28 Compassion Books, Exercises, and TED Talks

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Are you looking for more ways to practice compassion? Did you know a compassionate lifestyle often leads to greater psychological well-being?

Practicing compassion is much more than merely sympathizing or being charitable. It’s about being affectionate and considerate, empathetic, and also about caring about others unconditionally.

In this article, we will explore ways to cultivate compassion as well as activities you can engage in to practice compassion every day.

 

How Can We Best Practice Compassion?

Sometimes it can be difficult to practice being compassionate in a stressful hate-filled world. It seems like every time you turn on the news, you see more violence, more hatred, and more negative headlines.

Practicing compassion can help you with that. Rather than crawling into a hole you can learn to practice compassion for yourself and others.

You can learn to see the world as a kinder, softer and sweeter place. However, it does take some practice and may not always come easy.

Compassion also involves learning how to be more self-compassionate. Self-compassion is all about learning how to be more loving and kind towards the self.

It can be very challenging to love yourself unconditionally in times of failure. As human beings, we often beat ourselves up comparing ourselves to others. What we don’t see is the big picture or the fact that everyone is struggling with something.

If we can learn to recognize the times in our life when we need a little extra self-compassion, we can start treating ourselves better. If we can learn to offer ourselves a dose of love and patience and kindness, instead of a self-critical statement, we can learn to move through failures and mistakes in a kinder and gentler manner.

As we develop more self-compassion, our ability to be more compassionate to others also expands.

With self-compassion, we can learn to give ourselves the same kindness and care that we would offer a good friend. Instead of constantly criticizing ourselves for all of our inadequacies and shortcomings, we can start treating ourselves with loving-kindness.

Research indicates that practicing compassion cannot only help you but also help others.

Compassion can make you feel happier, help you feel more attractive, uplift your spirits and boost your health and longevity.

Being kind is not only good for you, but also good for the community, for society, and for the world in general.

In one research study done by the National Institute of Health, the parts of the brain that are active when experiencing things like money, dessert or even sex, are equally active when experiencing the same thing through others.

This kind of vicarious experience means that when you observe others doing something nice, like giving to charity, you will feel just as good as if you were receiving the money yourself.

In another complementary study, done by the University of British Columbia, it was shown that even children as young as the age of two experience more happiness when giving treats to others, than when receiving treats themselves.

Other studies have suggested that compassion is an evolved part of our human nature and something that is vital to our good health and it may even be something that is vital to the survival of our species.

Being compassionate allows you to reframe judgments and see someone as kind and loving rather than as a bad person. When you live in a compassionate manner you will begin to see there are no bad people, just bad behaviors.

Seeing people in this kind of positive light can help you feel much more compassionate overall.

A few simple ways to practice compassion include:

  • Being mindful and tuning into the stillness of the moment.
  • Living from the heart.
  • Practicing kindness.
  • Seeing people for who they truly are, without judgment.
  • Giving thanks.
  • Forgiving and letting go.

 

3 Exercises to Practice and Cultivate Compassion

Finding ways to practice self-compassion can make a big difference in your life because self-compassion is something everyone benefits from.

Practicing self-compassion may not always be easy, but the more you engage in it, the simpler it becomes.

Psychologist Kristin Neff suggests several exercises for developing self-compassion including thinking about how you would talk to a friend, taking self-compassion breaks and practicing something called Loving Kindness.

1. Loving Kindness Meditation Technique

Loving Kindness meditation is a very popular meditation technique. This meditation is also suggested by Emma Seppala, the Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism and Education.

Begin by taking two-three deep breaths to ground and center your energy. Start to become aware of yourself, and focus on the feelings of confidence and strength.

Focus on the love you feel within your heart.

And now as you relax, think of a person close to you who loves you very much. This might be someone from the past or someone from your current life. Imagine that person is standing to your right sending you their love.

Imagine this person is sending you positive thoughts for your happiness, well being, and safety.

Now imagine this same person, or perhaps another person, standing to your left sending you the same lovely positive thoughts. Feel the loving warm energy.

Picture yourself surrounded on all sides with all of those people who have loved you over the years. Surround yourself with friends and family. Imagine all of them sending you warm thoughts of love and compassion.

