Is Compassion the Secret Ingredient of Happiness?

The dalai lama

dalai lama

Meditative science’s expert on happiness, Matthieu Ricard  and Richard Davidson et al. at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds think so. The Dalai Lama has said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

It doesn’t appear to be coincidence that most of the research done on the effects of meditation on brain change are done by focusing on compassion.  The results in strengthening attention, focus and general sense of well being are remarkable. (See the results in upcoming posts.)

Here are the 5 areas that compassion is focused on during meditation:

1. Compassion focused on a loved one,

2. Compassion focused on someone you see regularly but don’t necessarily know,

3. Compassion on someone who has caused you pain,

4.  And probably most importantly, compassion focused on yourself.



Mental Fitness Is A Benefit of Meditative Science


Meditative science is a vital ingredient in mental fitness.

We live in an age where intellectual capital is our greatest individual and collective asset. And superior mental fitness is the key to creating and sustaining intellectual capital. Mental fitness is the key to good health, physical fitness, a sense of well being, calmness under pressure, focus and creativity, and intellectual longevity. A commitment to studying and practicing meditative science will provide superior mental fitness.



Change is the biggest stressor in everyone’s life, and life is changing at a more rapid pace than ever. The rapid pace of change, driven by the technological gains, affects everyone differently, but it affects us all.

It has gotten to the point today where computers not only process information much faster than the human brain, but have the capability to manipulate the entire repository of human knowledge accumulated over hundreds of thousands of years. Artificial intelligence also has the ability to keep up with every new discovery and piece of research published. This phenomenon  is a large part of the LOAR (law of accelerating returns) in the rapid progress of innovation in science, the evolution of medicine, information technology, and the creation of new products.

So where does that leave us – the human side of it all? Many feel that they are struggling to keep up with the pace of change. Jobs are disappearing as technology and machines replace what once took human labor. Those jobs will not return. It is simply more efficient and cost effective to let machines take care of the redundant, mind numbing work that really encompasses most of manufacturing as well many sales, management, and professional jobs. And then we have the rapid evolution of nanotechnology and 3-D printing to produce parts on demand that is predicted to be common in the not too distance future.

The Evolution of Stressors

The traditional stressors of life were major life changing events: loss of spouse, loss of job, death of a loved one, divorce, marriage, birth of a child. Those stressors are still there, but the impact has been supplanted by the worldly stressors of uncertainty, working long hours, loss of leisure time, the need to constantly upgrade skills to stay employable, rising prices and lower income, and the conundrum of educating and guiding children  to not only thrive but survive in an uncertain global future.

These factors mean that more and more people of all ages and in all socioeconomic circumstances are experiencing chronic stress in daily life and this takes a toll on health, sense of well being, relationships, ability to think clearly, focus and really every aspect of life. Our medical industry is bursting at the seams with stress related illnesses it is ill equipped to handle.

There is an old saying in the world of social sciences that one cannot control the random comings and goings of the events of life, but the one thing we can control is our responses to these events. Though I tend to agree with that statement, I also know it is much easier said than done, and often our greatest challenge in life. Setbacks in life can have the cumulative effect of wearing us down, robbing our energy and sense of wellbeing. Mental resilience has become more important then ever. It is the underpinning of a healthy, balanced life.

Radical changes have occurred in the science of mental fitness and conditioning. Technology has evolved to enable us to scientifically compare change therapies to one another by viewing the actual changes in the brain to help determine which ones produce both the most effective and sustainable results. This has enabled us to narrow down the techniques producing the greatest change in the shortest amount of time and, thus, design programs creating sustainable mental fitness.

Meditative Science is based on techniques that show significant positive changes in the brain in most people in about 2 weeks of training for 30 minutes per day. After 30 days of training, most people report an increased sense of well being, a greater sense of calmness in their lives and an increased ability to deal the stresses of everyday life.

Like any form of fitness program, it takes commitment to the process and regular practice. The more one practices, the stronger and more resilient the brain becomes.


Does Meditation Make You Smarter, Happier, More Focused and Take Years Off Your Brain?


 by Deborah L Gabriel,

Most everyone who meditates will say yes.

