If not happiness, then what?

In my last post, I wrote about the elusive chase of happiness and the cost of staying stuck in the chase. So if happiness is not the (only) end goal, what is? One end goal that I propose is compassion (including self-compassion).

What is compassion? The word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” According to Dr. Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher and expert, compassion is comprised of mindfulness (i.e., noticing that others are suffering), feeling “warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way,” offering kindness and nonjudgmental attitudes, and understanding that suffering is a ubiquitous human experience. Self-compassion is comprised of the same elements, but directed towards the self: noticing that you’re experiencing something difficult, saying or doing kind things for yourself, and knowing that you’re not alone in your struggles.

It’s not easy to be compassionate towards ourselves, for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’ve been told all your life that you’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not X enough. Maybe you’ve made mistakes in the past and can’t or won’t forgive yourself. Whatever the reason, non-compassion can lead to, at the very worst case scenario, self-destruction (e.g., not taking care of your body, letting others take advantage of you, substance abuse, etc).

So how do you start treating yourself with compassion? One way is to start practicing mindfulness, as mindfulness is one of the elements to compassion. What exactly is mindfulness? It is a nonjudgmental awareness of what is happening in the here and now- so focusing on your present moment experiences, without judgment. Start by spending a few minutes each day being mindful, then build up to longer periods of time, if you wish. You can do a mindfulness meditation practice or you can simply notice what’s happening in your experience. For example, as you’re eating, notice the taste, textures, and smells of the food. As you’re walking, notice how your feet feel as you hit the ground, how the wind or sun feels on your face, describe the scenery. And if your attention goes elsewhere, acknowledge that your thoughts went elsewhere, tell yourself, “it’s ok, I caught it,” and just go back to what you were noticing. The key to mindfulness is that you approach your experiences with compassion, rather than judgment. The more that you get used to being compassionate with yourself, the more integrated self-compassion will be in your life.

You can also start practicing deliberate acts of kindness towards yourself, even if you feel like you don’t deserve it, don’t have time, or whatever reasons your mind gives you. In fact, if you’re having a difficult time with self-care and self-nurture, schedule some time in your calendar for yourself and treat that appointment as you would any other. Make a list of activities that bring you pleasure and joy and do them. Allow yourself to take mini-escape. You deserve to take care of yourself and treat yourself with compassion!

What gets in the way of treating yourself with compassion? What are some ways you show yourself compassion? 

Here are some links to compassion/loving-kindness mindfulness audio:

Dr. Kristin Neff’s website

Series on loving-kindness


3 responses to “If not happiness, then what?

  1. Wow, I am so grateful that you included the Barefoot Barn’s article on A Compassionate Approach to What Divides Us. Dear heart, I don’t even know your name! I looked for it but couldn’t find it. I am grateful to you. This is a post that speaks the truth of my heart. I have “been there” in the trenches of what I write about in this post — and I’ve lived it. There’s nothing I tell my clients that I haven’t practiced — and deeply practiced and am STILL practicing.

    What you write about here soooo resonates with me! You have obviously deeply practiced self-compassion – your thoughtful words and description of combining self-compassion and mindfulness is beautiful and right on. YES – if we want to be happy (as if, as you say, that’s an end point — there is so much beyond that which is compassion!), have compassion. It HAS to start with ourselves first. I’m glad you are out in the world sharing this message. Your mission of integrating fitness with mental health is beautiful. Like you I’m in the mental health world (clinical social worker) and deeeeeeeply believe bringing body-centered practices into clinical work.

    Please do introduce yourself! It’ll be good to get to know you.


    • Hi Lisa,
      Thank you for the kind words, I really appreciate it! It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in doing this work. I’m Ivy, nice to “meet” you =).

      Take care, Ivy

      • HI IVY! No you are not alone! Isn’t that such a universal desire — to know we aren’t alone?! That is part of the “beauty” of doing metta meditation (loving kindness) meditation — even for a brief moment. We connect with others who may be suffering in a similar way to us and in the process, we realize we aren’t alone. I’m glad to get to know you! Lisa

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