The Helper’s High (Compassion is the Key to a Life Well Lived)

Suffering is inevitable. But James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander argue that responding to pain with compassion, care, and generosity is key to a joyful life.

Thich Nhat Hahn, Buddhist teacher and activist, makes the point that compassion does not stop with letting our hearts feel the suffering of others. “Compassion is a verb,” he stresses. Compassion and action go hand-in-hand.

Indeed, in those same MRI scans of monks meditating on compassion, neuroscience researcher Richard Davidson discovered that the areas of the brain responsible for planning action also lit up. In Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, Sharon Begley quotes Davidson reporting his results to the Dalai Lama:

This was a novel and unexpected finding . . . There’s no physical activity; they’re [the meditating monks are] sitting still. One interpretation of this is that it may reflect the generation of a disposition to act in the face of suffering. It gives real meaning to the phrase “moved by compassion.”

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