In a grudge-filled world, empathy could be the key to joy

Mar 22, 2017

To many, it seems like these are angry, unhappy times in America, and in our world.

Witvliet prepares her participant for a study.
Credit Courtesy of Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World offers an antidote. It brings us wisdom from two of the world’s leading spiritual leaders – Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.  

It chronicles a conversation between the two leaders – sharing their stories and best teachings for creating long-lasting joy and happiness. The book pairs their thoughts with scientific research into happiness.

One of the studies in the book centers on the importance of forgiveness and compassion.

Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet is the Hope College psychology professor who did that study.

The study asked people to identify a person they felt was responsible for a specific hurt or wrongdoing. Then, participants were asked to think about that offender in different ways.

When participants focused on empathy and forgiveness, several observations were noted:

“We found a shift away from negative and toward positive emotion,” Witvliet said. “We found that people were calmer, that they perceived they were more in control.”

She said in addition to actually experiencing empathy and forgiveness, participants also showed a marked physiological response as well.

“Their faces were calmer, their brows were less furrowed,” she said. “The muscles under their eyes were less tensed. Their sweat levels were able to drop off, as they do as people become more calm in the laboratory. Their heart rates were less reactive and more calm and their blood pressure was also less reactive.”

For more, listen to the full conversation above.

This segment originally aired on Oct. 25, 2016.

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