Compassion Vs. Empathy: Learn to differentiate between the foundation of a happy life

Compassion Vs. Empathy: Learn to differentiate between the foundation of a happy life


Compassion, empathy, sympathy, kindness, humanity, mercy, etc., are the emotions without these, a human is incomplete. These emotions make a person an actual human being. Otherwise, without the feelings and emotions, the human would have been robots.

You can see many people around you who are being unkind, disrespecting others, unsympathetic. And you don't like them at all.

Being a human, it is natural expected to be kind to every living thing on the planet. Let it be the other individual or the animal.

Some people are antisocial individual, as they deny or refuse to show compassion for other. Instead, such a person is harmful to society too. Based on this fact, you can imagine and understand how emotions are essential for living life.

One such emotion is compassion. People also call it empathy. But, are both the same?

If not, what is the difference between the two?

How are they essential for a happy life?

How are they connected with each other? And so on.

Well, you will get an answer to these questions in this article. So, don't forget to stick with it till it's the last word.

What is compassion?

Compassion is directly related with 'to suffer.' Even though compassion and empathy seem to relate, a thin thread differs between them.

Compassion is the feeling, arises when you feel involved with someone's feelings. And you automatically feel encouraged to reduce their pain.

If I have to define it in simple words, it is the emotion produced within you by another person's suffering. Let it be with someone suffering from something, and you hope for the end of that suffering. And you try to relieve it.

Compassion is 'to suffer with' literally. Whereas compassion doesn't allow anyone to avoid suffering. It involves the ability to feel the pain without the attachment.

Compassion demands a strong sense with a mind and soft heart. Compassion teaches you to wish good for everyone. You can not select true compassion based on any parameter.

According to the Buddhist tradition, compassion is related to Dukkha. Whereas, Dukkha refers to the struggle in life, pain, suffering, unsatisfactoriness, and unpleasantness. Suffering or Dukkha is one of the most popular and essential ideas of the Buddhist tradition.
"Compassion involves the strength to face dukkha, the wisdom to look into it deeply, and the resolve to respond to it in a way that brings relief," says Dr. Mark Muesee.

In the Hindi language, Dukkha refers to the unpleasant and suffering situations in our life. Whereas, as per Buddhist tradition, Dukkha is the grief to which compassion responds. And compassion is when you wish for someone to be happy.

The Buddhist tradition has also shown compassion as loving-kindness, which means goodwill and love. It refers to a wish for happiness for another person. Sympathy requires suffering. And compassion is hidden in Lovingkindness.

When loving-kindness hits suffering, it turns it into compassion. Simply, sympathy occurs when you start feeling the sadness as a response to their suffering with the same intensity of the grief.

"Wisdom without compassion is ruthlessness, and compassion without wisdom is folly," said Fred Kofman.

The difference between compassion and empathy

People consider empathy and compassion as the same. Even though they are the same up to some point, they are not exactly the same, anyway. Thus, it becomes essential to know the difference between these two emotions.

So, have a look at the factors that make compassion and empathy different.

Definition of compassion and empathy:

Empathy is a feeling that allows us to be aware of someone's pain. It makeup to try to feel the way that person is feeling. Empathy demands to be in their shoes to understand their feeling. Whereas,

Compassion is a sympathetic response to sympathy. And it creates a willingness to help others when they are suffering.

Empathy meaning:

Empathy is an emotion. It is set in your brain. And it makes you feel the pain of another person. It allows you to try to understand it in the same way they are feeling at the moment.

Some people are seen without empathy. Whereas some individuals are blessed to have this emotion. However, being empathetic is suitable for personal and professional health too. It makes people stay connected with each other emotionally.

Empathy makes someone understand their pain. Psychologists refer to such kind of empathy as cognitive or mindful empathy. Whereas, if the same person tries to feel another person's pain with the same intensity, it is referred to as emotional empathy.

Professor of Psychology at Yale University, Paul Bloom, an author of a book on the topic, writes, "Recent research in neuroscience and psychology shows that empathy makes us biased, tribal and often cruel."

