Why Having Empathy is the Key to a Happy Life

The biggest roadblocks in life can't be overcome through struggling or strong-arming—they require opening your heart.

Photo Credit: Jena Postma

Lynnda Pollio is an empathic consultant, one who helps people and businesses get past whatever may be holding them back. “I support anyone who is going through profound change and is ready to dive deep to seek the truth and create a more meaningful life,” says Pollio.

In her experiences helping women navigate complicated decisions that involve their work life, home life, and love life, she has discovered some common roadblocks to empathy. And when she teaches women how to overcome these obstacles, they are finally able to find true happiness. “Empathy is so important because we’re all connected and it reminds you how connected we are. It allows you to not have any distance between yourself and another person,” says Pollio.

At a conference at the United Nations, Pollio participated in one exhibit where she got to put on a virtual reality headset in order to learn more about some of the greatest global problems, such as the Zika virus and the Syrian refugee crisis. She found it so helpful to literally put herself in another person’s shoes and see what that person sees every day, experiencing each problem as if it were her own. “We’ve lost our humanity. The ultimate goal is that we’re all in this together. If someone else is suffering, try to feel that person’s suffering so you can offer to help in some way,” says Pollio. This simple action can change another person’s life—and also your own.

These are some of the most common barricades to empathy that women face, according to Pollio. Learn how to climb—no, leap—over them, so you can find the inner satisfaction and peace that you’ve been craving.

1. Let Yourself Be More Vulnerable

“If you’re not vulnerable, then you’ve got the armor up and you can’t feel other people,” says Pollio. Being more vulnerable is about acknowledging your weaknesses and your negative emotions, even if they’re not pretty. “Human nature is very dark and hiding those shadows is not to our benefit,” says Pollio.

Try starting a nighttime or morning journal. Write down whatever is bothering you so you can face it, think about it, and then let it go.

Once you’ve gotten comfortable journaling, the next step is to create a safe space among others, like by gathering a group of friends you trust. Then get together regularly to talk about your problems and help each other. Make it a judgment-free zone. Give yourselves permission to go deep and reveal what lurks in your soul. Don’t be afraid to get angry or to cry. Let your real emotions come out so you can release them. You may be surprised by how your confessions inspire others to make similar revelations.

If talking about your emotions in front of other people is too intimidating, try visiting a website like SupportGroups.com, a site where you can discuss certain problems (such as divorce, grief, or health conditions) in an anonymous forum that is monitored (no trolls allowed), so you can, hopefully, feel less alone.

2. Reframe the Way You Think About Social Media

With the advent of social media, it can sometimes feel like every single person on your Facebook feed is having an AMAZING day filled with smiles, delicious home-cooked meals, and perfect health. But please recognize that this is not the full picture of anyone’s life.

Think of Facebook the same way that you think about a photo album—most people are far more likely to share their best moments, not their worst. For instance, someone who posts a loving picture with a spouse might have forced that same spouse to sleep on the couch the night before after a huge argument. You just don’t know. No matter how lucky someone might appear to be, that person is bound to have some difficult moments, so never forget that. Nobody has a perfect life with zero problems.

In fact, a 2010 study of 14,000 people from University of Michigan researchers found that students who began college after the year 2000 had 40 percent lower empathy levels than those who went to college in the 80s and 90s—and the addition of social media to the culture may be part of the reason for that. “It’s because people hide behind these false masks online,” says Pollio. So try to either spend less time on social media or at least tweak the way you think about it.

3. Listen To Someone Else Vent

Pollio has a friend who was in a bad accident and was suffering. This friend didn’t know whether she was going to live. “When she spoke to me, I didn’t offer advice or try to fix anything. I just created the space for her to vent and talk,” says Pollio. “She thanked me at the end and said that she hadn’t been able to have that kind of conversation with anyone, including her own family members.”

Offering someone an ear gives the person an opportunity to let whatever is bottled up inside him or her spill out. By doing this, you will develop a more intimate relationship with the other person, which builds empathy, and perhaps this friend will allow you to vent another time, in return.

4. Be Present in the Moment

Picture this: You’re in a work meeting and people are talking around you about something important, but your mind wanders to your to-do list, and you start focusing on what you need to get at the supermarket after you leave the office. Then someone says, “What do you think?” You freeze for a moment, because you know that you’ve been caught, so you make up something vague to try to get yourself off the hook. Sound familiar?

It’s happened to everyone. Try to stay in the present moment, says Pollio, and pay more attention to what’s happening around you—rather than re-hashing a past conversation or worrying about something that might happen in the future. You can’t properly pay attention to the feelings of others if you’re not focused.

5. Be Humble

 Do you know what the most underused phrase is, according to Pollio?

I don’t know. I’ll get back to you.

“People are often afraid to say that, because it makes them appear vulnerable and might open them up to judgment. But if you think that you know everything, then you probably know hardly anything. Being humble is about allowing yourself to grow and add to your knowledge base,” says Pollio.

In the workplace, true leaders surround themselves with others who can fill in their knowledge gaps, so even if they don’t know something, they have the ability to find out the answer quickly and easily. So try to figure out where your expertise lies and where you might need some reinforcement.

You may find this freeing, because when you open yourself up to judgment, you’ll probably be less likely to judge others and more likely to forgive others for their personal flaws or mistakes. “Judgment comes from the ego and empathy comes from the heart. The ego may separate us, but the heart joins us,” says Pollio.