I’ve had an experience recently where a decision I thought was too daunting suddenly became exciting. The only thing that changed was my thinking about it. I’m now practically giddy about a thing that used to scare me.
In his remarkable book Altruism, Buddhist monk and neuroscientist Mattieu Ricard digs deep into the idea of how we can develop more compassion for others. He points to multiple studies that show how training our minds to care for others—through meditation, prayer, or other forms of regular reflection—turns into significant improvements in our ability to feel and show compassion.
Research shows that some form of compassionate meditation has made people: better able to detect facial expressions, less likely to discriminate against people of color or the homeless, more likely to offer their seat to a stranger, less likely to experience feelings of anger, and more likely to feel joy, kindness, gratitude, hope, and enthusiasm.
Rooted in all of this is the idea that we can change ourselves by changing our thinking. I love how he explains it:
One of the tragedies of our time seems to be considerably underestimating the ability for transformation of the human mind, given that our character traits are perceived as relatively stable. It is not so common for angry people to become patient, tormented people to find inner peace, or pretentious people to become humble. It is undeniable, however, that some individuals do change, and the change that takes place in them shows that it is not at all an impossible thing. Our character traits last as long as we do nothing to improve them and we leave our attitudes and automatisms alone, or else let them be reinforced with time. But it is a mistake to believe they are fixed in place permanently.
We constantly try to improve the external conditions of our lives, and in the end it’s our mind that experiences the world and that translates this perception as happiness or suffering. If we transform our way of apprehending things, we automatically transform the quality of our life. And this change is possible.
We can become more of who we want to be if we’ll just practice the thinking that makes us that way. What better thoughts can you practice this week?
If you’d like to try compassionate meditation, here’s a lovely video where Matthieu Ricard leads a brief session. I promise that it will instantly improve your day.
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For helping kids develop empathy, Ashoka offers their Start Empathy campaign. The program provides resources for teachers, parents, and youth to foster more compassion in schools and communities.
The research-driven practices of Start Empathy can help kids better handle conflict, understand people who are different than them, and find creative solutions to the problems they encounter. You can find more about the resources they offer and their Changemaker Schools program at StartEmpathy.org.
Would you consider sharing Good at Work with a friend this week? There is a world full of people who want to do good every day, and my goal is to help more of them do it. I’d be grateful if you spread the word. :)
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