Empathy can be biased. It allows you to feel sympathetic with the people you are related to. But this may not free you completely from understanding the feeling of a stranger.

Compassion meaning:

So, when compassion also sounds like empathy, what makes it different?

As empathy allows you to feel the same emotion, compassion creates a safe emotional distance from the awful situation.

"Careful reasoning mixed with a more distant compassion makes the world a better place," said Bloom.

Compassion can help you to improve your overall being.

A study about medical students was conducted at Emory University (as their work environment is stressful). It says that "compassion training can help medical students be more compassionate towards their patient, maintaining their well being, and limiting their stress level."

This is the fundamental difference between two identical emotions.

Why is compassion important?

Since a long time ago, many studies are done. And still, many researchers are doing their analysis on compassion.

If compassion is as simple as helping others relieve them from their suffering, why are researchers investing their time in studying it?

Seppala, Rossomando, and James say that "human behavior drives the social connection. And as, humans are the social personal; relationships are the most critical aspect of their life."

When you establish any relationship with someone, care and concern are the basic requirements. Kashdan, & Ciarrochi, later termed this concept as 'Perspective-taking.' Empathy plays a vital role in relationship building.

The essential fundamental aspect of any relationship is compassion and empathy as they trigger loving and kind behavior.

Not only this, but compassion in academics can also come up with a positive impact on the self-development of an aspirant.

Compassion is not only about showing care and concern for others, but self-compassion is equally essential for your well-being.

Unfortunately, you keep holding mistakes done by yourself. Maybe, for which you would forgive others. If you can forgive yourself for your mistakes, start moving back to yourself, your psychological health improves.

In fact, you should practice more about self-compassion as it is more beneficial than self-esteem. The reason behind it is, self-compassion improves your emotional strength. And it doesn't promote negative thoughts related to self-esteem, i.e., ego.

Compassion improves social relationships between children and adults. Social connection is essential for proper human functioning, increasing empathy, self-esteem, and well-being. Compassion increases happiness.

Compassionate love is also helpful for patients to survive, lower stress, and health satisfaction. It decreases anxiety.

Compassion-focused treatment is considered an effective therapy to aid patients. It helps them with their disorder treatment.

Also, by improving parent-child relationships, less negative affect, and more affection, compassion induce positive parenting. Whereas you can find various books and mindfulness-based parent training approaches to learn compassionate parenting. Within the classroom, empathy is associated with better learning.

Self-compassion also has many psychological benefits. Such as a lower level of psychopathology, and lower PTSD symptoms intensity, etc.

Self-compassion and optimism can benefit you for healing from depression together. It is also seen helping from reducing smoking.

You can see that compassion has a benefit in every aspect of your life. It can help you heal every element that can make your life beautiful.

Passion vs. compassion

Do you think passion and compassion are the same things? Let's check it.

What is Passion?

You might have heard this term many times throughout your life. Passion can be defined as the intense feeling of excitement and enthusiasm to do something.

Also, it can be a strong romantic or sexual feeling for someone. Let's try to find it out with some examples.

➣ Aashutosh has a passion for learning.

➣ Dancing is my passion.

➣ Rahul spoke with passion.

The above examples indicate the intense feeling of enthusiasm for something. Now, let's see the example for the second case.

They all are consuming passion for each other, leading to the destruction of two families.

Passion is an internal kind of feeling. You can say it is a feeling of self-centeredness. Passion is related to the wishes and desires of an individual.

It is inclined towards what a person usually wants for themselves, picking up their liking.

What is compassion?

Compassion, on the other hand, is a sympathetic feeling and a concern about other's suffering. Being compassionate would mean wanting to help others when seeing them in trouble.

The situations like death, disease, violence, poverty, unhappiness, or disability, can induce this feeling. So, compassion makes you feel like helping people who are suffering through such a situation.

Now, let's move towards the main difference between passion and compassion.

The difference between Passion & Compassion

Passion is a desire that can be seen with intensity. At the same time, compassion is a feeling of empathy, care, or charity. Yet, both can be considered as the same, depending on the time.