Now focus once again on the person standing to your right. Begin to send that same warm love they have sent you, back to them. Notice how good this feels. You have a lot in common with this person because you both want to feel happy and loved.

Try and feel the love emanating from them. As you think about this person, repeat the following phrases:

“May you be well and happy.”
“May you be free of pain.”
“May you be peaceful.”
“May your heart be filled with love.”

Next, turn your attention to the person on your left. Repeat the same loving kindness phrases:

“May you be well and happy.”
“May you be free of pain.”
“May you be peaceful.”
“May your heart be filled with love.”

Now think of a good friend or even a relative and picture them as vividly as you can. Feel the connection you have with them while repeating the following phrases in your mind:

“May you be well and happy.”
“May you be free of pain.”
“May you be peaceful.”
“May your heart be filled with love.”

You can also envision an image such as a golden light shining from your heart connecting to their heart.

Next, think of someone you feel neutral about. This may be someone you don’t know well or someone you don’t have much of an opinion on.

Try and reflect on their humanity and include them as you continue to cultivate loving-kindness as you repeat the following phrases in your mind:

“May you be well and happy.”
“May you be free of pain.”
“May you be peaceful.”
“May your heart be filled with love.”

Now think of someone you dislike, this could also be an enemy. Try and focus on feelings of positivity as opposed to feelings of hatred. Send your feelings of loving kindness to them if you can as you repeat the following phrases in your mind:

“May you be well and happy.”
“May you be free of pain.”
“May you be peaceful.”
“May your heart be filled with love.”

Now in this final stage, try and think of all of these people together, yourself, your friend, the neutral person, and the enemy. Try and extend your feelings of loving kindness out to everyone and keep expanding these feelings to the people in your neighborhood, the people in your city and the people throughout the world.

Picture waves of loving-kindness expanding out to everyone. See the love in your heart expanding out exponentially and connecting with all beings everywhere.

Send everyone a message of love and then peace as you repeat the following phrases in your mind:

“May everyone be well and happy.”
“May everyone be free of pain.”
“May everyone be peaceful.”
“May everyone’s heart be filled with love.”

As you reflect on these ideas try and make these principles a part of your ever-widening circle.

Everyone who practices compassion and loving kindness contribute to the universal consciousness of these good feelings. Much like the butterfly effect, every time you practice and share these thoughts the ripples of love spread out like a burst of radiant energy.

Take one last deep breath in and as you exhale, notice if you are feeling a little more peaceful or a little calmer.

There are many different versions of Loving Kindness Meditation. You can also substitute different words and phrases depending on what you want to focus on.

2. Treat Yourself Like a Good Friend Exercise

Another great exercise for developing self-compassion is treating yourself like you would treat a good friend.

For example, if a good friend were struggling, you would most likely go out of your way to help them feel better. Think about how you would respond or what you might do? Talk to yourself in the same loving way. Give yourself a mental hug. Treat yourself with loving kindness.

You might even want to stand in front of a mirror and speak to yourself. It may sound silly, but in the long run, it can help you feel better.

3. Take a Self-Compassion Break

Taking a self-compassion break is also a good idea. There will be times in your life when you will struggle. Sometimes you just need a break.

Try saying something like this to yourself: “This is a moment of stress. It’s OK if I am struggling. This hurts, but I will get through it.

Try and recognize the fact that others are also feeling this way. Everyone struggles on occasion. You are not alone.

Last but certainly not least, you can also try and repeat some of the loving kindness phrases back to yourself.

Try repeating phrases like: “May I give myself some loving kindness. May I offer myself some compassion. May I forgive myself. May I be strong and patient.”

While these activities may seem simplistic, they can go a long way to helping you feel more compassion, both toward yourself and others.

 

3 Compassion Activities to Use

practicing compassion
Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

There are, of course, many ways to develop compassion within yourself. When you can learn to develop compassion within yourself, you can then spread compassion out into the world.

There is a quote by Lama Yeshe about compassion that describes it beautifully:

“Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.”

The first thing you should do to develop a sense of compassion is to be kinder to yourself. We are often our own worst critics.

