Is empathetic living the secret to a more harmonious life?
For so long, we’ve existed in our own self-driven bubbles, moving from one daily drama to the next. We haven’t focused on really connecting with those around us, on empathising with them and putting the wellness of each other as our guiding force.
But, as each day of this year goes by, we are becoming increasingly more aware of the need to live more connected, kind and conscientious lives.
Economists and evolutionary psychologists have struggled for many years to explain why people act in altruistic ways. They are looking for the answer as to why we prioritise kindness; why we give to charity, choose to help complete strangers, or go out of our way to donate to causes far beyond our own daily lives.
After two years spent researching empathy, I now know that people choose to empathise and that empathy itself is what drives our actions. When we empathise, the neuro pathways in our brains that reflect joy ‘light’ up. We find happiness and reward in connecting with others.
Evolution has tuned us to be this way – to work together and to physiologically recognise that we are stronger when we are connected.
Often mistaken as a skill we are born with more or less of, empathy is a natural ability we all possess to help us overcome the daily grind of solitary living. It is, at its core, about walking in the shoes of others and being able to take perspective.
Like so many things in life, however, committing to practising empathy for others will aid us in improving our ability to do so – and the benefits are well worth the effort.
So, how do we cultivate the practice of empathetic living in our everyday lives?
3 easy steps for more empathy in everyday life
We can cultivate empathy throughout our lives and we can have a huge impact on ourselves and others in doing so. Try the following steps to cultivate more empathy in your life.
1. Practice live listening
How often do you find yourself listening to – but not really taking note of – what the other person is saying? Your body may have been in the same room, but your attention is elsewhere.
The first key to driving deeper empathetic connection is to ensure that when you listen to someone, you listen to truly hear them. Use your whole body in this process, ensuring your body language shows that you are leaning in and interested, your eye contact remains focused and your attention is towards the speaker.
2. Focus on those around you
Today, we know that our emotional system is inextricably linked with our ability to think and process information effectively. We also know that when people feel understood, stress levels are lower and cognition and decision-making ability goes up.
Understanding the perspective of another not only helps you to gain clarity and context, but it creates confidence and calm in those you are connecting with.
3. Be curious
Inquiry drives connection. Start conversations and provoke sharing by asking questions to deepen your understanding of those around you. Next time you are in an important discussion with a friend or your partner, try to focus on asking questions to better understand their answers, rather than simply reacting to the information they give you. The most empathetic of people are nearly always natural inquirers.
The days of believing that we are essentially self-interested creatures (survival of the fittest) have passed as we now see both evidence, and necessity, for us to be wired to care and driven by social cooperation and mutual aid. Empathy can be learned and never has there been a better time to start.
Want to know more? Read Mimi’s article, How to build empathy on Happiful.