Level of intensity

Compassion is not passion. Compassion allows you to think about someone and care for them. It may produce a feeling of care. But it can not necessarily motivate you to take any action for it.

If a person sees someone hungry and feels sad for them, they can help them by buying food for them and donating some money for them.

Whereas, if someone is passionate about rescuing people from such a condition, they will not only think to help them for a moment. But they will try to resolve their problem forever.

Internal vs. external

The significant difference between passion and compassion is, passion aims towards self-satisfaction, whereas compassion targets other's happiness.

Passion is an internal feeling that turns into external action in the form of emotion. On the other hand, compassion is an inner feeling for others and can change into action for helping others.

Compassion is an external expression of emotions that may include in another person.

Commitment level

The commitment level is too high in passion as compare to compassion.

Passion is the intense feeling of enthusiasm towards something. It drives someone through many experiences. Passion can't get faded with time. A person with passion is committed to something or someone that makes them expressive of the situation repeatedly.

In the above example, the person who is passionate about helping hungry people will always take a stand for them. They will speak for their welfare. And act to aid them. Whereas someone who is compassionate can help such people twice or thrice. But this feeling can fade away with time.

One without other

Although it is said that compassion and passion are correlated, they both are independent. Passion is the beginning of caring emotion for someone or something. And it can intensify with time. It can never fade away.

Whereas this is not in the case of compassion. For example, you can see someone passionate about their job, but, absence of compassion later on.

Sympathy vs. Empathy vs. Compassion

Even if, sympathy, empathy, and compassion are like a synonym for each other, the meaning of each of them is far different than each other. And they can't replace by putting one for the other. With this preface, let's try to understand them one by one.

Sympathy refers to understand what a person is feeling.

Empathy refers, then you feel the same as of other person is feeling. Whereas,

Compassion is your willingness to help one who is suffering from pain.

Let's try to understand them one by one.


Feeling sympathetic would mean understanding what a person is feeling, whether it is happiness or grief.

Sympathy allows you to imagine what a person is undergoing through an emotion. It doesn't have to be grief only. It can be any of the feelings.

For example, if any of your friends have lost their close friends, and they are sad, you can imagine why they are feeling the emotion. And we often say, "I feel sympathetic about the news."


Empathy is the emotion that arises when you see someone in pain. And you start feeling it. Researchers consider "mirror neurons" responsible for this action.

For example, if you saw my finger cutting with a blade badly, you also began to feel the pain. This is due to your mirror neuron has kicked in.

Well, in empathy, your imagination plays a vital role. If you can imagine the pain of a person, then only you also can feel it. That's why, to explain empathy, "put yourself in other's shoes" is a commonly used phrase.

With the previous example, even if you saw my finger is cutting with a blade. But until you imagine how it is hurting to me, you won't be able to feel it. You also can imagine my pain with my facial expressions.

Anyway, empathy can be felt when you see someone being happy and consider or imagine the intensity and reason for their happiness. So, overall, empathy is good for you.


Compassion is the one step further of sympathy and empathy. You are feeling compassionate about something mean; you can understand someone's pain. You can feel it. And you want to help them to relieve from the pain.

In Latin words, compassion refers to "to suffer with."

When you feel compassionate about suffering, you can't run away from it. You can not feel stressed by suffering. And you can't refuse to show that suffering doesn't exist at all. Compassion allows you to be with suffering. It makes you being in someone's shoes and invests your time to find the solution for it.

Thupten Jinpa, Ph. D., who is the Dalai Lama's principal English translator and also an author of the program Compassion Cultivation Training, says that compassion is a process of four steps, viz.,

1. Awareness about suffering

2. Having a sympathetic emotional concern related to suffering

3. Wish to resolve the suffering

4. Ready to help to relieve the suffering

At the same time, they suggest, the participants need to learn mindfulness before learning the four stages. Until and unless you are present in the moment, you can't understand and feel the suffering.

Let's now move towards the difference between each of them.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

Empathy and sympathy seem like twins. And it is too difficult to differentiate them.

So, the basic difference between the two is, understanding the pain (sympathy) of someone and feeling their emotion like them (empathy). Being sympathetic is much easier than being empathetic.

