A lot is said these days about the power of gratitude. And rightly so – practising gratitude for the good things we already have in our lives creates a powerful foundation for both happiness and abundance. However, according to Dr Amit Sood, a Professor of Medicine from the famous Mayo Clinic, if you want to really turbo-power your happiness, then gratitude is only part of the story.
There’s another key ingredient to boosting your happiness levels that’s often overlooked, and that is compassion.
Once you boost your baseline happiness levels, you’ll be on the right energetic track to manifest more abundance in your life as well.
But what is compassion, really? A lot of people confuse it with its more famous cousin – empathy.
Compassion is the ability to not only empathise with someone’s pain, but to also have a desire to soothe it – just as you would want to soothe that pain if it were your own.
Compassion and gratitude work synergistically. When they are combined, they can feed into and support each other in a way that boosts the power of each.
If we are compassionate towards others, it can help us to have a greater appreciation and gratitude for our own blessings in life. For instance, when we empathise with and want to help someone who is sick, that in turn helps us to appreciate the great blessing of our own health. And if we have a strong sense of appreciation and gratitude in our own life, it can in turn help us to have a greater capacity for empathy and compassion towards others because a strong gratitude practice puts us in a mental position of resiliency that can fortify our ability to help others.
Dr Sood says, based on research findings about the brain: “Because of the way that your brain operates, the pursuit of gratitude and compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness.”
Wow. That is quite an insight. And frankly, it explains a lot!
So many of us are pursuing happiness, and yet it remains elusive. Why is that? Often the things that we think are going to make us happy, actually don’t. Or, they give us a temporary boost of happiness, but then the effect wears off quickly.
It’s like we have a set point, or baseline, of happiness and we keep returning to it. This is actually a theory about happiness, called the ‘set point theory’, which has been supported by psychological studies.
Our happiness ‘set point’ is often determined by the happiness we experienced (or didn’t experience) growing up. It’s affected by both our environment and inherited genetic factors. It can also be affected by traumatic events at any time in life.
So what if we want to increase our happiness set point? How do we do that?
Dr Sood’s insight shows that the quickest way to greater happiness is not by chasing happiness itself. He says it is instead by cultivating and actively practising gratitude and compassion in our lives.
The person who has taught me the most about the immense power of compassion in cultivating happiness, is a remarkable spiritual teacher from South India, known as Amma.
Amma is best described by what she does. Amma is a 69-year-old Indian woman who has travelled the world for the past 30 plus years hugging people. Yes, that’s right, hugging! She is sometimes known as The Hugging Saint.
Amma’s unique gift is to personally hug everyone who comes to see her. No matter who comes to her (and they have, in the millions)…no matter their race, religion, gender, age, or affiliation… all are embraced equally in a powerful display of oneness with humanity.
It’s such a simple and in some ways, radical, act.
For me, when I first met and was embraced by Amma, I felt like I was held in a sphere of total and completely unconditional love. The power of that unblemished acceptance of my being brought me to tears. I’d never felt such love emanating from anyone before, not even my own mother. It left me speechless.
Pre-covid it was estimated that Amma had hugged over 35 million people worldwide. As far as tangible displays of compassion go, that’s pretty amazing.
We might not all be capable of this level of compassion. However, the principle of reaching out to comfort others in any small way that we can, on a daily basis, is a great teaching.
I’m not going to hug millions of people in my lifetime, but I can hug my friends and family. I can smile and say kind words, even to people I don’t know. I can do my best to listen to people without judgement. I can try to understand their experience, and I can offer comfort and support where possible (without necessarily trying to ‘fix’ them).
In my experience, these small things do lead to greater happiness in my life. I feel more connected to my human brothers and sisters, and that makes me feel less alone. I feel more hopeful and optimistic about this world when I experience it as a place where love makes a difference. I feel like what I do here on this planet might actually matter. And when I combine this with gratitude for the other blessings in my life, it’s even more powerful.
That is what really makes me happy.
To YOUR Abundance,
Julie Ann Cairns
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