5 Benefits of Empathy (and How to be More Empathetic)

Empathy is the glue that holds our relationships and our communities together. When we make an effort to understand others and help them however we can, everyone’s quality of lives improves. The importance of empathy extends far beyond the person we are empathizing with. it affects our health, our social skills and even the world we live in.

Read on to discover what empathy is and five life-changing benefits of empathizing with others. Then learn how you can develop a greater sense of empathy one day at a time.

What is Empathy?

To understand the benefits of empathy, it’s important to define what it is. The best way to explain empathy is through the saying, “Never judge another person unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”. When we empathize with others, we try to see a situation from their perspective and imagine what we’d feel if we were them. Then we act compassionately towards them as well as ourselves.

It’s important to note the difference between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is feeling pity or concern for another person, whereas empathy is trying to understand and imagine what they’re feeling. While sympathy puts distance between you and others, empathy means feeling alongside the other person.

Now that you know what empathy is, here’s how it can improve your life as well as the lives of those around you.

1. Health Benefits

Did you know that one of the best things you can do for your health is develop empathy? It may sound surprising, but compassionate people are better equipped to handle stress than their non-empathetic peers. Research has shown that by empathizing with others, the close bonds we form with others help us develop healthy coping mechanisms towards stress.

Conversely, those who have not learned to be empathetic often have “secondhand stress”, or negative emotions picked up from others without realizing it. Even if you think that taking on the emotions of others could bring you too much pain, the opposite is often true.

Compassionate people are happier and experience lower rates of depression or anxiety. They’re often in better shape and have a stronger immune system, which leads to not only a happier but a healthier life.

2. Improves Communication Skills

Because empathy involves picturing how another person thinks or feels, learning how to have it can significantly strengthen your communication skills. By learning to put yourself in the perspective of others, you can find ways to explain your own perspective in a way that best resonates in that situation. Empathy can limit misunderstandings because you’ll be able to better gage what someone means when they say or write something.

Learning to empathize can help you decode nonverbal cues a little easier. Empathetic people pay more attention to those around them and pick up on body language. By factoring in these cues, you’ll be able to recognize what they’re thinking even better and respond accordingly.

3. Work Benefits

Stress relief and enhanced communication skills are only two of the many reasons everyone should bring empathy into the workplace. The give and take involved in corporate negotiations can feel like a battle if both sides don’t have empathy. But when everyone the meeting with a compassionate mindset, they’re more likely to come to a conclusion that benefits themselves and their customers.

Empathy leads to teamwork, one of the cornerstones of any successful business. Teams who show respect and concern for one another are more likely to trust and value the input of everyone involved. In addition, team members who might not otherwise feel comfortable speaking up will feel like their voices are both valued and understood. And when challenges arise, they’ll be able to recognize each team member’s point-of-view and find a solution faster.

Best of all, having empathetic employees is one of the best way to create a healthy work environment. Supervisors treat their workers with more compassion and lower-level employees respect their bosses–and all employees work harder towards their company mission. Empathy makes the office a happier place to be, where each person works not because they have to but because they want to.

4. Prosocial Behavior

We as human beings are all wired to need close, meaningful relationships. Anything that helps us form these bonds benefits others and ourselves. For that reason, all of us are born with at least some capacity for empathy. The better we can hone our compassion for others, the stronger our social skills and ability to connect with others can become.

The importance of empathy transcends personal relationships and holds our communities together. Many sociologists have theorized that empathy is one of the greatest keys to the survival of our species. When everyone is looking out for one another, we’re better able to address threats to our species and progress as a society.

While some are born with a more innate capacity for empathy than others, it’s never too late to practice this valuable social skill. The more you deliberately try to understand and show kindness towards others, the larger your capacity for empathy will grow over time.

5. Decreases Negativity in World

So often when we read the news, we’re overwhelmed by the calamities affecting people all around the world. Taking on all this pain is a burden too large for any one person to bear, but showing compassion for others can help replace the bad things in the world with good things over time. Even small actions can have a great impact and the little things we do for one another can improve our communities on a local and global level.

Now that you know how empathy can revolutionize your life and your community, use these simple tips to become a more empathetic person:

  • When talking with another person, try to listen more than you speak. Instead of planning your response while the other person’s talking, think about what they’re saying and how they might feel.

  • Focus on similarities between you and others instead of differences. If you have trouble connecting with someone, try to think of five things you and the other person have in common.

  • Try visiting the library or a local bookstore! Research suggests that the more books we read, the stronger our capacity for empathy becomes.

  • Examine any biases that might inhibit your ability to connect with others. Challenge any prejudices based on gender, age, race, or other factors that distance yourself from another person.

  • Start every day by listing as many things that you’re grateful for as possible. Gratitude helps us appreciate the people around us and view them with greater empathy.