Do you know about the ten keys to wellbeing? Our wellbeing consultant, Jen Wood, shares her thoughts on compassion and how we can work on developing this helpful quality.

"As a Compassion Focused Therapist and Coach, I realise compassion can be a complicated and misunderstood word. It comes from the Latin ‘compati’ meaning ‘to suffer with’. In western culture, where we often feel the pressure to succeed and be better than everyone else, this idea can be unattractive. However, I’d like to show how compassion can be a source of strength.

The Dalai Llama regards compassion as a building blocks of happiness, which is the primary purpose of life. He describes compassion as a combination of empathy and reason. So when we practice compassion, we gain more strength, inner peace and happiness, which ripples out to everyone we touch in our lives. Also, the more compassionate we are, the better our brain works.

Paul Gilbert, the evolutionary psychologist who created Compassion Focused Therapy and whom I trained with, describes compassion as 'the sensitivity to suffering in ourselves and others, combined with the sincere wish to relieve it'. 

Sometimes we confuse compassion, altruism and empathy. Altruism is more about kindness and selflessness, while empathy is about imagining ourselves in the shoes of another person. These qualities are also valuable for wellbeing, but compassion has a different and more empowered active quality. It’s not just about feeling, but doing something about it.

When we feel compassion, our soothing system switches on and we release the bonding hormone oxytocin, which helps us feel connected and therefore more motivated to help. However, it’s often not easy to give that help. We may need to call on our own inner strength and resilience.

Many people resist compassion because they associate it with being weak or they fear that they may be taken advantage of, but to me there is more of the ‘peaceful warrior’ in compassion.

Why might it helpful?

  • It feels great, thanks to the oxytocin and opiates released by the body. We experience a natural high.
  • When we compassionately connect with others, it benefits our heart and increases our Heart Rate Variability (HRV) which helps us live longer.
  • It reduces our stress hormones like cortisol associated with the threat system/fight or flight and increases our resilience.
  • It’s fantastic for our mental health, because if we can learn to attend to our difficulty with gentleness, rather than avoidance, we can cope with life more easily.
  • It helps us be more mindful, which benefits our mental health.
  • It increases our psychological flexibility, as we adapt to change more easily.
  • It helps us to connect with others more, which is another key for wellbeing.

How can I develop compassion?

  • Adapt a compassionate posture –relaxed open body with friendly facial expression and a smile!
  • Soothe yourself with your breath. Try our Soothing Rhythm Breathing practice. When we deepen, slow and balance our breath, we activate the part of our nervous system that helps us relax.
  • Imagine you have a compassionate friend or mentor, who will always support you whenever you need it.
  • Use touch. Having a hand over your heart (or wherever feels most soothing) can boost our happy hormones.
  • Remember moments of compassion. Write them down at the end of the day, and use your senses to relive them.

Compassion is about strength and kindness, as well as strength, courage and resilience. There’s nothing weak about that. 

How can you become a ‘compassionate warrior’ today?"

(Source: Greater Good Science Centre, UC Berkeley)

Jen Wood is an emotional wellbeing coach, therapist and mindfulness teacher with 20 years’ experience. She is also our wellbeing consultant at The Yard. Jen is offering weekly bite-sized videos sharing mindfulness techniques and wellbeing tools for our members. For more information about Jen, visit