Happiness begins with…self-compassion

Happiness begins with…self-compassion

I was chatting with a friend the other day about racism and discrimination when I was reminded of many discussions I’ve had with clients about the way they seem to discriminate against themselves!

A similar theme came up on The Happiness Institute’s Facebook Page recently highlighting a related theme of self-criticism.

I wonder now, more publicly in this blog, how many of us discriminate against ourselves as much or more as we do against others. In the same way a racist judges others based on skin colour or cultural background, do you unfairly judge yourself based on isolated experiences from your youth or relatively minor faults or weaknesses? Have you ever reflected on some of the things you say to yourself about yourself and asked whether you would ever say something similar to a friend or loved one?

My questions, I should note, are partly rhetorical because I think I know the answers for many of us are resounding yeses! Too many people I meet, professionally and personally, discriminate against themselves and judge themselves and criticise themselves far more harshly than they ever would someone else. And what impact does this have, my friends, on their happiness?

Although happiness is very much about doing good to and for others it must, in some way, also involve doing good to and for oneself. In fact, there is, I believe, a strong argument for stating that it’s difficult to do good to and/or to love someone else if one first doesn’t love oneself. Genuine happiness that begins within will radiate out; caring for oneself will make it much easier to then care for loved ones.

So let’s continue, as a society, to break down racism and discrimination but let’s begin by breaking down these harmful contributors to unhappiness internally. Many would refer to this as self-compassion and I believe self-compassion, a core ingredient surely of happiness, can be viewed very much within the positive psychology framework of strengths.

What if, for example, we all spent more time focusing on our strengths rather than our weaknesses? What if, for example, we loved the good within us rather than hated the bad? I should probably note that like anything, there needs to be some balance within this but tipping the balance slightly (or in some cases substantially) to the love and compassion end of the spectrum would surely be beneficial for many of us.

This short article began by recalling a conversation with a friend who’d had a terrible run of illnesses and problems over recent years. Accordingly, she described herself as “sick” and “unwell” and “hypochondriachal” and “hypersensitive”. Some or all of that may well have been true but all I could see in front of me was a remarkably resilient woman, who’d achieved incredible feats and successes despite difficulties. Her perseverance and strength inspired me and I hope this article encourages you to find your inner strengths and then go on to inspire yourselves!