We as human beings have such limitless potential for the kind of life we wish to lead, and I would argue that when asked most people would say that they want to live a happy life. Unfortunately, in today's consumerism age, we find ourselves turning towards consumer based things that we are told are going to make us feel fulfilled. We are supposed to have the giant house with the white picket fence, we are supposed to own multiple cars, we are supposed to buy new clothes, and phones, and shoes every single year because we need them.
We also are supposed to be working well over 40+ hours per week, sleeping little, all while being the perfect mom, dad, child, sibling, friend, colleague, etc. Needless to say we are supposed to be doing a lot, but why?
In so many ways, our society for decades has been using things to make our lives feel fuller.
We have become a culture so disconnected with our own body, mind, and emotions, and so obsessed with things that we are almost incapable of seeing how much this mindset is crippling our one true wish for our life...to be happy.
There is a reason why the foundation of all religions is rooted in compassion and love. In the Buddhist tradition, compassion and love are viewed as two parts of a whole. Compassion is the wish for another to be free from sadness and suffering, and love is wanting another person to have happiness. Both compassion and love are viewed in Buddhist teaching as the key to a happier and more successful life, and world.
The Dalai Lama taught us that:
"If we want to be happy, then the important thing is to try to promote the positive and useful aspects in each of us, and to try and reduce the negative. Positive acts always bring us inner strength, and with inner strength we have less fear and more self-confidence, and it becomes easier to extend our sense of caring to others without any barriers."
So where do we begin. Well like most things we start slowly, and with intention, and with time that intention grows and grows into a life that is filled with so much compassion and happiness that we could never imagine what it was like before.
5 Steps to Creating a More Compassionate Life
Start Asking "Why" and "Who" Before Making A Purchase
Breaking the never ending cycle of consumer purchases is really really tough. But, it also is necessary if you want to truly make more room in your life for self-discovery, compassion, and happiness. You have heard the saying time and time again, things do not make us happy, and yet most of us, and some more than others, really do use things as a way to drown out emotion, and make us feel good about ourselves. This cycle can be so hard to break, but it can be done, and it can be done with compassion routed at the center.
We have all been there before, bragging about the $10 shirt we found on sale, or the new bag we got at "such a great price". But imagine if we didn't. Imagine if instead we asked why is this shirt so cheap, and who made it. Virtually all of our consumer goods, and certainly our clothing are made by people. So my advice to someone who really is looking to cut back their consumption and live a life with more compassion is to begin with their daily purchases.
By thinking about where your coffee came from and if the workers were treated fairly, or if your clothing was made in adequate working conditions by an ADULT not a child, you will almost immediately start to see the world a little differently. Even if you still make that purchase, just the fact that you stopped for a moment to think about how you are positively or negatively participating in how another person is able to live his/her life matters.
That thoughtfulness is where compassion grows, and with time it will grow so big, and will fill your heart with so much emotion that you no longer with feel fulfilled by a discounted shirt, but instead will be empowered by your choice not to buy it.
Say Something Kind To Yourself Everyday
Compassion starts with you. Rather than try and cloud out your feelings and emotions with daily impulse purchases, think about how you can address yourself from a place of compassion.
My favorite way to do this is to take a moment each morning and tell yourself something kind in the mirror. It doesn't matter what you weigh, if your skin is broken out, if you got in a fight with your spouse, or forgot to make your kids lunch and now feel like a horrible parent. There is something wonderful about you, and you deserve to take a moment to notice it every single day.
Make An Effort To Listen
There is a lot of noise out there in the world, and sometimes it may feel as though you need to shout at the top of your lungs to be heard. The only problem is with everyone shouting, no one can really be heard. One of the best ways to stop competing to be heard is to listen. By listening to others, be it a friend, a family member, a stranger, we are choosing to put our opinions, and beliefs aside, and truly hear someone for a moment.
This act of placing your own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs aside and giving someone else the space to be heard is by far one of the kindest, most compassionate acts we can do for one another. We also learn so much about ourselves when we take the time to listen to others, and we learn nothing when we never allow the space to hear what another person has to say.
So next time you are in a conversation, where maybe a friend is looking to be heard, check your thoughts and opinions at the door, and just listen to him or her. Ask them questions, look them in the eye (put your phone away!), give them space to think and breathe, and whether you really are interested in what they have to say or not, acknowledge that at this moment they need this, and you are able to give them something that they need.
Begin to Acknowledge Fear
Fear is at the root of so many of our daily life, and greater world issues. People fear the unknown, or something they cannot understand, and with time fear warps into hate, jealousy, and resentment. While fear is a natural internal response to danger that is pretty useful, overtime fear has also turned into an emotion we feel when we are not quite able to understand the unknown, and have little confidence within ourself. But there is such a simple way to ease fear, and it begins with acknowledging its presence.
Fear is an emotion that is entirely dependent on the amount of power and energy you feed it. You can choose to ignore fear and allow it overcome you, or you can choose to acknowledge it, and take small actions to slowly rid it from your life. This is also true when you encounter people who are filled with hate, resentment, and fear. By acknowledging the fear they live with, you already have begun to view this person with more compassion...whether you can relate to their fear or not.
Choose To Shop Local
Connecting with your local community is one of the easiest and best ways to start living a more compassionate life. By shopping at your local farmers market you will begin to learn more about the people behind your food. By buying pottery from a local potter you will learn more about how that person got started. By volunteering at a local NGO that really connects with you, you will meet so many people whose lives are most likely very different from yours.
By connecting with your local community you will start to realize that compassion has nothing to do with feeling bad for someone, and everything to do with respect for someones life, and desire to make it even happier. Once you start to interact with you community, and shop local as often as possible, you will begin to realize that absolutely everything and everyone has a story, a string of events that get something from point A to B, and make someone who they are. By purchasing local and getting to know your community you have the amazing opportunity to hear more of those stories...you just have to listen.
What are some ways that you choose to bring compassion into your life? I would love to hear them.