What Makes a Person Compassionate?

Compassion, both for ourselves and for others, is a key component of maintaining well-being as we age. A new study has uncovered which elements play a significant role in developing this deep sense of caring for others that endures, despite the passing of decades.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, San Francisco, examined the personal traits and life experiences of over 1,000 older adults. They found that compassionate seniors were more likely to be women who had recently experienced significant personal trialsósuch as a serious illness or the loss of a spouse.

Age, race, education level and mental status didn’t appear to exert much influence over an individual’s capacity for compassion. But people who believed in their ability to positively respond to life crises garnered greater joy from helping others, and were also more likely to experience feelings of empathy for strangers who were suffering.

“Compassion is an important contributor to pro-social behavior and maintenance of interpersonal relationships,” the study authors write, “yet little is known about what factors influence compassion in late life.” They hope their findings will shed some much-needed light on how compassionate personalities develop.

The anti-aging benefits of compassion

Compassion is often confused with two closely-related terms, altruism and empathy. But the true definition of compassion is the emotional reaction to witnessing another’s suffering, coupled with the desire to help the person who is in pain.

Many experts believe human beings are naturally predisposed towards compassionate feelings, and that such instincts have aided in the survival of our species. Charles Darwin himself felt that compassion was an essential trait, chosen via the process of natural selection. In his well-known work, The Descent of Man, Darwin says of compassion, “In however complex a manner this feeling may have originated, as it is one of high importance to all those animals which aid and defend one another, it will have been increased through natural selection; for those communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”

Outside of the emotional benefits, practicing compassion on a consistent basis also results in reduced production of the stress hormone called cortisol that may accelerate the aging process. Compassion also promotes the creation of DHEA, a different hormone that, according to the National Institutes of Health, has been shown to slow aging, enhance cognitive functioning in the elderly, and perhaps play a role in hindering the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Meditation is one way to cultivate feelings of compassion. Regardless of what method of meditation you preferóchanting a mantra, focusing on a particular feeling, or simply sitting in silent state of mindfulnessótaking the time to be still and reflect on the things you have in common with other people, even those who’ve wronged you, can engender empathy for your fellow human beings. Read more about how to make meditation a part of your daily routine.

What are some of the techniques you use to nurture your inner sense of compassion?


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Being a Caregiver Can Change Your Personality–For the Better

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor


Mike R
Mike Rabout a month ago


Mike R
Mike Rabout a month ago


Christine Jones
Christine J2 years ago

It's true that compassion and empathy are closely linked.

I've long thought of myself as a very compassionate person. Over the last few years I've been through some bad experiences that I wouldn't wish on anyone. I've noticed that they have made me a lot less judgemental and a lot more compassionate, e.g. in the past if I saw a dog misbehaving I'd mentally judge the dog and the person with it, thinking "They should train their dog" or "Why on earth would they keep such a bad dog"? Now I'm much more open-minded. My first thoughts are "Perhaps they are a novice owner and need help" or "Perhaps it's a shelter dog or a foster dog and is still stressed out" or "Perhaps it's been abused or neglected and needs time to learn how to behave". The possibilities are many. I give them a warm smile and if the person apologizes for their dog's behaviour I say something supportive like "Not to worry, it's ok, we all have our moments". It just makes everyone feel better.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago

Cannot be selfish and compassionate.

Catrin K.
Catrin Schuetz3 years ago

Thank you .

slava rabikovich
Slava R3 years ago

In every situation of life compassion is ultimately the bi-product of free will. It all depends on what kind of person you want to mold yourself into. The foolish live for themselves. The wise live themselves for others. Is there any greater honor than self sacrifice for others?

Charlotte A.
Charlotte A3 years ago

Compassion has kept us alive. It is compassion than ends wars.

Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

It's just like that old song says ...

"Love is nature's way of giving a reason to be living."

Opposite of love is dislike, even hate -- rather explains the imbalance which exists in the world today, doesn't it?

may feelings VI you tube AND may feelings II you tube may be of some help to someone, somehow ...

Rhonda B.
Rhonda B3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.