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3 surprising side effects of being compassionate

Posted November 8, 2016

A person who shows compassion for others is one who has loving concern for them. It’s all about having empathy, tenderness, tolerance and being merciful to someone else. When we not only feel compassion but exhibit it in our actions, some unexpected things happen. Here are a few surprising side effects of being compassionate.

1. It affects your physical and mental well-being

According to neurosurgeon James Doty, when you render an act of kindness to someone, this is what happens to your body:

• You feel better and you live longer

• Your heart rate decreases

• The feel-good hormone oxytocin is released

• Regions of your brain linked to feelings of pleasure light up

• Your nervous system relaxes

• Your body’s ability to heal itself is optimized

• Intimacy in relationships is strengthened

Wow! That's a lot of good happening to your body and mind when you reach out to others.

2. It creates a happy feeling inside

We remember a time several years ago, when our children were young. We had learned of a family whose father had lost his job. They had three small children and were struggling to make ends meet. We decided to do what came to be called our Ninja Act of Kindness. Our nine-year-old dressed in his favorite outfit, a black Ninja suit with a black face mask. We loaded our five children into our station wagon, along with a box full of food and treats for this family.

We didn’t want them to know who did the deed, so we parked several yards away while our ninja-warrior-son sleuthed through the bushes with the large box held securely in both arms. We all strained to see our ninja at work. He set the box on their doorstep, rang the bell, then ran back to hide in the bushes, waiting to see their surprise. They did not disappoint. Their faces lit up as they picked up the box and saw the contents. They looked around. Saw no one, then shouted “Thank you, whoever you are!”

It’s still a happy memory for our family, no question about it. Showing compassion brings happiness.

3. Others are blessed by small, almost unnoticed acts of kindness

Compassion doesn’t always mean giving things. It comes in other forms as well. We have a friend who has visited an ill, homebound neighbor once a week for the past two years. She doesn’t just drop off a plate of cookies and go, as some do. And we’re not criticizing that act of caring–it can be deeply meaningful as well. It all counts. However, when this friend drops by, she stays and visits for a least an hour. She knows her neighbor is lonely. Sometimes she takes an interesting article or story to read to her. She engages her in conversation about her life and family. She has prayed with her, laughed with her and sometimes just held her hand.

Some days our friend says it’s hard to fit it into her busy schedule, but she finds a way. The neighbor has expressed countless times how much this act of love has meant to her. Because of our friend’s compassion to her, both have been blessed with increased joy in their lives.

Not everyone has a lonely neighbor like this. However, we all have people we meet in line at the grocery store or in a dental office as we wait. Our acts of compassion don’t need to be big -- sometimes just a friendly smile, holding a door for someone using a walker, a phone call that says you care or any other simple act of kindness. These all make a difference in their lives and ours.

Happiness can be kindled with even the tiniest acts of love. Each contributes to building a warmth inside our hearts. Mark Twain summed it up when he said, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Everyone, whether they thank you or not, is blessed by your kind acts.

Start today to consciously fill your heart and mind with feelings of compassion for others, then put those feelings into action. It will make all the difference in creating a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life.

Gary Lundberg is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Joy is a writer. Together they author books on relationships. See their new .99 e-book "Wake-Up Call: What Every Husband Needs to Know" on amazon.com. Their website is garyjoylundberg.com.

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