1. Be kinder to yourself

Learn to speak to yourself just like you would speak to a good friend. Would you criticize a friend? Would you treat a good friend with disdain?

If you treat yourself like you would treat a good friend who was hurting, you can start developing more self-compassion.

Let’s say a friend lost out on a promotion at work. You probably wouldn’t respond by saying, “Wow, I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe you should have worked a little harder.”

What you might say is something like this: “I’m so sorry to hear that. I know how hard you have worked. Why don’t we grab some lunch and talk about it?

Treating yourself just as compassionate as you would treat your best friend is a great place to start.

2. Learn to embrace your common humanity

One of the wonderful things about compassion is its ability to bond us all together. In other words, you are not alone in your struggle. Each of us is connected in some way, shape or form.

The next time you look into the mirror and start to self-criticize, remember you are not alone in this journey we call life. You are a part of humanity and a part of millions of other people’s suffering.

3. Be more mindful

Sometimes it’s necessary to express your emotions and feelings, especially if you are experiencing pain. Being mindful of these strong emotions is part of the process. Instead of trying to repress the pain, try gently expressing it instead.

The more you resist pain, the more you push it down deep inside of you and the more you will suffer. Try sitting with your pain, and asking it what message it has for you. Be mindful of what is happening at the moment so you can process the pain, and let it go.

 

3 Worksheets for Practicing Compassion (Incl. PDF)

There are many wonderful worksheets when it comes to developing kindness, compassion, and empathy.

1. What is Kindness

The “What is Kindness?” worksheet from keepyourchildsafe.org can be used with children of all ages.

The worksheet is simple yet effective. It includes a space for writing a few sentences about what it means to be kind and a space for drawing a picture of kindness.

Helping children self define what kindness means to them can go a long way to helping them be kind and compassionate to others.

2. Watering people with kindness

The “Watering People With Kindnessworksheet from keepyourchildsafe.org, is another good tool. The worksheet teaches us that showering words of love and kindness helps us grow beautifully while filling someone with hostility can make them wither and grow bitter.

The worksheet promotes the idea that the more kindness you give to others the more healthy and happy people will be. Using the analogy of watering a plant, the worksheet demonstrates how beauty grows with kindness.

Children can also ponder questions like:

  • What are some ways you can spread kindness to those around you?
  • What do you think would happen to a plant if you poured poison over it?
  • What do you think happens to people when others dump hostility and anger onto them instead of kindness and compassion?

 

3. Different Ways of Sharing

The “Different Ways of Sharingworksheet shows children different ways they can give themselves to others. It is also available at keepyourchildsafe.org.

The worksheet includes a space for children to ponder how they can share their time, their knowledge and also their love helping them understand how empathy and compassion work.

Children can also explore ways to share their concern or share their life experiences.

 

Using Drawing and Art to Cultivate Compassion

Art and drawing can also be a great way to cultivate compassion. One study, published in The Arts in Psychotherapy, examined social action art therapy as an intervention for managing compassion fatigue.

The study looked at the effectiveness of a group art project for women who had experienced either sexual assault or domestic violence.

The participants were asked to create art for a peace pole. The peace pole is a symbol of hope and safety. Each member created an individual piece of art and glued it to the peace pole.

The compassion fatigue self-test was utilized as the measure of compassion fatigue. Pre and post measures were taken via the psychological stress measure 9 (PSM9) to report symptomology changes.

The results of the test supported the hypothesis that participating in social activities and in social action art therapy could significantly reduce stress.

 

What is a Compassion Notebook and How to Use it?

A compassion notebook or journal is a wonderful way to record your thoughts and feelings. You can keep a compassion notebook for a week, or for longer periods of time, whatever feels right for you.

You can use any pretty notebook or journal to start with. Spend some time during your day, either in the morning or a quiet moment in the evening, to sit and record your thoughts.

If you were doing this exercise in the evening, you could review the day’s events and write down anything you felt bad about or anything you felt you could have done differently.

Taking a moment to reframe events can go a long way to helping you feel better. Recognizing those times during the day when may have judged someone harshly, can help you see people in a new light.

