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Happy Empathy: A Love Talent to Grow

Mini-Love-Lesson  #260

Synopsis: Presented here are the many benefits of happy empathy; brain research on natural, inborn empathy; three types of empathy; empathy as a talent to grow; some important negatives concerning empathy; happy sexual and emotional, intimate empathy; and a basic how-to approach for developing empathetic skills.

The Many Benefits of Happy Empathy

Alex is a no nonsense, get the job done and on to the next task sort of guy with little concern or time for peoples feelings.  Zorba is a stop and smell the roses, enthusiasm for life and living it fully – a very feelings focused fellow.  Upon seeing a loved one smiling, laughing or just enjoying something, Alex feels and soon shows impatience and sometimes annoyance.  Upon seeing the same happiness in another, Zorba stops what he is doing and joins with that person showing them up-beat emotions similar to their own.  Then Zorba may ask questions, demonstrate happiness for their happiness and extend the good feeling time together.  This conjoint happiness is shown by Zorba for others having exuberant joy, serene pleasure, sweet feelings, pride and every other kind of happiness.  Alex sees such actions as frivolous and a waste of time and effort.

Now, consider these life quality questions about Alex and Zorba.  All else being equal, which one will be more likely to raise happier, healthier children, have more and better close friends, have a really good and lasting marriage, a more interesting sex life, more cooperative work relationships, fewer stress related illnesses and have a general healthier longer life?  Which one will accomplish more in a longer and more cooperation filled life?  Also, who may have more good opportunities come their way?  Who likely will be appreciated and respected more?  Most importantly, who probably will be loved more by others and likely have more healthy, real self-love.  In addition, who will more likely have both happy empathy and empathy for others who are suffering?  Finally, which one would you rather be like?

Natural Empathy

Do you ever yawn when you see another yawning? If you walk into a room of laughing people, do you start laughing too even though you don't know what anyone is laughing about?  If you hear a baby giggle do you start to smile?  If you answer yes to any of these questions, you likely have experienced  natural, automatic, empathetic responses including those of happy empathy.  That means, according to psychoneurological research, you probably have the innate brain circuitry for empathy along with its neurochemical processes.  Some people do not.  Many of those people diagnosed as sociopathic and psychopathic and those having alexithymic difficulties tend to have brain scans showing peculiarities, problems and deficiencies in the areas and circuits of the brain identified as processing empathetic responses.  Other brain research shows most mammals, including humans and perhaps birds, are likely to have at least basic, natural, empathetic response capability.

When happy empathy is done with someone you love, it is a part of connection joy, a natural reward function of healthy, real love (see“A Functional Definition of Love”).  This can be seen in parents who cannot help smiling when their baby smiles, proud family members at a graduation ceremony, close friends on reconnecting and the awesome joy of seeing your heartmate in ecstasy.

A Talent to Grow

Talents are innate, natural, ability proclivities you can develop and actualize with purposeful effort.  Empathy can be viewed as a natural component experience and/or companion talent of and with healthy real love.  Empathetic ability, like other inborn talents, is seen to be a thing you can work with, grow, develop and improve your ability to feel it, do it, convey it, exude it, hone it, shape the doing of it and more effectively and skillfully express it with practice.

When it is done well and lovingly communicated, both compassionate empathy and happy empathy are thought to be some of the very best and most important ways to love another, or for that matter to love yourself.  To help accomplish that, let’s do some thinking about empathy and happy empathy..

What Is Empathy?

In popular usage, empathy has to do with what generally is known as feeling another person’s feelings.  Empathy especially is a term widely used to indicate feeling similar pain for and with another person feeling pain.  If another person is sad, you are sad with them; if they are mad, you too are mad at what they are mad about.  If they are shocked, so are you, etc.  Their suffering is your suffering and, therefore, is shared suffering.  This kind of emotional empathy provides a basis for more accurate caring and comprehending of what another person is emotionally going through.  This frequently is seen as being quite therapeutic, surprisingly healing and sometimes even comprehensively curative.  However, there is a lot more to empathy.

Psychological research has identified three main forms of empathy.  They are called Cognitive Empathy, Emotional Empathy and a special emotional connected category called Compassionate Empathy. 

Cognitive empathy means mentally understanding what and how strongly another person is experiencing an emotional or sometimes a physical feeling.  It may include further understanding of the feelings cause, dynamics and possible results, along with what to do about it, if anything.  Cognitive empathy enables accurate understanding, identifying and constructive thinking about feelings.

Emotional empathy is having very similar emotional feelings to the emotional feelings another person is perceived as having, and perhaps to a similar intensity.  With this understanding, both good and bad feelings can be empathetically responded to and, thus, happy empathy is included in this category.

