Empathy involves the ability “to feel or imagine another person’s emotional experience” (McDonald & Messinger, 2011, p. 2).
This powerful emotion inspires compassionate behavior that may mean the world to another person. Indeed, empathy in which positive emotions are shared is associated with increased prosocial behavior and happiness (Morelli, Lieberman, & Zaki, 2015).
This article highlights numerous books and PositivePsychology.com resources that will guide readers in practicing greater empathy and, ultimately, contributing to a more loving and harmonious society.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Emotional Intelligence Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will not only enhance your ability to understand and work with your emotions but will also give you the tools to foster the emotional intelligence of your clients, students, or employees.
The following five informative books provide readers with the rationale for becoming more empathetic, along with suggestions for how to go about it.
1. The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World – Jamil Zaki
Authored by a professor of psychology at Stanford University, this book provides a unique perspective on empathy – sharing both anecdotes and research findings.
The importance of empathy as “one of the animal kingdom’s most vital survival skills” is articulated by Zaki (2020, p. 5), who also describes stories of people who have overcome violent pasts to become role models of kindness.
By presenting empathy as a malleable construct, readers are provided with evidence of the ways in which empathy and kindness may be strengthened.
2. The Empathy Edge: Harnessing the Value of Compassion as an Engine for Success – Maria Ross
As a marketing and branding expert, Ross has written a book that demonstrates the essential nature of empathy in business (e.g., leadership, culture, advertising, etc.).
The book includes research, case studies, and author recommendations that illuminate the link between empathy and occupational success in multiple areas such as hiring decisions, productivity, innovation, and customer satisfaction.
Ross applies her knowledge as a brand strategist and her personal experience of surviving a brain aneurysm to articulate the many ways in which practicing empathy leads to greater success and satisfaction in the workplace.
3. The Power of Empathy: A Practical Guide to Creating Intimacy, Self-Understanding and Lasting Love in Your Life – Arthur P. Ciaramicoli and Katherine Ketcham
This book is cowritten by Arthur Ciaramicoli a psychologist and Harvard Medical School professor, and Katherine Ketcham, a prolific nonfiction author in areas such as addiction, recovery, spirituality, and empathy.
It is designed to help readers experience greater empathy in areas such as listening, relationship building, intimacy, finding love, and trusting others.
The book contains personal stories of the authors’ relationships with patients, colleagues, and students. It also incorporates honesty, acceptance, faith, gratitude, humility, hope, tolerance, and forgiveness as they relate to ‘empathy in action’.
In doing so, the book aids readers in developing the necessary skills to incorporate empathy into everyday life.
4. The Power of Kindness: Why Empathy Is Essential in Everyday Life – Brian Goldman
This unique book is written by an ER physician who takes an honest look at his sense of empathy and compassion as a doctor.
He goes in search of his lost compassion by meeting with a variety of people (e.g., a neuroscientist, a personality researcher, and some highly empathetic and inspiring individuals) from around the world.
Along with clarifying key terminology (e.g., empathy versus sympathy, emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, etc.), Dr. Goldman (2018, Chapter 1) uses wisdom and storytelling to describe his personal experience in creating this book as a “journey into empathy as witnessed through my eyes…Sometimes I’m the guinea pig for a test of empathy, sometimes a vessel for you to experience and learn how to be kinder in a world that could use a bit more kindness.”
5. Empathy: Why it Matters, and How to Get it – Roman Krznaric
This book is written by a social philosopher who founded the world’s first Empathy Museum.
Krznaric is a leading researcher and writer on the importance of empathy for social connection and societal equality. Krznaric is an excellent storyteller who describes the many ways in which empathy leads to greater fulfillment in life.
The book also includes Krznaric’s description of the six habits of highly empathic people:
Ability to switch on the empathic brain
Ability to make the imaginative leap
Ability to seek experiential adventures
Ability to practice the craft of conversation
Ability to travel in one’s armchair
Ability to inspire a revolution
These and other ideas are insightfully described, along with a call for action.
