How Compassion in Religion Improves Emotional Well-Being
There have been plenty of studies over the years, such as Mongrain, M., Chin, J.M. & Shapira, L.B. Practicing Compassion Increases Happiness and Self-Esteem, highlighting how compassion and charity positively influence the emotional well-being of the individual partaking in the charitable act.
This is part of a quest to live a meaningful and fulfilling life, and in our 21st century world, there are increasing parallels between the teachings of ancient faiths and the findings of modern science.
In Islam, charity – or Zakat – is one of the five pillars that underpin the entire faith. The other pillars are Shahada (Declaration of Faith), Salah (Prayer), Sawm (Fasting) and Hajj (Pilgrimage). A Muslim donating his Zakat in 2023 is obliged to deduct 2.5 per cent of their individual wealth after paying outgoings to support the local community.
The importance of Zakat is that it is done with intention, and the aim is to strive towards balancing out inequalities and purifying wealth within the perimeters of Islam by helping those who are in greater hardship. Muslims worldwide report on how Zakat encourages a more open mindset to building wealth and sharing good fortune – the more a person becomes wealthy, the more zakat there is to go around. Anyone who experiences good fortunes and blessings automatically gives back to the world as a whole.
The Strength of Emotions
Maya Angelou famously said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The Dalai Lama also espouses similar values, famously saying: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Compassion in Buddhism is called Karuna, and the Buddha taught that showing compassion is a universal act that should be carried out by everyone. Compassion is part of the journey that someone takes towards achieving an unselfish, loving, pure state of mind – the act itself helps to overcome the negative emotions that can creep up unwillingly, and help you to eliminate them.
Three simple steps to strengthening compassion
If you are looking to strengthen your act of compassion to improve your overall sense of well-being, follow these three simple steps to work towards a greater degree of compassion not just to others, but also to yourself.
- Practice kindness rather than judgement: This can be achieved through observing others with a sense of empathy rather than sympathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others from their perspective, rather than simply identifying and recognising another’s experiences. Empathy is a much more constructive element to helping others. Avoiding judgement means that you accept the experience of another.
- Be inclusive rather than exclusive: this is a natural follow-on from practising kindness rather than judgement. It is almost impossible to be exclusive if you are not judging people negatively from the outset.
- Stop trying to label or pigeonhole everything – sometimes, you just need to let something or someone be, and move on. Accept without judgement, and be in the moment.
The most important message of this article that we want to leave you with is that showing yourself compassion is as important, if not more so, than the compassion you show to others. We are always guilty of being our own harshest critics, of berating ourselves far more severely than we do others. The Christian faith often quotes that charity starts at home, and this relates as well to the fact that compassion for others should also start with compassion for yourself.