If you were doing this exercise in the morning, you could take a moment to offer yourself some compassion. Try writing down a few statements of support or compassion such as: “May I be kind today or may I cultivate patience.”

Write yourself some words of comfort and understanding. Reassure yourself that you are a kind, compassionate person. Practicing this kind of simple exercise every day can really help you develop more love and more compassion.

 

3 TED Talk Speeches on Compassion

Reimaging compassion as power – Tim Dawes

Tim Dawes talks about the concept of compassion done powerfully. In this TEDx Talk, Tim focuses on demonstrating the power of compassion to not only influence and lead but to create better outcomes in both business and life.

Using the power of stories, Tim shows how compassion can completely change a situation. In one story Tim describes a man with a gun entering a party. Upon discovering the partygoers had no money to steal, one person at the party offers the intruder a little compassion by offering the man a drink and a hug.

Amazingly enough, the man put down his gun and apologized. This is the power of compassion.

Tim promotes the idea of turning compassion and empathy into teachable, repeatable skills.

While the story is powerful, the idea of promoting qualities like affection and connection and being seen and heard is even more powerful.

 

The Science of Compassion – Dr. James Doty

Dr. James Doty, the founder, and director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University talks about the Science of Compassion in his TEDx Talk, “The Science of Compassion.”

Doty describes compassion as the recognition of another’s suffering and the desire to alleviate someone else’s suffering.

According to Doty, science tells us that compassion:

  1. Can increase longevity.
  2. Decrease stress.
  3. Decrease markers of inflammation.

 

Being compassionate is fundamentally what we were designed for, according to Doty.

Growing up in severe poverty, Doty talks about a transformative event he had at the age of 13 when he walked into a magic shop where he met a kind and compassionate woman who offered to work with him. Over the course of several weeks, the woman helped him develop compassion by showing him various meditation and visualization techniques.

He talks about the event as one that completely transformed his life bringing him out of a state of poverty and total despair and into a state of unlimited possibility.

Doty is a Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Stanford as well as the founder of the World Compassion Initiative.

 

Compassion and the True Meaning of Empathy – Joan Halifax

Joan Halifax, a Buddhist Roshi, works with people at the last stage of life, both in prison and in hospice care. What Halifax discovered was that compassion certainly comes into play in the face of death.

In her TED Talk, Compassion and the true meaning of empathy, Halifax shares what she’s learned about compassion in the face of death and dying as well as what she has learned about the deep nature of empathy.

Halifax talks about compassion as something that is an inherent quality and a quality that exists in every human being. She also promotes the importance of practicing compassion without being attached to the outcome.

Compassion has many benefits as well, according to Halifax:

  1. Compassion enlivens us, as opposed to draining us.
  2. Compassion enhances neural integration, hooking up all areas of the brain.
  3. Compassion enhances our immune system.

 

She stresses the importance of training our healthcare providers to be compassionate as well as our children.

 

 

3 YouTube Videos Worth Watching

Conversations on Compassion – Eckhart Tolle

Conversations on Compassion with Eckhart Tolle is a wonderful introduction on how compassion can truly change your life.

Eckhart’s book, “The Power of Now,” is an Amazon bestseller and at the forefront of the mindfulness movement.

Eckhart talks about his journey into mindfulness as he describes an experience of amazement when he identified with a part of himself he was not familiar with.

The book outlines the author’s journey from deep depression to living in the NOW and enjoying every moment. This defining moment happened to Eckhart many years ago when he woke up in the middle of the night telling himself: “I can’t live with myself any longer.”

This thought kept repeating in his mind until he suddenly became aware of what a strange thought that was. As he pondered this thought, Tolle suddenly wondered if he was one person or two.

“If I can’t live with myself, there must be two of me: the I and the self that I cannot live with.”

At that point, he felt drawn into a vortex of energy and his mind stopped. After that experience, he felt joy in every single moment and he equates that to an experience of being awakened.

Eckhart’s experience is definitely one to become more aware of when it comes to developing compassion.

 

Compassion if not a Sign of Weakness – Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama – Compassion is not a Sign of Weakness is another wonderful video when it comes to understanding compassion.

The video features the Dalai Lama interacting with middle and senior high school students. The beginning of the speech features a wonderful young woman who talks about compassion.