Let me help you with an example. Suppose one of your friends has lost their mother. And you are not able to feel their pain.

However, you need to activate your cognitive mind and emotional sense to know and understand why your friend is sad. When you know their pain, make sure you let them know you are aware of their pain. If you go deeper and start feeling their pain, the sympathy will turn to empathy.

Empathy vs. Compassion

Coming to empathy and compassion, as empathy is one step ahead of sympathy, compassion is more further than empathy too. When you want to help someone, to relieve them from their suffering, you are feeling compassion.

Compassion is how someone's suffering has an impact on your well-being. When you constantly feel the pain of others, it gives you burnout. This happens in the case of health care workers, especially, and it is called empathy fatigue.

So, the best way to relieve the feeling of suffering coming from others is to offer your helping hand to take them out of their problem. And this is what compassion is all about.

Compassion and empathy are generated from the different regions of your brain. Thus, compassion can resist tenderness.

Taken from the book 'The Art of Happiness,' it says, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

How to become a compassionate leader?

It has always been a long discussion over what skills are required to be a successful leader. Along with having empathy, one other quality that a leader must need is compassion.

Whereas compassion is not something someone is born with. But, anyone can develop it with excellent practice.

Every leader is expected to be empathetic. Where they are expected to understand and relate to the emotions of other teammates, which is a must, anyway, a compassionate leader can be a good ruler.

Thus, empathy and compassion come in the same box, which helps you to be a great leader. Luckily, you can improve compassion with small efforts and be a great leader.

Show your gratitude

Everyone wants to hear appreciation for the excellent work they do for the organization. When a leader makes an employee feel that they are an important part of the organization, it means a lot for an employee.

As a leader, when you show such signs to your teammates, you are simply showing kindness. And indirectly, you are earning loyalty, respect, and admiration of their people.

There are many ways through which a leader can show that they care; it can be guidance, support, or mentorship.

Simple praise shown by a leader makes a teammate feel appreciated. It can also have a great impact on the organization's growth.

Be positive

A great leader is the one who can bring positivity to their team at the time of unrest.

If you can inspire your team through flexibility, empowerment, kindness, and support, you can be a compassionate leader. The best way to do this is, be positive at any sort of time.

Ups and downs are common in an organization. But, as a leader, you need to know how to develop a positive mental attitude by saying uplifting words. And also how to make people feel positive and comfortable.

This way, you are opening the doors for your employees to come to you when they have anything to discuss with you.

This behavior also helps you creating people who want to work for you, not because of, what you serve, but for what you are.

Your treatment matters

As per the Harvard Business Review article, "Research suggests that the most effective way leaders can boost employee well-being is not through strategies and drives but day-to-day actions."

"For example, data from a large study run by Anna Nyberg at the Karolinska Institute shows that having a violent boss is associated with heart problems in employees. On the other hand, research about, the leaders who are encouraging, empathetic, and supportive have more enthusiastic and active employees."

Every employee indeed wants to be an essential part of an organization. And they keep working towards it. Even after their efforts, if a company doesn't make them feel an actual employee and doesn't care about them, it directly impacts its growth.

Lack of compassion can also contribute to health crises within an organization. Thus, being a leader, you should provide a resource that helps employees with their health care. It would help if you created an environment that allows them to show their best versions, as your leading way has a considerable impact on how the employee gets involved in the work.

Learn about your people

A great leader knows the difference between "I" and "We" within the organization. Being a leader, your aim and efforts should revolve around "We" and not "I."

A compassionate leader knows that "I" isn't helpful in any way for their organization. And when a leader starts considering the "We" factor keeping their egos aside, they start building another leader.

Compassion teaches you to end the journey from "I" to "We." And those, who know it, and started working on it, will definitely end up with a great result.

Be the bridge

No one likes a boss who only screams for order and asks for submission. Instead, everyone wants a leader who cares for their employees. In return, they also receive the same from their employees.

A true compassionate leader is never authoritative. Instead, they believe in influence. They encourage others, nor demand.

A compassionate leader is a guide. They are supportive and acknowledge efforts. They can combines efforts, talents, skills, and passion.

