Harnessing Self-Compassion and Altruistic Behavior Improves Quality of Life

For centuries, people have contemplated and argued over the merits and flaws of the human condition. Philosophers and psychologists have theoretically and scientifically dissected elements of the human psyche to get a better understanding of who we are as a species, and why we do what we do. While much focus has been given to negative aspects of personal choices, I thought to put this discussion on an upswing through positivity by focusing on self-compassion and altruistic behavior.

Self-Worth May Come from the Outside In

More than ever, it’s become difficult to acquire self-awareness without partnering in self-defeating thoughts and misperceptions. True, in part, we are all a result of where we come from, what we’ve experienced, and the meaning we put behind it individually and collectively. Additionally, social media and the quest for being seen and heard instantaneously put added pressure on being our best, whether real or through a Facebook filter.

Responding to Others’ Plight

When considering how we represent ourselves to others, those we know as well as those we’ve yet to meet, research has shown that compassion towards others weighs heavy. When a person readily shows kindness to another, it is one of the most coveted and desired traits. But is this an attribute people are born with or acquire?

Caring Is Influenced by Early Environment

Studies have shown that humans and animals may be prewired for compassion. Think about when you’re feeling down or upset about something. If you have a household pet, a dog, reflect on how many times he or she somehow knew you needed comfort and came to your side for a nuzzle or a hug. Similarly, it’s hard to shake off the feeling of seeing emotional or physical pain in someone else.

Yet, why can some people turn a blind eye to a homeless person on a street corner in need of food or water, for example, while others possess the desire to help? The art of giving can be compartmentalized into two separate cause-and-effects:

  1. The desire to make someone else feel good without the expectation of anything in return, or
  2. The intent to help another and receive a reward for doing so.

Is one way of giving any more or less effective than the other? It may come down to the benefits each provides the person doing the giving.

Altruism Can Be Different than Compassion

Many people can exhibit empathy towards others without actually taking action. Ask yourself this question: The last time you encountered a homeless person, did you feel badly for them, give them what they needed in material things, or have someone else provide them sustenance on your behalf (on your dollar)? Compassion is that emotional connection we have and exhibit, related to another’s feelings or situation and, the authentic desire to provide help to ease someone else’s suffering.

If a homeless person tugs on your heart strings, you exhibit empathy or the ability to take on what another person is feeling. Should you want to take action and provide them a meal or a room to sleep, that is known as altruism. Although altruism connects empathy or compassion with feeling, it transcends it through action that will positively impact the person or entity on the receiving end.

But can a person engage in altruism without taking credit for it? Absolutely. Altruism is all about doing something for the greater good. For example, providing an anonymous monetary or other type of donation to a person or a cause is a form of altruism. Just as any other action is often a learned response to something, altruism can be taught—so too, can compassion.

The Culture of Compassion Starts by Practicing Self Love

At some point in your lifetime, you may have heard a friend muse the following sentiment: “If you don’t take care of you, how can you effectively take care of someone else?” This is often evident in the case of family. I would know. I remember the anguish in witnessing my younger brother fall from the limelight due to drug addiction, before he finally received proper treatment and manage his opioid withdrawal symptoms using the Bridge Device.

When one member is going through a hard time, others will often sacrifice something of themselves to care for the one hurting. While this is noble and in the moment perceived as necessary, in the long term, it might bring about more harm. But by practicing self-compassion day-to-day, it puts each person in the position of loving oneself and honoring each aspect of their existence: mind, body and soul.

In doing so, we are practicing a heightened level of consciousness and with it, are more available to exercise compassion to others. But there’s an instinctive side to compassion as well.

Paying It Forward, Squared

Renowned naturalist Charles Darwin said this of the human race and survival of the fittest : “The greater strength of the social or maternal instincts than that of any other instinct or motive.” He also held firm that the communities made up of the most sympathetic individuals would do better, as a whole, than others and continue onward.

To take this into your own life, consider the impact you can make, simply by performing one random act of kindness each day. Now, what if the person on the receiving end of your graciousness would do the same for someone else? And so on. And so on.

How long would it take for these acts of humanity to heal your family, your circle of friends, your community, your city, and reach global proportion? Treating the world in kind begins with you.

Self-Love Is Essential to Emotional Survival

Neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have long been involved in the study of how the brain responds to compassion, specifically in the act of giving and receiving. Whether you are engaging in helping someone else or receiving the help, the brain’s pleasure/reward center ignites during the process. A flood of wonderful feel-good hormones is released to our internal systems, boosting emotional and physical wellbeing.

Yet, many continue to take in unhealthy sources to elicit our natural pleasure responses such as medications, alcohol, illegal drugs, junk foods, gaming, gambling, and more that certainly don’t support emotional and physical balance in oneself or others.

Removing Judgement

Understanding and accepting personal flaws and transgressions, as well as bodily imperfections, is difficult as society bombards us with messages that dictate what we should be and how much we fall short.

A crucial part of self-love and self-compassion is to remove the self-judgment that shrouds the way we view ourselves. Once you are able to hone the ability to keep judgment from derailing personal confidence, the time spent judging others will also fall away leaving more opportunity for compassion to arise.

The Courage to Be Vulnerable

One of the many repercussions of living in self-judgment is that it allows us to keep a barrier within, keeping emotions at arm’s length from our intelligence. A mind-to-soul disconnect then exists. Not only does this prevent a knowing and accepting of whom each of us is, but also from being open to true self-expression and reciprocal compassion.

Eliminating Personal Façade

Before a person can experience vulnerability, self-imposed walls often used as coping mechanisms will need to be identified and eliminated. These kinds of personal walls are built on the inside and used to shield us from life triggers that can bring about fear, anger, or discontent from unresolved issues in the past. In addition, when people create specific personal façades about themselves such as the selfie culture on social media, it casts a false truth while expressing what we want others to believe as real. This is a self-defeating ritual that can compromise self-compassion.

Accepting What Is Real

Removing the veil of pretense is perhaps the most fulfilling undertaking one can do for oneself. It takes the pressure off of achieving unrealistic expectations while opening up the door to realizing self-esteem and the need to help others experience the same. The power of living authentically and surrounding yourself with people who are just as real is life-changing, exponentially.

Improve Quality of Life by Opening Your Heart

Nurturing compassion in any moment of the day empowers both the initiator and the receiver. Through self-love, you can reassess how to value yourself better and be gentle with yourself, ultimately serving the greater good. When humanity can get past the fear of what was and enjoy what is, the what will be is more fruitful to us all.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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