Studies now show that a happy, healthy lifestyle alone is not enough to prevent illness. A new study by Steve Cole at UCLA and APS* Fellow, Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina, found that people who were happy because they lived the “good life” (“hedonic happiness”), focusing only on the material and external, had high inflammation levels, whereas people who were happy because they lived a life of purpose or meaning and compassion (“eudemonic happiness”), balancing inner and outer well-being, had lower inflammation levels.
The affects of stress, diet, lifestyle and genetics all play a part in what can cause chronic-inflammation in the body, which creates the perfect environment for cancer cells to grow. It is also the main cause of many autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, hypo or hyperthyroidism, as well joint pain, digestive disorders, etc. There are many anti-inflammatory regimens and now research is showing that one of the key factors we need to address is stress. Wellness programs like JoyFull yoga and meditation are very helpful and adding a compassionate lifestyle can have a long-term positive effect on stress and reduce inflammation in the body.
Compassion is often misunderstood in our culture, often associated with self-sacrifice or a religious concept associated with Jesus, Buddha or Nobel Peace Prize winners like Mother Theresa. Compassion is defined as the emotional response we feel when we see someone suffering and feel an authentic desire to be supportive. It is now being studied with brain scans in the scientific research of positive psychology and has been proven to have a significant impact on our health and longevity. Sara Konrath’s study at the University of Michigan, discovered that people who engaged in volunteerism lived longer than their non-volunteering peers — but only if their reasons for volunteering were altruistic rather than self-serving.
Research also suggests that compassion is something that we can all develop and strengthen through conscious practice. It is often confused with empathy and sympathy, where we jump into the emotional pool with another person, like crying with someone who is crying or feel bad about other people’s problems. To practice true compassion means being the calm in the storm and not engaging with the drama of the situation. It’s not always easy to practice compassion when someone is coming at us with anger and accusations. Jumping into the anger and the fear of the situation inhibits the biological systems in our brain that enable compassion. It only feeds the drama and creates more stress and more inflammation for everybody. Simply recognizing that this angry person is suffering, for example, will evoke a more compassionate response in our brain. Try practicing holding supportive, non-judgmental space for someone in a crisis and then take an action that supports his or her higher good. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply listen, sometimes it’s offering a cup of tea, holding someone’s hand and sometimes all we can do is offer a silent prayer.
The first place to start practicing compassion is with your self. Meeting challenges in your body and in your life with compassion requires letting go of judgments. The gift of compassion is unconditional love and unconditional love leads to compassion. Life tends to bring us opportunities to practice compassion because compassion always leads us back to the unconditional love and peace of our soul.
Last month over 500,000 people, including a group of us at JoyFull Yoga, gathered with the intention of awakening compassion in our hearts to impact our prospect for a healthier and more peaceful world. The Restorative Sound Healing gathering at JoyFull Yoga on Sunday August 16th will focus on awakening and deepening the compassion in our hearts. Practicing compassion is a powerful way to contribute to your health and create a better world one breath at a time. Breathe in Peace, Breath out Peace.
Louise Lavergne Copyrights 2015 Please share with credit www.Louiselavergne.com
* Association for Psychological Science