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Current Conversations: Compassion

A central pillar of joy according to the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu is compassion. In the Book of Joy, these two world leaders discuss how practices of compassion can help confront the trying times in which we live. While compassion has been central to many of the world's religions, in recent years, compassion has received renewed attention from the scientific community. Studies have found that compassionate practices work to combat stress and suffering. This resource presents a number of readings, videos, and podcasts that discuss the science and practice of compassion.


   How might you define compassion

Scroll through to examine some possible definitions

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

The strength to be with suffering and the courage to take compassionate action.

Compassion is the desire for all sentient beings to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.

Genuine compassion must have both wisdom and loving kindness. That is to say, one must understand the nature of the suffering from which we wish to free others (this is wisdom), and one must experience deep intimacy and empathy with other sentient beings (this is loving kindness).

The Dalai Lama, Essence of the heart sutra: The Dalai Lama's heart of wisdom teachings

Compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another's suffering and feel motivated to see that it is relieved...Compassion is what connects the feeling of empathy to acts of kindness, generosity, and other expressions of altruistic tendencies.

Thupten Jinpa

 Discussion questions
How would you respond to someone who says, “I have enough problems of my own. Why should I worry about being more compassionate?” Is there a compassionate person that you admire? How would you describe them and how do they manifest compassion? Why do you think that there is such a lack of compassion in the world? Why might showing compassion seem like a vulnerable or risky action? How do you practice self-compassion? Did the suggestions for Krisitn Neff in The Book of Joy chapter on compassion resonate with you or might you try some of these suggestions? What does it look like when you or others fail to have self-compassion?

Featured viewings

Featured recordings


with Kristin Neff

Mindfulness & Compassion

UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness

Insight Timer

Free App for sleep, anxiety, and stress.




With Tara Brach

The Science of Happiness

With Dr. Dacher Keltner

Words of Wellness

With the Crown Institute

10% Happier

with Dan Harris

Cultivating Compassion

on Mind & Life podcast

Research & Writing: Dig Deeper

With the University Libraries resources, you may dig deeper into compassion.


Go to the Libraries OneSearch and search Compassion. What types of sources do you retrieve? How might you filter or refine your search to locate the information you need? 


As you explore the resources above consider who is sharing their point of view. Are you familiar with the authors? What do you know about their background and expertise? What do you notice about their perspective and opinions? What knowledge might they have about the topic? You might choose to investigate the author by searching the University Libraries Biography Resources. Consider searching for a few of the key figures in the book: Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Richard J. Davidson, Paul Ekman.



The University Libraries OneSearch is an excellent starting point to research these topics. You might also try searching specialized databases.



As scholars research and write, they trace the conversation that came before and reference those sources in their own work. Examining the citations of a source is an excellent means of tracking the conversation. Go to the following article, go to the reference section, choose one of the sources to examine more fully.

Strauss, C., Taylor, B. L., Gu, J., Kuyken, W., Baer, R., Jones, F., & Cavanagh, K. (2016). What is compassion and how can we measure it? A review of definitions and measures. Clinical psychology review, 47, 15-27.



This popular magazine article references and links to a number of other sources. Trace some of those sources. Where is the author gathering their evidence? How do you assess the credibility of those sources? Do the sources give you new ideas or inspire new questions?



Scholarly sources are typically written by experts in a field or area of study. The intended audience is other experts, scholars, and researchers. These works are characterized by specific formats, language, and structures. Popular sources may cover similar topics but tend to be targeted to a broader audience. In this activity, you will compare and contrast sample academic and sample popular sources, in order to consider when it might be appropriate to use a scholarly source rather than a popular source, and vice versa.

Explore this pair of articles. The popular source references the scholarly source. Do you think the authors accurately summarize the content? What do you notice is different about the two sources (style, tone, citation practices, structure, readability, etc.)? What do you notice about the authors?

Popular source:  Train Yourself To Be Happy: 4 Coachable Parts of Your Mental Health

Scholarly source: The plasticity of well-being: A training-based framework for the cultivation of human flourishing

Or explore this pair:

Popular source:  Training compassion ‘muscle’ may boost brain’s resilience to others’ suffering

Scholarly source: Visual Attention to Suffering After Compassion Training Is Associated With Decreased Amygdala Responses