Ann Yager: Exercise your compassion muscle |

Ann Yager: Exercise your compassion muscle

In modern times, the challenges facing humanity have achieved a seemingly exponential magnitude. It can feel overwhelming to look at our profound rift with nature, our subsequent abuse of our environment, of one another, and of ourselves.

All of these patterns of thought and behavior are culturally conditioned and related; understanding them as such allows for resolution. One way to accomplish this is through the kindness and compassion we have the choice to show one another in our day to day lives. Kindness has a ripple effect benefitting an untold number of beings as well as oneself.

Living in Steamboat, our healthy, vibrant, and small community nestled in rare beauty, is a privilege afforded to few. Many long-time residents of the Yampa Valley and people who have chosen to make the Yampa Valley their full-time home understand this circle profoundly.

When people are surrounded by compassionate people, they are more likely to behave compassionately, producing a domino effect of unknowable proportions. A big part of what makes this home is the atmosphere of reverence for the land and respect for one another.

The good news is compassionate behavior is teachable and can be exercised and increased. According to Dr. Ritchie Davidson, “It’s kind of like weight training, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to other’s suffering with care and compassion.”

It has been found that people who are more altruistic are happier, in a 2010 study of 136 countries done by Harvard Business School, people who were financially generous were happiest overall. Christine Carter, of UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center, reported that “about half of participants in one study reported that they felt stronger and more energetic after helping others, many also reported feeling calmer and and less depressed, with increased feelings of self worth.”

This is because acting in kind ways stimulates the production of serotonin, lighting up the brain’s pleasure and reward centers and creating what is known as the ‘helper’s high.’ Committing and witnessing acts of kindness also produces oxytocin, known as a cardioprotective hormone, which dilates blood vessels and aids in lowering blood pressure and improving overall health.

Perpetually kind people also have 23 percent less cortisol and age slower than the average population. Stephen Post, of Case Western Reserve University, found that when we give of ourselves everything from life satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly improved. Mortality is delayed, depression is reduced and well being and good fortune are increased.

While compassion is best exemplified overtly in activities like volunteering and giving, there are many nuanced forms of compassionate behavior. Different examples of kindness include being courteous to the people who make up the economic backbone of Steamboat, respecting people’s time and energy and using resources wisely.

Ann Yager

Steamboat Springs

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