It can be distressing to witness the pain of family, friends or even strangers going through a hard time. But what if, just like strengthening a muscle or learning a new hobby, we could train ourselves to be more compassionate and calm in the face of others’ suffering?
That is the question behind research from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a new study suggests that as little as two weeks of compassion meditation training – intentionally cultivating positive wishes to understand and relieve the suffering of others – may reduce the distress a person feels when witnessing another’s suffering. It may also improve their ability and likelihood to respond with compassion.
The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, may have implications for professions in which people routinely work with others who are suffering, like doctors, law enforcement officers and first responders who experience high levels of distress or empathic burnout.