Steve Cole, at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Barbara L. Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found in a study that people who are happy because they live a life of purpose or meaning, had low levels of the cellular inflammation associated with many diseases, including cancer. A brain imaging study headed by neuroscientist Jordan Grafman from the National Institutes of Health showed that the “pleasure centers” in the brain (i.e., the parts of the brain that are active when we experience pleasure, like dessert, money and sex) are equally active when we observe someone giving money to charity as when we receive money ourselves.
Research into compassion suggests that it is a natural and not a learned behaviour (Dacher Keltner, University of California Berkeley). Studies show that even rats are driven to empathize with a suffering rat and will go out of their way to help (Jean Decety, University of Chicago). Chimpanzees have also been studied and their behaviour backs up this claim that it is an innate behaviour (Michael Tomasello, study at Max Planck Institute, Germany). It is not surprising then, that compassion is a natural tendency, since it is essential for our survival. Interestingly, compassion is one of the most highly valued traits in potential romantic partners. Connecting in a meaningful way with others allows us to enjoy improved mental health, physical health and can speed up recovery from disease.
Oprah Winfrey was once quoted as saying, “Laughter and love are precious gifts. So live with passion, laugh and love as much as you breathe.”
And, as Ellen DeGeneres would say: “Be kind to one another.”
Visit www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2013/may-june-13/the-compassionate-mind.html for more detailed information.
Written by Monique Morin, graduate consultant in Co-op and Graduate Services on behalf of the Wellness Watch Committee.