Stanford University has a whole center dedicated to the science of compassion and altruism. Emma Seppala, Ph.D., is the science director of this center, and she has helped scientifically prove compassion is best.
She holds degrees from Yale, Columbia University, and Stanford, and in all of these Ivy league environments, she saw high-achievers operating on America’s mistaken concepts of “hard work” and “success.”
“Some of the brightest minds in our country are also deeply unhappy and very, very stressed,” Seppala said.
One of Seppala’s students at Stanford told her that she was raised to strive for success. She asked her parents, “How do I become successful?”
They told her, “Work hard.”
She asked, “How do I know if I’m working hard enough?”
They told her, “If you’re suffering, it means you’re working hard enough.”
Seppala wrote in her book “The Happiness Track”: “The great myth overarching all the other myths of success is that we have to sacrifice happiness in the short term to be successful and happy in the long term. However, this approach not only keeps us from being as productive as we can be but actually makes us deeply unhappy.”
“Multiple studies have shown that happiness makes people 12 percent more productive,” she wrote.
Compassion and happiness are bound together.
Being good to yourself—allowing yourself to have some rest time, for example—increases happiness. Being compassionate to others increases loyalty and commitment among colleagues and employees and creates a happier work environment.
She listed off other stats during an interview with Epoch Times: Anxiety is the leading cause for mental health treatment in the United States, costing more than $42 billion per year nationwide.
In American workplaces, 50 percent of employees are unengaged (present but uninspired), and 20 percent are actively disengaged (very unhappy at work).
This costs the U.S. economy an estimated $450 billion per year.
Seppala consults with Fortune 500 companies to help them understand the cost of unhappy work environments. She helps them foster compassion to boost not only morale, but also profits.
Is Human Nature Selfish or Kind?
“If you look at the research, compassion is something that’s very innate to us,” she said. In studies, the split-second decisions people make without thinking tend toward compassion. “When another being is suffering, we are drawn to go and help them.”
Some people think humans are innately selfish and fierce competition is the way to success. But “survival of the fittest” is not really how nature works, Seppala explained. People associate this principle with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, but it was Herbert Spencer who came up with it.
Spencer (1820–1903) was a biologist and political theorist who used the principle “survival of the fittest” to justify racial and social hierarchy, Seppala explained. On the contrary, she said, “We would never have survived in the wild without each other.”
In terms of the competitive business world, “You can compete, but you don’t have to compete by sabotaging someone else,” she said. You can pull yourself up without pulling others down.
How to Be Happier
“The best-kept secret to happiness is to be of service to others,” Seppala said. Research supports this—it’s not just an ideological statement.
Whatever your job is, you can think of its purpose for the common good. This can help increase job satisfaction. For example, Seppala said, some companies create products that are really helpful to people.
If you really can’t find a purpose in your job, you can think about how your work allows you to support your family. Or you can think of every day as an opportunity to support your co-workers, she suggested.
Many Americans find it difficult to disconnect from work, and thus from stress. Taking vacation time can help people de-stress and come back at their work with renewed enthusiasm. Many Americans don’t take all their allotted vacation time.
Some 90 percent of Americans also check in on work during their vacations. In the smartphone age, many people interrupt family moments by checking in on work, which can draw them into a stress response during times that are supposed to be relaxing.
Compassion in Health Care
An example of the many studies Seppala and her colleagues have conducted is one that looks at compassion in health care.
When people are stressed out, it is harder for them to feel and express empathy or compassion for others.
“Nearly half of medical students experience stress-related burnout during medical school training, and 11 percent report suicidal ideation as a result of burnout, decreased quality of life, and depressive symptoms,” the study reported. “In medical residents, nearly 20 percent report below-average mental health—double that of the general population of the same age.”
Among experienced health care professionals, burnout rates are as high as 70 percent.
“Burnout among residents, nurses, and doctors increases the likelihood of substandard patient care practices and attitudes, errors in treatment or medication, and hospital-acquired infections. In addition to objective errors in care, stress and burnout decreases provider compassion,” Seppala reported.
Americans value compassion in their health care experiences. According to the study, the vast majority of respondents would be willing to pay more, travel further, and wait longer for health care with a higher dose of compassion.
Yet 64 percent have experienced unkind behavior in health care settings.
In hospitals, large corporations, and small businesses alike, fostering compassion has a good result.
“Research is really starting to show that companies whose cultures are positive, that are characterized by respect, by kindness, empathy, support, and mutual understanding … lead to better outcomes for everyone,” Seppala said. “[These outcomes include] better loyalty, better worker engagement, and it’s ultimately better for the bottom line.”