Empathy is innate. Scientists have documented that empathy is common in children—even rats—but not all of us continue to be as empathetic as we grow older.
Why not? Maybe it’s because we simply forget how. But fear not: Compassion is a skill—and we can strengthen it like a muscle. Spending a few minutes each day to cultivate compassion pays off. One popular method to boost empathy is to simply close your eyes and picture the people in your life who have been especially kind to you. When picturing each person, wish him or her well silently with such thoughts as, “May she be safe, happy, healthy and live joyously.”
After wishing good thoughts upon these special people, why not widen the scope? Daniel Goleman—author, psychologist and science journalist—recently wrote in the Washington Post that while “walking 50 blocks through the human thickets of mid-town Manhattan,” he wished thoughts of “loving kindness” upon strangers as they passed and reported that he found himself smiling broadly by the end of the walk.
As with any exercise, the more you do it the stronger you get.