So you’re considering going vegan for the amazing health benefits? I can’t blame you. Being vegan for over four years at 32 years old, I am in better shape than I was when I was 21, despite having a very similar gym routine. Don’t get me wrong, I was in pretty great shape at 21, but overall my health is much better now.
That isn’t what I want to talk about right now though.
While the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet are pretty phenomenal, there are some other benefits of living vegan that have completely changed my life in ways I never could have imagined before. There is one thing in particular that I want to dive into here. This magical benefit? Compassion.
You might be thinking that compassion is something we learn at a very young age, but I would disagree. In fact, I would argue that most people don’t even understand what compassion truly is. Many people have such a vague idea of compassion that they lump empathy and compassion together as if they are the same thing, when the two are very distinct ideas.
Empathy is the ability to place one’s self in another’s shoes and feel the emotion they are experiencing. This ability allows us to connect with others on a deeper level and it is very necessary for our survival in this world.
Compassion takes it a step further. Compassion includes the desire to help end the suffering of the other.
When we apply compassion, we actually look for a solution to the problem and how we personally can help alleviate it. The other thing to keep in mind with compassion is that it includes a better understanding of separation between one’s own emotions and the emotions of the other who is suffering, which allows us to operate from a much more effective standpoint without burying ourselves in the negative emotion of the situation. Essentially, compassion allows us to connect with people on a very meaningful and helpful level.
Most of us have witnessed a glimpse of the suffering that animals endure in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or other forms of animal agriculture, but many of us have been taught to turn a blind eye to these atrocities throughout our lives. We have been taught that an animal’s suffering is acceptable because we benefit from it.
This basic neglect of compassion and inconsistently applied ethics actually teaches us from the time we are children that it is fine to do wrong by someone else as long as we can justify it to ourselves. This is the opposite of compassion. With compassion, we understand that suffering is just as bad for another as it is for ourselves and we want to remove the suffering for others whenever possible.
Now what if I told you that compassion not only benefits the other person or living being, but the person practicing compassion as well?
It sounds crazy, but studies show a myriad of benefits when we practice compassion. These benefits include the reduction of PTSD in post-war veterans, reduction of the sensory perception of pain within the body, and feeling more connected with others in the world.
That last one is the one that really caught my attention, as psychologists have called loneliness a global epidemic. Being disconnected from others actually results in worse physical health, and it results in depression for many individuals as well. People have the ability to become lonely even when they have plenty of others in their life, simply because they don’t feel that deeper connection to those around them. Simply focusing on acts of compassion when we interact with others reprograms our brains to see the good in others and to believe we have value to offer others through compassion, if nothing else. This re-programming of the brain to a channel of compassion therefore results in us having less anxiety in social situations and interactions with everyone from our boss to strangers at the store.
Going vegan is just one step towards a more compassionate life that allows us to be more connected to the world around us, while living more in harmony with nature. To me, it doesn’t get better than that.
This article about the benefits of being vegan was writted by guest contributor Stephen Rykwalder. You can find Stephen dishing out inspiration on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Cover photo from Canva.com.