The young woman gives the audience a challenge, the challenge to not be ashamed of showing compassion. She also talks about striving to help others reach their full potential while on your own path to reaching your own.

 

Anger, Compassion, and What it Means to Be Strong – Russell Kolts

Anger, Compassion, and What it Means to Be Strong by Russell Kolts provides another wonderful example of compassion.

Russell is a licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Eastern Washington University. Russell talks about the idea that one cannot choose their temperament. He recalls his own experience of discovering his angry temperament after his son was born.

Recalling the intensity of his anger after listening to his son crying shocked him awake. He knew from that moment forward that he had to do something to calm his anger.

He knew that behind his anger were a lot more vulnerable emotions, like fear and sadness and shame. Kolts responded to his fears by reading a book by the Dalai Lama about compassion and he knew compassion was the key to ending his own suffering and being a better father.

Russell suggests three things that you can do the next time you feel anger or shame or any other strong emotion taking over.

Take a moment to compassionately realize what is going on with you. Say to yourself “Wow, I am really angry right now. I am really struggling.” and move on.

Take a moment or two to slow things down and balance out your emotions.

You can also slow down your breathing, which will help slow down the mind.

 

 

3 Compassion Apps to Download

The Compassion International app is an app dedicated to connecting you to a sponsored child who lives in poverty. The app is a Christ-centered, church-based and child-focused application that seeks to be an advocate for children in poverty. The app connects sponsors to thousands of local churches all around the world.

The program is dedicated to helping babies and mothers in poverty, helping develop future leaders and meeting critical needs for those children in poverty.

The Compassion Today app is an app for fostering daily compassion, news and action tips. It is a portal for “3D compassion,” caring for others, self and the Earth.

Some questions the app provides includes questions such as:

  1. What will I do today to care for others?
  2. What will I do today to care for myself?
  3. What will I do today to care for the Earth?

 

The app also contains compassion games, a calendar of events, web resources and videos. The app has a nice feature called 3 Daily Questions which are questions designed to awaken your awareness.

The One Globe Kids app is an app that offers stories to help children build global awareness and respect to help them understand those who live differently than they do.

The app is designed to foster a sense of openness, curiosity, and an understanding of different cultures. In the app, children can make new friends around the world, practice new languages and choose their own adventures.

The app is designed for children 4-10 years old.

 

3 Great Blogs About Compassion

1. Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism

There are also some wonderful blogs on compassion. The first blog is the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism.

A few of the blog articles include “5 Surprising Reasons Compassion is a Competitive Advantage,” “A Compassionate Resolution for this Season,” “Blueprints for Bringing About Compassion in the Workplace,” and “8 Must-Read Summer Reads on Compassion & Happiness.”

The blog also supports Compassion Education by offering a compassion-training program, a teacher training program, public lectures, conferences, workshops and seminars as well as web-based education and outreach programs.

2. ACT With Compassion

The ACT With Compassion blog is another wonderful resource. The blog includes guided meditations, and resources to help one overcome shame and self-critical tendencies.

A few of the blog titles include “Self-Compassion and Regret,” “Cross-Cultural Compassion Conceptualizations,” and “Can Virtual Reality Help People Develop Self-Compassion?”

The ACT With Compassion blog is a great resource for therapists who are interested in finding ways to bring more compassion into their work.

3. Self Compassion

Kristin Neff’s compassion blog is another good choice. Dr. Neff is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Culture in the Educational Psychology Department at the University of Texas, in Austin.

Dr. Neff is also the author of the book “The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook” available on Amazon.

Some of the topics covered on her blog include “Embracing Our Common Humanity With Self-Compassion,” “Why Women Need Fierce Self-Compassion,” and “Why We Need to Have Compassion for Our Inner Critic.”

 

3 Recommended Books

How Compassion Made Us Human: The Evolutionary Origins of Tenderness, Trust and Morality – Penny Spikens

The book “How Compassion Made Us Human: The Evolutionary Origins of Tenderness, Trust and Morality” by Penny Spikens, expands on the idea of caring about other’s wellbeing.

