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About the theme

Well-being from compassion

What comes to mind when you hear the word ’compassion’? Usually the word is associated with mindfully encountering another person, being by someone’s side, or taking pleasure in others’ happiness.

Sometimes the first thought can be critical – compassion can be seen as gentle to the point of being too sentimental. What does the word ’compassion’ really mean? And why does it matter? How can compassion be promoted in the everyday life of studying?

What is compassion?

Compassion centres on a will to promote the good of others. We detect each other’s moods, empathize with them and show our empathy through actions. Compassion can be perceived as a process of awareness, emotion and actions (Pessi, 2014).

  1. Compassion is awareness: the ability to detect, notice and understand another person’s situation and mood.
  2. Compassion is emotional connection: emotion, sympathy and the will to act for the other person.
  3. Compassion is action: concrete action to promote the good of the other person.

Compassion can also be shown towards one’s self. The term self-compassion refers to a gentle and kind attitude towards oneself. Co-passion refers to sharing another person’s feelings and enthusiasm.

Why do we need compassion?

Compassion makes people feel better in many ways. We know that compassion towards others and oneself is connected to lessened anxiety, depression and stress. Helping others and doing good deeds has a positive effect on one’s mood, health, well-being and even life expectancy.

At workplaces, a compassionate atmosphere is proven to be connected with better work satisfaction, more functional team work and less fatigue. People are more creative and courageous in teams that they perceive as psychologically safe as well as a positive, permissive and enthusiastic in spirit.

Compassion, therefore, is no small thing. It does good both to the object of compassion and the compassionate person. All in all, we can say that compassion produces joy, enthusiasm, happiness, courage, creativity, competence and well-being. Compassion matters!

How to promote compassion in everyday student life?

Compassion doesn’t require much. Being emotionally present and mindfully encountering others are enough. Even small things matter, and they can do a lot of good. How can you promote well-being in everyday life? Here are six questions that can get you off to a good start.

1) Do you really notice what happens around you?
How well do you rest? If we are continuously in a survival mode we are not able to notice what happens around us in the study community. Be actively present and available. Get to know your fellow students, including new faces. Notice especially those who seem to be left alone.

2) Put yourself in the other person’s position: what don’t you know?
You can strengthen your compassion by being actively aware of how much is left in the dark and how very little we know about each other. Especially in conflict or effusion situations it’s great if we can visit the other person’s point of view. You should actively try to see the matter or situation from the other person’s perspective.

3) Have courage to act – do you dare?
Each of us can promote concrete acts of compassion by being slightly more courageous than we would like. Notice another person, smile, say hi. Ask how your study pal is doing. Sit at the coffee table on campus for a moment even when you’re in a hurry.

4) Are you compassionate towards yourself?
The more compassionate you are towards yourself, the better you can show that you care about others. Try to catch yourself out in critical inner speech and change your tone. Take care of your energy levels and rest. You can’t give more than you have. Be kind to yourself.

5) Can you accept compassion?
When you receive empathy, thanks and praise, accept them. Don’t make yourself and the praiser smaller. Also accept offers of help. If you encounter challenges in your studies or everyday life, don’t remain alone but turn to others for help. The power of example is immense. By sharing your emotions you can be involved in changing the emotional atmosphere of your study community into a more open direction.

6) How do you act as a bystander?
You can also strengthen compassion in your study community as a bystander. When you see compassion or hear about empathy, do you tell about it to others? Do you strengthen the helper’s actions with your words? By doing this you can play your part in creating a more compassionate atmosphere and culture in study communities.

 (Source: Myötätunnon mullistava voima: Pessi, Martela ja Paakkanen, 2017.)

You can find more information about the theme from the websites of the project Myötätuntoa korkeakouluihin (The compassion in higher education -project).

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