Compassion is the key to building happiness out of misery. Awareness recognizes misery, breathing brings us back to the present moment, and compassion transforms the moment. Compassion is a sense that nobody deserves to be miserable and a recognition that sometimes we are. When we feel miserable, we understand how difficult and painful life can seem. If we fight against our misery it becomes like quicksand and sucks us under. If instead of struggling, we recognize our miserable circumstances and remember that compassion is the key to transforming the situation, then we can begin to work with what we have to make way for happiness.
Compassion is not separate from misery. Wherever there is misery, there is also compassion. It is also not separate from happiness. If we did not feel compassion we would not even feel miserable. When we feel down, we feel that in relation to the happiness that we don’t feel. We imagine a sense of happiness that we could be feeling, and the fact that it seems so distant makes us miserable. That sense that we could be happy and the desire to be happy, is our compassion. It arrives hand in hand with our misery. When we recognize this, then suddenly we have a choice. We can concentrate on our despair, or the hope of our compassion.
Compassion is bigger than us. It connects us to every other being that experiences the turmoil of life’s ups and downs. When we feel the sting of suffering, we have the opportunity to understand how everybody suffers just as we do. When we feel hopeless and alone in the depths of our misery, compassion connects us to others and helps us recognize that we are not alone. Compassion often comes to us from others as they support us through our hard times. By practicing compassion for others and receiving compassion from others, we find a productive use for our most difficult feelings.
Besides lifting us out of the grip of our misery, developing a compassionate attitude toward ourselves can help us to build habits that protect us from negative thought habits. A compassionate attitude can silence our internal critics. When we practice compassionate thinking, those thoughts that cut us down and make us feel bad, no longer make sense. Our sense of compassion can patrol our stream of thought like a lifeguard, alert for unkind thoughts. When our basic attitude is compassionate, thoughts that undermine our happiness stand out like a drowning swimmer waving their arms and bugging their eyes. Compassionately we pluck those thoughts from the water, knowing they are not true.
Compassion leads to happiness, because it comes from happiness. When we taste a delicious morsel of food, the first thing we want to do is offer others a taste. When we find ourselves in a fulfilling relationship, we want to set up our friends. When happiness overflows, compassion is plentiful.
Compassion is plentiful regardless of our moods. When we are feeling down, we practice compassion for ourselves. When we are feeling better, remembering how we feel when we are down, we practice compassion for others. When we consistently, consciously practice connecting with our basic humanity, our compassionate capacity grows.
As we get better at being compassionate, we can learn how to use our skills to engage with people and things that we don’t like as much. When we find ourselves in conflict with others and they drag us down into the range of negative feelings, such as resentment, fear, rage, guilt, or disgust, our compassion will be there to help us deal with those feelings. Compassion connects us with each other and heals wounds. Although it flows naturally, it is also an acquired skill, which when practiced regularly, benefits everybody.
From the book, The ABCs of Misery and Happiness, coming soon.