For adults who wish to create classroom and family climates characterized by empathy and kindness, there are some terrific books to guide the way.
Here are five examples:
1. Be the Difference: 40+ Ideas for Kids to Create Positive Change Using Empathy, Kindness, Equality and Environmental Awareness – Jayneen Sanders
Written by an experienced teacher and author, this book is packed with ways in which children may contribute to a more positive, kind, and empathetic world.
It is appropriate for kids to read by themselves, with parents, or as a classroom activity.
With discussion questions in the back, the book provides an abundance of ways for children to make a positive difference by promoting empathy and kindness, care for the environment, and racial and gender equality.
Authored by a new mother and graphic designer, this book is designed to teach kindness to kids.
The story follows a little girl throughout her day as she learns how to spread kindness in a variety of relatable ways (e.g., sharing toys with her sibling).
The book contains weekly kindness challenges, examples of situations when kindness would make a difference, and ‘lightbulb lessons of kindness.’ Overall, Stagg has created an entertaining and easy way to teach young children about the importance of kindness.
3. Teaching Children Empathy, the Social Emotion: Lessons, Activities and Reproducible Worksheets (K-6) That Teach How to “Step Into Others’ Shoes” – Tonia Caselman
The author of this book is a clinical social worker with a doctorate in human development.
By applying her extensive clinical and academic background, Caselman has produced an empathy-enhancing resource for teachers and parents.
Regarding empathy as a ‘fundamental social emotion,’ the book contains numerous lessons, activities, and worksheets intended to aid children in feeling empathy for others and behaving with kindness, compassion, and acceptance.
These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you to help others create a kinder and more nurturing relationship with themselves.
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Picture Books for Kids
One of the best ways to communicate positive messages to kids is through picture books, especially since many children will read their favorite books many times over. Not only are picture books a fun way to learn, but reading to children also promotes parent–child bonding.
The following five picture books provide valuable and fun lessons in kindness:
1. Tomorrow I’ll Be Kind – Jessica Hische (ages 3 and up)
An award-winning illustrator created this inspirational picture book.
It uses colorful and fun illustrations of animals to remind children of the many simple but powerful ways in which kindness, compassion, and empathy make a meaningful difference in everyday life.
4. Listening With My Heart: A Story of Kindness and Self-Compassion – Gabi Garcia (ages 4 to 8)
Written by a mom and experienced school counselor, this book tells the story of a young girl who finds a heart-shaped rock that she perceives as a reminder to spread kindness.
The book teaches young readers the importance of self-compassion and being kind and loving to oneself and others through its meaningful story and mindfulness activities. It is also available in Spanish.
According to research, empathy is a defining feature of humankind. Our ability to consider another person’s viewpoint is considered uniquely human (Decety & Cowell, 2014).
However, empathy is more than the ability to feel what someone else is feeling. Empathy is a necessary skill that allows us to effectively engage with others in social contexts and build genuine connections (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004).
Empathy is often confused with sympathy, which is characterized by someone’s lack to put themselves in the shoes of the other person.
Empathy and sympathy drive acts of compassion, yet differ due to compassion’s active nature to motivate someone to alleviate suffering.
Understanding the differences between sympathy, empathy, and compassion can help you to change your emotional responses when someone else is suffering, allowing you to provide better support.
PositivePsychology.com’s Relevant Resources
When it comes to promoting empathy and kindness, PositivePsychology.com is loaded with tons of helpful information and exercises. For example, the following resources seek to promote kindness, empathy, and healthy relationships:
Can Random Acts of Kindness Increase Wellbeing?
This informative article describes what it means to practice random acts of kindness and the positive impact of such actions on emotional wellbeing.
The author explains the position of kindness within positive psychology, as well as methods for putting kindness theory into action. Lesson plans for teachers, along with useful books, YouTube videos, quotes, and apps, also are included.
Overall, the article contains tons of resources designed to support readers in practicing random acts of kindness throughout their lives.
