The effects of compassion on physical and mental health are real and significant. Many scientific studies have shown that when people connect with other humans or animals, recovery time for illnesses is shortened, and subjects show increased levels of mental and physical well-being. Connectivity with people and animals can reduce symptoms of depression and boost positive feelings of hopefulness, optimism and satisfaction.
A study conducted by Sara Konrath at the University of Michigan and Stephanie Brown at Stony Brook University looked at the effects a “compassionate lifestyle” might have not only on human health, but lifespan.
They found that doing good deeds is not enough to reap compassion’s health benefits; one must also have the right motivations. Sara Konrath’s research revealed that only people with altruistic motives who volunteered for long periods of time lived longer than people who did not volunteer at all or those who did, but for unclear or selfish reasons (think of a career-boosting internship, for example).
There is further evidence which supports this claim on a cellular level. Researchers Barbara Frederickson and Steve Cole found high cellular inflammation levels in subjects whose happiness stemmed from a hedonistic lifestyle. And they found low levels of inflammation in people who filled their schedules with compassionate actions to people and animals. All of these findings imply that leading a lifestyle full of compassionate thoughts and actions could lead to improved health.
Specifically, “eudemonic” wellbeing is the key to the equation. The idea of eudemonic living describes living life with a purpose and according to certain values, not necessarily religious.
The idea of compassion being a part of the recipe for human health is not new. Indeed, it is expounded upon in the teaching of great, ancient religions like Buddhism. The Buddha encouraged his followers to develop a compassion for all sentiment beings – from animals to humans and beyond.
On a daily, real-world level, compassion can bring each individual new insight and redirect critical or negative thinking. Compassion can boost one’s sense of well-being by increasing connectivity with others.