Photo Credit: D. Sharon Pruitt

But Sara Lazar , a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, has gone a step further by imaging brain changes in meditators.

Dr. Lazar was not always a believer in the powers of meditation, but while training for the Boston marathon, a running injury took her to a Yoga class for stretching and cardiovascular fitness. When the teacher started touting the fact that Yoga promoted stress reduction, increased compassion and spiritual and emotional benefits; at first she was skeptical, but then  after  a couple of weeks, she noticed that she was calmer, better able to handle stressful situations, felt more compassionate, open hearted and able to see things from other people’s point of view. Still skeptical and thinking maybe she was experiencing a placebo response, she started searching the literature and found plenty of scientific evidence supporting that both Yoga and meditation promoted:

  • stress reduction

  • reduced symptoms associated with:

    • depression

    • anxiety

    • pain

    • insomnia

  • enhanced the ability to pay attention

  • Increased the quality of life and an overall feeling of happiness

Using the concept of neuroplasticity ( the neurons in the brain changing the way they connect and communicate through experience and concentrated effort) together with MRI studies , Dr. Lazar decided to investigate what was going on in the brain.  Her team did a study where they recruited people from the Greater Boston area who had been meditating regularly for several years along with a demographically matched control group who had not previously been meditating.

 They did brain MRI’s on both groups and here are the results:

This chart shows meditation may slow the natural aging of the brain?

It shows that in the areas colored red, the meditators ( blue dots) had an increase in cortical grey matter. The green octagonal area show the pre-frontal cortex, an area of the brain that controls amongst other things, focus, working (short term) memory, the ability to learn new information, executive planning and organization and a braking center for overly emotional reaction.

 So why is this important?

It is well documented that the cortical grey matter shrinks in most people as they age. The cortical grey matter amongst other things controls processing speed of the brain, memory, ability to learn new skills, and thinking in general.

So take a look at the cortical grey matter in those subjects who have been meditating regularly for 30-40 minutes per day. The older subjects ( in their 50’s) actually have just as much if not more more grey matter than many of those 25 year olds who have never meditated. This suggests that meditation may enhance cortical structure as well as possibly slowing down the natural age related decline in the density  of  cortical grey matter.

 Another Study:

So Lazar and her team did another study where they compared demographically matched subjects who  had never meditated. They taught half to meditate for 30-40 minutes per day over 8 weeks vs the controls who just relaxed for 30-40 minutes per day. Both groups were put in the MRI scanner at the end of the 8 weeks.



This study found that there was an increase in the grey matter that assists in learning and memory:

In the subjects that meditated for 30-40 minutes per day over 8 weeks, there was an increase in grey matter in left hippocampus, an area of the brain that assists in learning and memory and emotional regulation. There was a significant greater amount of grey in the left hippocampus in the meditators than in the non-meditators.

An interesting note is that it has been found that persons suffering from both depression and PTSD have significantly less grey in the left hippocampus than those not suffering from depression and PTSD, suggesting that meditation would be beneficial for both groups.

 Second set of findings from the same study was that meditation increases compassion and empathy:

Subjects who meditated for 30-40 minutes per day over 8 weeks reported an increase in both prospective taking (the ability to see things from another’s point of view) along with increased empathy and compassion. This is visualized in the brain as an increase in cortical grey matter in the temporo-parietal junction.

The third set of findings from the same study shows there is a positive correlation with meditation and stress reduction:

The amygdala is associated with the fight or flight response. Stress increases the cortical grey matter in the amygdala while a calm relaxed state of mind is associated with a decrease in cortical grey matter in the amygdala. The subjects that meditated for 30-40 minutes per day over 8 weeks, reported less stress in their lives than the controls and that was positively correlated with decrease in cortical grey matter in the amygdala as shown in the MRI. It is noted that there was no change in any of the normal everyday life activities in either the meditators nor the controls other than meditating or not, implying that it is not the stress in the environment that is changing, but the meditators response to the stress in their environment that has changed.

In conclusion, the above studies show visually that meditation can literally change the brain.


 1. All slides (charts are from) Sara Lazar’s research: TedxCambridge Jan.23, 2012

 2. Meditation Research

3. My own cortical grey matter stored and recalled from over 30 years of study and practice.

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