A product produced by a collaboration of a team is much better than made by a single person. You are a leader. It would help if you took care of this essential factor to create a collaborative environment within the organization.

Being a leader, you are the one people are dependent on up to some point. And you must be a bridge to connect your employees with the work. For this, you need to consider their skills and knowledge so that an organization can grow.

Lead with love and compassion

Leading with compassion and love is a winning game on many occasions. Luckily, you can learn and develop compassion with simple practices.

When you bring understanding to your work, you can bring up more wisdom within your team.

You only need to find out how to share respect, care, and appreciation with your team. You only will have to invest your time, energy, and focus into it.

What is more critical, empathy or compassion?

It is obvious to know, empathy is more critical than compassion. Compassion has the potential to bind us together.

Especially at the time of social unrest, compassionate leadership can only strengthen us as human beings. If compassion is missing, human beings come alone.

The hidden reality of empathy

No doubt, empathy is a foundational emotion that binds humans together. Instead, it unites them. Empathy is fire stimulating compassion.

On the other hand, empathy without compassion is dangerous. The reason for being hazardous is, empathy tends to identify your close ones and feel for them.

So, it creates biasedness inclining towards close ones only. Thus, empathy tends to make division rather than unity.

Empathy and compassion are identically different. They are the emotions that represent other areas of your brain. Thus, their nature is different.

When you be empathetic, you join someone with their suffering. But you can't think of helping them. Whereas, with compassion, you tend to help them.

As a leader, you need to know the difference between empathy and compassion. Because you have a huge responsibility to manage others effectively, have a look at the main difference between empathy and compassion.

Empathy drains, Compassion is regenerate

Indeed empathy gives you a chance to feel someone's pain and be a part of their suffering; this feeling can fade away with time.

Also, the emotions that you think being empathetic can turn to negative sentiments and experiences with time, which is harmful to your cognitive mind and your well-being.

Whereas compassion is solution-focused. Compassion tends to focus on the solution. It helps someone come out of their suffering, which is beneficial.

Instead of this, when you help someone, you feel happy and motivated to help them again.

Empathy divide. Compassion unite

Empathy makes you join those who are close to you in their suffering. You want to be present for them at any point in time.

At the same time, when the same situation occurs, and you have to help strangers, your brain sees it as a challenge and refuses to take effort on.

However, you tend to allow your in-group people more and deny to help out-group person, which creates divisiveness.

Compassion is social. And it tends to join people suffering, irrespective of their connection with you. You want to help them anyway.

The compassion doesn't see any identical relation with them, such as gender, age, religion, etc., but you are more likely to be a human to help them.

Thus, compassionate leaders work in the way to lift everyone, being unbiased with someone. They want to see everyone on the same level, earning equal worth.

Empathy is emotional. Compassion is intentional.

Emotions are unconscious. Thus, empathy is. Empathy originates in the emotional center of your brain, which is an automatic action of your brain.

So, there are bigger chances of it's been unconscious. And you are less aware of your thoughts and actions.

Conversely, compassion is more intentional that originates from the cognitive part of your brain.

Compassionate feelings and thoughts come out when they get filtered of consciousness. Which also mean that you are more aware of your action and can improve your decision with time.

Empathy is passive. Compassion is active.

Being empathetic can feel good to you and the other person, too, at first. But as empathy doesn't come with a solution. And it only tends to join someone in their suffering. It can later feel like stuck in the situation. Thus, empathy can also make you experience depressive symptoms.

Compassion, on the other hand, is more practical and solution-oriented. It doesn't only have emotions but an intention to help with resolution.

Compassion is beneficial for leaders to turn their inspirational ideas into action. Compassionate leaders are more likely to be decision-makers, getting things done and make them right.

Also, compassion can result in trust, team loyalty, and improved collaboration within the organization.


Till now, you might have thinking that compassion and empathy are the same. As they seem like cousins or synonyms. But, with this article, I hope you have got an idea that empathy and compassion are two different emotions. They are induced from the other parts of your mind, need further understanding, and had various benefits.

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