5 Ways to Cultivate Empathy for OthersNone By Elizabeth Seward
Humans are social beings. We want to understand the people we interact with in our daily lives and we want to be understood. Whether we're receiving it or dishing it out, empathy enhances our communities and helps us to function more effectively—and happily–alongside each other.
This broad benefit of empathy is just the beginning of all that we can reap from zeroing in on others’ emotions. The science of empathy is expansive. We know that empathetic people have more satisfying relationships and perform better in the workplace. We know that people who are actively listened to feel as though they are finally understood and we know that patients do better with empathetic physicians.
We also know that empathy levels appear to be decreasing among young adults for some reason. A 2010 study from the University of Michigan analyzed data from 1979 to 2009 and found that students over that span were experiencing a drop in empathy. The researchers found that empathy had decreased a whopping 40% since the study began, with the biggest dip occurring shortly after the year 2000. One explanation for the decline is that exposure to media that contains negative messages or violence might lead to detachment and apathy regarding the pain of others.
So why is this concerning? Because a lack of empathy in anyone can have an impact on everyone. We do better in all of our endeavors when we're both giving and receiving empathy. Although we don’t all start with the same baseline capacity for empathy, we can actually work to increase our empathy levels. The following tips will help you to do just that.
Empathy Booster #1: Indulge in Fiction
A 2013 study out of The Netherlands revealed some fascinating data about people who let their minds wander around the fictional worlds of written stories: they tend to be more empathetic. It isn’t just that people who are already more empathetic are drawn to reading fiction, either. Researchers found that the act of engaging in fictional narratives actually increases empathy levels. This is because of something called narrative transportation theory. Basically, if a person becomes lost in a story, that person will experience a change in attitudes, ideas, and behaviors that reflect perspective gained from the story. Our imagination is like a mus