Positively nervous, I landed in Helsinki a winter morning in the beginning of January, ready to start my internship at the research group CoPassion. As a public health master’s student from Stockholm, I have chosen an angle of salutogenesis; I am not solely interested in what makes people sick, but rather, what makes us maintain health. What makes us happy?
warm-hearted welcome in icy cold helsinki
There are worldwide attempts to improve the situation for humans, other animals and our planet home. CoPassion contributes by adding evidence from a Finnish context to existing research on how compassion influences work contexts. The emerging field of compassion linked to business and organizational structure, embracing a multidisciplinary approach, clearly responds to a Western culture of decreasing self rated health and increasing stressrelated problems related to work and lifestyle.
Helsinki greeted me with 27 degrees and tumbling snowflakes, yet I remember the first days as warm and exciting. I arrived just a couple of days before the two dayseminar hosted by CoPassion, Revolutionizing work through compassion. Over 700 people had registered, as well as the media, to hear scientists from all over the world lecture on compassion and working life. I quickly, and gratefully, became part of the team as they kindly welcomed me and pushed me right into their beforeseminarpreparation haze. I had the chance to spend time with the arriving scientists and CoPassion team, all so dedicated to their work, and with them experience Helsinki the capital of ice and passion.
And then suddenly, the morning of the 11had arrived. At 9.00 AM, when the University Great hall was full of people and anticipation, the historic moment began to unfold.
So there we were, people gathered from different fields to hear about compassion. Why did so many show interest in the seminar? My guess is that somehow, most of us intuitively know that compassion is a trait that makes us as human as our other instincts such as selfinterest, if not more. In a world and culture where we might believe the opposite, we are compassionate animals with the capacity to do good. But only if we believe that we are capable of good.
ERA OF COMPLEXITY DEMANDS CREATIVE AND HAPPY WORKFORCE
Why try to implement compassion as a leading value within organizations? The simplest answer might be: because a compassionate working environment creates a winwin situation, for employees and for the company. In a compassionate workplace where people feel safe and valued for their competencies, creativity and collaborations are more likely to blossom.
As we invest much time and thus our life in our work, work should be more than pay. Employees want meaningfulness in their everyday work and compassion can help organizations to achieve this. An intrinsic motivation, raising our ability to solve complex problems that demand broader sense of thinking and innovation, can thus work as a strategic advantage for companies. Especially now, in times of vast complexity and challenges such as climate change that require new skills and mindsets, companies truly need engaged, creative and happy people in the workforce. And humans need workplaces that bring out the best of them.
Compassion is truly a powerful force. Not only do you become happier, healthier and more motivated by acting compassionately to fellow individuals, but you also get the benefits of it just by watching a compassionate interaction between other people. Compassion makes people proactive, interactive and thus; present.
Instinctively and unconsciously, humans interpret each other all the time and synchronize. For example, if someone besides us start walking faster, we will probably start doing that too. And have you ever yawned just because somebody else is yawning? Compassion is a word that stem from com, with, and passio, suffering. In Finnish and Swedish myötätunto and medkänsla, compassion is rather feeling with, which also indicates the positive side of compassion: responding to another person’s joy and euphoria. But in an individualistic, highpressure competitive workplace, passionately exchanging experiences and feelings of success can be even more challenging.
SELF-COMPASSION IS A GOOD START
Can we have productive and healthy organizations and employees without acknowledging the joy or suffering in the room? Science leans toward no. Leaders are important providers of direction and meaning, manifesting working values. But all individuals are important for driving change and create more compassionate workplaces by how they act and think. Indeed, it can be difficult to believe that people are innately compassionate, especially if you read the newspaper in the morning. We do remember and react more strongly to negative events, which has an evolutionary purpose. This is why it is recommended for teams and persons to create a history of sparkling moments, seeking out the positive emotions that empower and build resilience to difficulty and strain. So, remember the positive moments before stepping into that meeting and you might positively influence the air you will breathe for the next hours…
If we want to be compassionate toward others, selfcompassion is a start. It means becoming more aware of the feelings and thoughts that emerge inside of us and respond to these feelings, may they be feelings of shame or guilt, with accepting and understanding to evoke good feelings toward ourselves. It will be hard to solve any problem whether we face it as a world, team or as individuals if we have a faulty view of ourselves, our needs and potential.
High quality relationships are meaningful to us on a very fundamental level, as shown in the longest study of Happiness made by Harvard. Spanning 75 years, the study concludes that good relationships are key to health and happiness. But are we taking the time to nurture and deepen our relationships? Unfortunately, the study also shows that the amount of people that believe money and fame will make them happy is increasing. Hence, compassion research has a very important role to play in today’s society by sharing scientific evidence on the importance, and necessity, of compassion, meaningfulness and cultural change.
BUILDING A BRIDGE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND EVERYDAY LIFE
CoPassion is part of this emerging field of compassion research. Through interventions, the team studies the practice of corporate compassion, compassion and corporate volunteering and compassion as a concept. The demand for change was evident at the seminar, where individuals from all kinds of fields showed interest in becoming the bridge between science and everyday life. For me, that has been the best realization of them all.
The historic moment is still unfolding. For compassion is a verb, a necessity of doing for our being, and coping. And it feels as good as it is brave. Amazingly, if everyone who participated in the seminar, or just you and I, decide to do one compassionate deed small or big, it contributes to spreading compassion and will certainly change our everyday lives. In direct contrast to traditional views on power and force, the power of compassion is beautifully allembracing in its empowering.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”― Dalai Lama XIV
– Elin Pöllänen, trainee in CoPassion Project