Blog post title graphic with modern pink and purple flowers and beige background that says, how compassion makes you a better person

Can compassion make you a better person?

You might have heard how compassion helps your well-being. But why does it help you, and how does it relate to your well-being? Compassion is feeling the other person’s suffering and wanting to help relieve it. The opposite of compassion may be harshness, judgment, or even callousness. Generally, being indifferent to another’s suffering or hard-hearted is the opposite.

Many researchers hypothesize that humans evolved to experience compassion because the resulting emotions and behaviors improved the survival of our ancestors. All people experience different levels of compassion depending on their own experiences, values, and beliefs about what is possible.

Researchers also found that people are likely to feel compassion for those in their social group since they can better understand the point of view their group holds. There may be an evolutionary basis for this, as they were more likely to survive if they aligned with the group’s goals. Conversely, it’s easier to view competitor groups as outsiders or different and, therefore, feel less compassionate for them.

How is empathy different?

Many people assume compassion and empathy are the same since both emotions are similar and help you feel connected. However, it can be helpful to differentiate their differences in several ways. Researchers define empathy as sharing another’s suffering. At the same time, compassion adds another layer of feeling warmth, concern, and care for the other and a desire to improve the other person’s well-being.

An empathetic response to another can lead the person to move away from the emotional situation to avoid discomfort. The biological drive to avoid pain is intense. However, a compassionate response, which includes a desire to be helpful to the person experiencing pain, often means getting even closer to the emotional situation. Researchers also found that people who feel compassion for others are more likely to help the sufferer than people who feel empathic distress.

Can you learn to be more compassionate?

Research in this area has grown over the last few decades, showing that compassion benefits both the giver and the receiver. There are a variety of positive outcomes in experiencing compassion, including reduced depression and anxiety. So, how do you increase your compassion?

One recent line of research has involved contemplative practices such as meditation to increase compassionate feelings towards others. Loving-kindness meditation, or Metta, is one example of this. This meditation focuses on a short phrase to wish others well and notice the pleasant feelings they experience in the process. Long-term practice of loving-kindness meditation and other meditations with a similar focus functionally change in the brain. One study found that experienced meditators with compassion in their practice have a more robust neural response in an area of the brain associated with compassion than novice meditators.

Fortunately, you don’t have to practice loving-kindness meditation for years to receive its benefits. Other researchers found that a short practice benefits the meditator and the person being mediated. There are numerous guided loving-kindness meditations available that you can try.

Can you be too compassionate?

What is compassion fatigue and how can you prevent it?

The benefits of feeling and expressing compassion are clear. However, the research also shows there are disadvantages, and that’s when compassion fatigue can happen. Compassion fatigue is defined as “a more user-friendly term for secondary traumatic stress disorder, which is nearly identical to PTSD, except that it applies to those emotionally affected by the trauma of another.”

Compassion fatigue is an emotional investment many experience with others they care about. Even if you’re not in the helping professions, you can still experience compassion fatigue related to someone you’re close to.

Compassion fatigue is similar to burnout, but compassion fatigue includes “absorbing” the other’s emotional experience. Burnout focuses on the stressful situations in your own life.


Compassion brings us closer to one another and improves both the givers’ and receivers’ lives. While the feeling can lead to adverse outcomes such as compassion fatigue, it has many benefits. Improving self-care practices that support healthy boundaries, emotional mastery and habits that increase well-being can prevent compassion fatigue.