Among the most powerful concepts I have come across in psychology are the practices of loving-kindness, detached compassion, equanimity, and sympathetic joy. These states of mind are where we should try to spend our time because these are the mind states that lead to real and lasting well-being despite our circumstances. Loving-kindness is the wish that everybody be happy. Detached compassion is the desire to see other peoples’ suffering end, but only take it on as a way to filter it in through you and released, not get on and get lost on their rollercoaster. Equanimity is balance of mind in the face of whatever life brings you. It’s what enables us to care deeply about a problem and do whatever we can to address it while also accepting that we may not be capable of fixing it. Equanimity creates the possibility of being happy even when things aren’t right. If equanimity sounds like a very hard thing to pull off, it does take a lot of practice. Sympathetic joy is enjoying other people’s happiness. You might feel it while watching your child or pet playing or while seeing a good friend gets something they've been wanting.
Everybody's capable of transforming themselves and developing these qualities through daily practices. For example, the more we choose compassion as a way of responding to others, the more we build its presence in our minds. One way to do this is to follow through when you experience a sincere desire to give in some way, whether it’s your time, your money, or something else. The more we tune into the needs of others and respond, the more compassion naturally occurs in the future.
Neuroscience has shown that the brain changes in response to what we practice, whether it’s violin, juggling, or compassion. Just like physical activity changes the brain, so does mental activity. In fact, the brains of people who practice mindfulness meditation look and function differently than those who do not. The same is true for people who practice compassion versus those who do not. Just as the more we lift weights, the more muscular we get, the more we practice states of mind that bring happiness, the happier we become.