In the book, Penny talks about the idea that “Compassion lies at the heart of what makes us human.”

The book takes you on a wonderful journey from Stone Age society to the lives of the Neanderthals in Ice Age Europe. The author talks about how social emotions and morality have evolved over time through simple acts of kindness.

(Amazon)

Compassion Inc.: Unleashing the Power of Empathy in Life and Business – Gaurav Sinha

The book “Compassion Inc.: Unleashing the Power of Empathy in Life and Business,” by Gaurav Sinha is another great book on compassion.

Gaurav Sinha is a successful businessman and entrepreneur as well as the founder of Insignia in 2003. The book outlines the economics of empathy for business as well as empathy for life.

The book provides a wonderful overview of practices that you can develop to create a successful business as a force for good. If you are looking for ways to change the world while doing what you love, this book is the perfect place to start.

(Amazon)

Compassion and Self-Hate: An Alternative to Despair – Theodore Rubin

The book “Compassion and Self-Hate: An Alternative to Despair,” by Theodore Rubin, is a great book for freeing yourself from destructive behaviors.

Dr. Rubin is a psychiatrist who offers practical and reassuring advice for helping people break those negative emotional and mental attitudes that may be holding them back in life.

The author examines the concept of self-hate and how it begins as well as how it culminates into destructive and self-defeating behavior. The book offers valuable tools for breaking free and building a strong sense of well being and understanding.

(Amazon)

 

4 Other Resources to Include in Your Toolkit

The Compassion Series website is a wonderful resource for helping children better understand compassion. The site is designed to encourage children and young adults to look at the world through the lens of compassion.

Led by Tim Huff, an award-winning best selling author, the compassion series is a wonderful tool to have in your arsenal.

Jessica Dolce has a website that is also a good reference for compassion. Jessica has a Master of Science in Adult and Higher Education from the University of Southern Maine. She specializes in compassion fatigue and burnout, which started with her work with companion animals.

Jessica is a Certified Compassion Fatigue Educator. Some of her online classes include:

  1. “Compassion in Balance”
  2. “Living with Dinos”
  3. “UFL Compassion Fatigue Strategies”
  4. “Building Compassionate Badassery Boundaries”

 

The Campus of Compassion at Central Connecticut State University is another good tool. The idea for the compassion campaign came from the Forum for Contemplative Practice, which occurred in 2012.

Members of the school learned that their sister school, Western Connecticut State University became a University of Compassion following a visit from the Dalia Lama.

In 2015, the Campus of Compassion campaign was formed. The school wanted to examine the intense problems humanity is facing including things like violence, extreme poverty, terrorism, and environmental deterioration.

As part of the school’s work, they are also tackling problems within their own state, including school shootings, drug and alcohol addiction, sex trafficking, and pockets of extreme poverty.

Uplift also has some wonderful tools for learning about compassion.

Some of the content they provide include:

  1. Empowering Youth for a Positive Future.
  2. Raising Your Words, Not Your Voice.
  3. Dalai Lama: Compassion as the Pillar of World Peace.
  4. How to Stay Calm Like a Navy Seal.
  5. How to Silence Your Inner Critic and Grow Stronger.

 

A Take Home Message

Compassion can teach you a lot about yourself and a lot about life. Compassion can help you understand that everyone suffers at some point in his or her life.

Learning how to view your life and other’s lives through a compassionate lens is transformative. Compassion is much more than putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

It’s about developing the ability to understand the emotional state of others and of yourself. Compassion and empathy also get intermingled sometimes, although they are two different things.

Compassion compels you to want to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another. Empathy allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

While both are important, compassion involves caring for others with affection, generosity, and concern.

Compassion is a valuable skill to develop and it has the effect of being able to smooth out your interactions with those in the real world.

As the world becomes much more technologically focused, it’s even more important than ever to learn how to develop and live with a sense of compassion toward your fellow man.

 

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About the Author

Leslie Riopel is a Freelance Writer with a Master's degree in Psychology. She also teaches Psychology courses at Northwood University. Leslie writes on a wide range of topics including academic writing and researching, mindfulness and meditation, inspirational/motivational, metaphysical/spiritual and pieces related to psychology or health and wellness.

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