What Is Loving-Kindness Meditation? (Incl. 4 Scripts)
This article delves into loving-kindness meditation, whereby we focus on extending generous and selfless love toward ourselves and others.
With helpful instructions, tips, and suggestions for mantras, the author guides readers through the research, fundamentals, and benefits of practicing loving-kindness. Also included are all the science-backed ways that meditation in general – and loving-kindness mediation in particular – can benefit our health and wellbeing.
Loving-kindness meditation, or metta, can infuse a deep sense of self-worth and gratitude, which can then be extended to others.
17 Emotional Intelligence Exercises
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop emotional intelligence, this collection contains 17 validated EI tools for practitioners. Use them to help others understand and use their emotions to their advantage.
A Take-Home Message
The world could always use more empathy and kindness. Along with being the right thing to do, practicing empathy cultivates compassion, love, and kindness towards family members and neighbors.
There are myriad tools for enhancing these essential qualities, including the books we’ve highlighted for adults wishing to become more empathetic, as well as resources for teachers and parents wanting to promote kindness and compassion in children.
Tools from PositivePsychology.com as well as some engaging and fun empathy-promoting picture books for kids can further develop these qualities.
We hope you will be inspired to practice greater empathy and kindness, making a positive difference in the world around you.
Alber, D. (2019). A little spot of kindness! Independently Published.
Baron-Cohen, S., & Wheelwright, S. (2004). The Empathy Quotient: An investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high functioning autism, and normal sex differences. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34(2), 163–175.
Buscaglia, L. (n.d.). Retrieved on September 5, 2020, from https://www.brainyquote.com.
Caselman, T. (2007). Teaching children empathy, the social emotion: Lessons, activities, and reproducible worksheets (K–6) that teach how to “step into others’ shoes.” Chapin, SC: Youthlight.
Ciaramicoli, A. P., & Ketcham, K. (2000). The power of empathy: A practical guide to creating intimacy, self-understanding, and lasting love in your life. Independently Published.
Daniels, N. (2020). It’s brave to be kind: A kindness story and activity book for children. Emeryville, CA: Rockridge Press.
Decety, J., & Cowell, J. M. (2014). The complex relation between morality and empathy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18, 337–339.
Garcia, G. (2017). Listening with my heart: A story of kindness and self-compassion. Austin, TX: Skinned Knee Publishing.
Goldman, B. (2018). The power of kindness: Why empathy is essential in everyday life. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Hische, J. (2020). Tomorrow I’ll be kind. New York, NY: Penguin Workshop.
Kredensor, D. (2019). Superbuns. New York, NY: Aladdin.
Krznaric, R. (2014). Empathy: Why it matters and how to get it. New York, NY: Perigee.
McDonald, N., & Messinger, D. (2011). The Development of empathy: How, when, and why. Retrieved on September 4, 2020, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Daniel_Messinger/publication/267426505_The_Development_of_Empathy_How_When_and_Why/links/5460d5f20cf295b561637ca6.pdf
Morelli, S., Lieberman, M., & Zaki, J. (2015). The emerging study of positive empathy. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 9(2), 57–68.
Rice, J. A. (2013). The kindness curriculum: Stop bullying before it starts. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Ross, M. (2019). The empathy edge: Harnessing the value of compassion as an engine for success. Vancouver, BC: Page Two Books.
Sanders, J. (2019). Be the difference: 40+ ideas for kids to create positive change using empathy, kindness, equality, and environmental awareness. Victoria, Australia: Educate2Empower Publishing.
Stagg, J. (2019). Kindness starts with you. Independently Published.
Zaki, J. (2020). The war for kindness: Building empathy in a fractured world. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
Zietlow Miller, P. (2018). Be kind. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.
About the author
Heather Lonczak holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with a focus on Positive Youth Development. She has published numerous articles aimed at reducing health disparities and promoting positive psychosocial youth outcomes (e.g., academic achievement, cultural identity, mindfulness and belief in the future). Heather is also a children’s book author whose publications primarily center around the enhancement of child resilience, as well as empathy and compassion for wildlife.
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