Role of Compassion in Happiness

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~Dalai Lama

It was Friday afternoon and my hubby and I were standing in the waiting room of the Cancer Centre radiation area. Our eyes were glued to the red and green lights above the wide doorway leading into the treatment room. The red light blinked “In Use” and I heard the click, click click of the radiation beam sending healing rays to my father-in-law, who I call Dad. The green light came on again. It was over. This was the 9th in a series of 15 days of treatments.

We smiled encouragingly as Dad walked out of the treatment room, stoic, proud and determined. “Pressing on”, he mumbled as we slowly shuffled down the hall toward the nurses station.

I don’t think any of us want to ‘go through’ things. It means life has closed a door and is telling us it’s time to move forward; time to grow; time for change. It’s up to us to choose what we do next.

We can remain in the vortex of our troubles and grow more cynical, angry and bitter, forever grieving what we lost. Eventually we become resigned to our fate, defeated by life.

Alternatively, we can emerge on the other side stronger, kinder and wiser, looking at what we have instead of what we lost. It’s accepting that change is an inevitable part of life.

I’ve been struggling with Dad’s situation lately. And today I figured out why.

I’ve been wrapped up in a tunnel, imagining and feeling the pain, fear, sorrow, frustration and confusion that Dad must be going through. It’s scary, particularly as I project forward, realizing that someday I may have to face a similar challenge. Yet I don’t want to have these feelings now – there will be time enough later. I don’t want to go through what Dad is going through now. But I do want to support him and help him push though this trying time.

Some definitions of compassion allude to the fact that empathy, the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, is the precursor toward compassionate action. Here is one of them: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

This is what has been bothering me. I contend that feeling the emotional pain, or sorrow for another doesn’t relieve their suffering. It actuality adds to it. And it doesn’t do me any good either. Dad’s pain is his – not mine; nor is it mine to take away or absorb.

Yes, I understand Dad is suffering, but I do not have to step into Dad’s shoes in order to drive him to the Cancer Centre for treatments. I can do that out of sense of duty or an act of compassion.  The difference is in my attitude and behavior.

Compassion does not expect things to be any different than they are.
Compassion does not judge, criticize, complain about or reject the person or whatever the situation is right now.
Compassion does not boast about the action taken.  It does not seek reward or recognition.
Compassion shows up with a smile. It listens. It’s patient, kind and gentle.

And just as important: it is not my responsibility to provide Dad all the help and support he needs. Dad was talking to his nurse on Friday and he told her how grateful he was for the loving care and help he is getting from his family, the technicians, nurses and the doctors. He didn’t know what he’d do without all of us to help him.

I’m happy and honored to be part of Dad’s diverse support team – each of us contributing unique skills and strengths so collectively, we get the job done. And it would be wrong of me to expect any of us (and that includes me) to push ourselves beyond what we feel comfortable and capable of doing. It is up to us to know our boundaries and stick within them. And let’s not forget Dad – he has the biggest assignment of all of us. Two thumbs up to you Dad on how you’ve been holding out.

Tonight I passed through my struggle with compassion having emerged wiser and happier.  I’m ready to take on next week’s appointments with renewed energy and a smile. See you tomorrow Dad.

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16 thoughts on “Role of Compassion in Happiness

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  1. My mom had Lupus which in some ways is worse than cancer. At least most cancers they have an idea of how to treat them. When she was officially diagnosed, it was after a week of testing at the Mayo Clinic, everything else was ruled out, so it must be Lupus. She and Dad were able to spend 50+ years together until she literally wasted away to nothing. It’s been several years now and we still miss her. It was tough to see mom shrunken and worn, and I cherish the time we had, but I’ll always remember her vibrant and water-skiing.

    I hope that you and your dad and family enjoy the short time that we all have to endure this condition known as human.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Shawn for you kind and thoughtful comment. I know your mother would have preferred that you remember her just as you have: a vibrant person, out there flying freely with the waves. We cherish the memories.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can very much relate to what you’ve written here, since my father died of cancer almost 20 months ago. I totally agree with you that “feeling the emotional pain, or sorrow for another doesn’t relieve their suffering.” I also love your definitions of compassion, particularly, “Compassion shows up with a smile. It listens. It’s patient, kind and gentle.”

    Listening was the main thing I could do for my Dad, and it was a joy to do it. I miss him deeply, yet I have so many precious memories of our conversations in his last few years

    I’m not sure if feeling the emotional pain for another adds to theirs, it probably depends on the person and the circumstances. We can’t ever really feel someone else’s pain, so all we can do is guess at it, and recognise that the pain we feel is actually our own, not theirs. My father was very afraid in the early days before the diagnosis, and I supported him to talk about his feelings. As time went on, he was mostly calm and didn’t fear death, but was grateful for life. At times, he did become distressed at the pain, and at not being able do things – though he was incredible in his ability to adapt.

    Thanks for this lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Yvonne for your kind and thoughtful comment. Often our parents feel they need to be stoic and “parents”, not sharing their fears with their children. I’m glad you were able to spend some precious moments with your Dad where he let you into his world.


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