If you’re like most people, you want to feel good about yourself and your life. Even if you can count your many blessings, things can still feel “off.” Being a parent can be challenging, there are aches and pains due to aging, work is demanding, and it’s common to compare our lives to what we see on social media (curated versions of other people’s lives). Depending on how you think about all of this, you might feel empty and wonder if something is wrong with you.
Enter self-compassion! Self-compassion can improve your psychological health, help you feel better about yourself and your life, and lead to happiness.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is a trilogy of being kind to yourself, accepting that the human experience involves some degree of suffering, and mindfulness.
Being Kind to Yourself
This can look like talking to yourself in a gentle manner and offering yourself thoughts of support and encouragement during difficult times or after perceived failures. It does not involve negative judgment such as telling yourself you’re unworthy or blaming yourself. Many of us have an inner critic built in and through practice, we can challenge that negative voice and replace it with a positive one.
For example, if you ate half a pan of brownies while watching tv when you didn’t intend to eat that much, you would focus on what you want to do the next time such as planning to eat just one, or being curious about what was going on that led to the eating. You wouldn’t tell yourself that you’re a failure.
Accepting the Human Condition
This means you acknowledge that everyone experiences suffering in life – and that’s OK. While it’s not useful to seek out pain for the sake of punishment (which would be unkind towards ourselves), it’s important not to fight it, endlessly try to avoid it, or deny that sometimes life feels hard.
For example, maybe you ate the brownies to avoid thinking about your mom’s declining health. You’re grieving and at the same time saddled with added responsibilities. It’s natural, and expected, to feel sad and frustrated! While these emotions can be painful, allowing yourself to feel them rather than trying to numb them with brownies will increase your emotional resilience. Over time, you’ll increase your ability to experience suffering and you won’t have to resist, escape, or deny your feelings, which can take effort or lead to unhelpful behaviors like eating more than you had planned.
Being mindful means you are receptive to all thoughts and feelings without judgment, attachment, or reaction. The key is to allow life to happen including acknowledging that there are circumstances, events, and people you can’t control. You can still have desires and opinions, yet you don’t attach your self worth or your own life experience to anything or anyone external.
For example, journaling about the thoughts and feelings that come up when you think about your mom can help you notice and embrace your experiences. And, at a time without distractions, you can mindfully eat a brownie by savoring each bite, noticing the texture and rich chocolate flavor. Accepting and allowing your experiences enriches you and your life.
The Benefits of Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is associated with greater happiness, increased satisfaction in life, and more fulfilling social relationships. It is associated with a reduced risk of anxiety, depression, and perfectionism.
Self-Compassion & Happiness: A Match Made In Heaven
Happiness in life doesn’t mean you’re always smiling or that everything flows without a hitch. Sure, joy feels amazing and is a welcome part of life. But true happiness comes from allowing and experiencing all of life and being our true selves. Difficult emotions such as fear, doubt, and shame will come up. Just remember that joy, love, and gratitude will come up as well!
So, going forward, be kind to yourself. Recognize that sometimes life feels hard – and at other times it feels easy. Embrace your whole life and your whole self. With self-compassion, you’ll be well on your way to being truly happy.