Pay more attention to compassion and you’ll find you’re happier. It’s that practical and simple. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
While I will acknowledge that some people are wired differently, this is the truth for the greater portion of humanity.
Happiness, the emotion, has many sources, most of which are temporary at best. But one of the most enduring sources of happiness is compassion, both for others, and for oneself.
Compassion can be easy, if you practice it. And while at times it can be a challenge, compassion is simply a decision. What you have to think and believe to come to that conclusion is part of the process.
With compassion, hate and anger have little room to take hold. In the absence of these antagonists, happiness tends to flourish. At least that has been my experience.
Why is compassion important?
Happiness is possible without compassion, but it will always be the most fleeting and mercurial of happiness. Here today, gone tomorrow. An eternal quest for happiness will become, of necessity, a very unhappy lifestyle. Instead, compassion brings with it happiness and a strong feeling of well-being.
As we find more compassion in our hearts, we tend to find a little more happiness in there as well. Compassion makes our hearts softer and able to find the ability and willingness to help others. From these kinds of actions, we begin to feel warmth and compassion towards us, from others.
As these feelings grow, we begin to feel the warmth and compassion turn into happiness, as we realize that the feelings we were getting from others were because we first gave them those feelings with our actions towards them. They feel better, perhaps even a little bit happier for our actions.
As we begin to realize how this feed-back loop works, we begin to anticipate their reaction, and begin to feel happy before they even find out what it was we did, or even figure out who it was which did this for them. While it may take some time to get there, it really is that simple.
Where can I apply this in my life?
We all have compassionate streaks in us. We may ignore them, we may not even notice what we have done, but we are all compassionate to some degree. The question is how often and how well do we recognize our acts of compassion? To me, this awareness is the heart of the quote.
If we are aware of what is going on, of what our compassion is doing for ourselves and for others, we can better appreciate what what these acts mean to everyone involved. And with that realization, we begin to find that these acts help to move us towards happiness. And that is a good thing.
So when do you find yourself doing acts of compassion? That, I suppose, depends on your definition of compassion. Does holding a door for someone else count? Does saying “Hello” to a stranger on the street count? Does it count if it is an acquaintance? Does leaving a penny in the tray by the cash register count?
If you’ve ever approached a door with your hands full, you can probably answer if holding a door counts. Same for if you have ever been kind of down, and lost in gloomy thoughts when out of the blue comes a friendly “Hello.” And if you’ve ever been a penny short, that extra penny in the tray really helps.
Think of all the times you have done such little things in the past. How did it make you feel? Did you even consider it? How do you feel now, even though the events may have happened in the moderate to distant past? Does it bring a trace of a smile to your face? Is there a little happiness?
How much attention have you paid to these feelings in the past? How often have you considered what you did to get those feelings? Did you put any effort into determining how to repeat those actions so that you could replicate the good feeling? Do you think you might take the time now?
Consider each of the things you did back then, and how you much effort each of these things required. Are you willing to put that much effort into doing these things? Do you think you would enjoy doing them even more, now that you know what happiness it is going to bring you? I know I would.
In the end, happiness is a decision. That decision is made easier with a compassionate heart, and when our actions are also compassionate. The improvement in the mood and life of those to whom we show compassion also reflects back to us in some small way. And that makes me happy.