grows she acts compassionately. I hope that she is the girl in the lunchroom who doesn't just walk by the person sitting alone at a table. Instead, I hope that it's second nature to her, to ask if they would like to join her and her friends. I look at her now as she is napping in her play space next to my desk and as she sleeps I softly tell her, "Waverly, my sunshine, you are smart, brave, kind, funny, silly and compassionate. You are all of these things. Dream, little one."

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