Compassionate empathy can include both of the above but with the addition of a caring desire to help, assist or alleviate another’s hurt or harm.  Motivated actions of support, assistance and/or rescue, if it is possible, often flow from compassionate empathy.  This especially occurs in all kinds of real and healthy love relationships.  Link “Empathy – A Love Skill

Sympathy often is confused with empathy.  Sympathy, a much older term (sympathy from the 1500's, empathy from circa 1900) now is understood to mean feeling pity or being sorry for someone but not so likely as to motivate assistive action-taking.

Empathy’s Bad News

Some people have too much, automatic, compassionate empathy.  They can be overwhelmed by it to the point of becoming dysfunctional.  They cannot stop crying for, or being mad about another’s misfortune, or they may sacrifice too much of themselves or their resources needlessly, or their impulsive efforts of assistance or rescue may backfire and make things worse for whoever they want to help.

Compassionate empathy mixed with a lack of critical judgment sets-up many an empathetic person to be a victim of manipulators and the unscrupulous.  Without sufficient critical judgment and self-care, empathetic people often unknowingly can become well-meaning enablers of destructive behavior like harmful addictions and habit patterns.

There are people who seem to be cognitively empathetic, in that they mentally understand the happy feelings of others, but their response is to be overly envious or jealous.  Then there are those who, on perceiving and comprehending other’s bad feelings, get happy about it -- the anti-love, schadenfreude response.

What Is Happy Empathy?

Happy empathy is responding with happiness, or any other positive feeling, to happiness or similar positive feelings perceived to be occurring in another.  Relationally, happy empathy has a sharing joy-type of dynamic often very helpful with love connecting, bonding and unifying experiences.

Intimate Love and Happy Empathy

To have an intimate experience with a loved one and take high joy in their happiness, pleasure, fun, ecstasy and/or serene satisfaction, is what intimate, happy empathy is all about.  To have intense joy because a heartmate is experiencing awesome, soul-felt ecstasy, or simple serene closeness, or even laughter-filled silly, sexy fun, helps imbue a love relationship with very special, intimate, empathetic love experiences.  Empathy brings closeness and closeness circles back to intimacy which increase both.  That can happen emotionally and sexually separately or mixed together.

Intimate love, intimate sex and happy empathy all go quite well together.  That mix makes for happy couples, throuples and other heartmate partnerships.  Link “Throuple Love, a Growing Worldwide Way of the Future?”  It also can be involved in the more newly identified emotion of compersion and the loving with sexy fun phenomena of tertaliation which has to do with getting sexually and happily turned on by your heartmate being turned on to and/or by someone else, instead of being insecure and jealous (see “Compersion: A Newly Identified Emotion of Love”).

Some How-To’s for Happy Empathy Making

There are several approaches to creating happy empathy experiences.  It usually takes making several steps.  Here is one of the sundry ways one might go about it.

Usually, first comes either vividly remembering or finding a happy person to observe.  It can be a person of any age, gender or any other categorization.  Then, often comes deciding to slow any clamoring thoughts about your concerns and reduce the residual tension that accompanies them.  A bit of slow, deep breathing along with a bit of mild, slow stretching usually helps.

Next, comes really noticing, or vividly remembering, the really happy or otherwise positive feeling person.  Avoid thinking about why they are feeling good and just focus on how they are demonstrating that they feel positive.  Is it their face, or in their voice, or their gestures and posture changes, their general demeanor, is it what they are talking about or what is it that helps you know they are experiencing a positive emotion.

By the way, it can greatly help if you have in the past learned mindfulness techniques like being present in the now, having an awakening heart-mind, moment to moment awareness, emotion focusing, empathetic flowing, total otherness appreciating, etc.

It usually helps to do some mirroring movement which means to take a similar posture and make your face, body, arm and hand movements mirror, or copy, those of the happy person you are noticing.  Now, notice their voice volume and tonal qualities and copy those saying just about anything you want to say.  Keep moving like they move.  Remember that motions can change emotions and making similar motions often brings on similar emotions along with feelings of empathetic connection.

Some thinking about what is being felt, but again, not the why of it may be in order.  That is for identifying what they are feeling but needs only to be done in a broad sort of way for right now.  Getting too mentally analytical can take your focus away from your feelings which, in turn, can block the happiness empathy from happening.  Purposefully saying to yourself things like, “I’m really going to get into that person’s happiness with them, and because of them I’m starting to do that right now” while continuing the mirror movements frequently helps quite a bit.

Regard the first time you do this as a sort of pilot study or dry run and don’t expect it to work well but just orient you to the procedures.  Now, go looking for positive feeling people to practice on.  Some people do well to find stupid things on TV and, at first, turn off the sound and just copy the movements of someone who looks happy.

If, as you do these things, you hear anything going on in your head that is critical, disparaging or distracting, tell it to shut up and that you are attempting something new and different and are not to be disturbed.  Also, after you tried this system a few times, feel free to adapt it anyway you think might work better for you.  Know also that working at happiness empathy might just make some wonders happen in your life and especially in your relationship life.

One More Thing. Think about talking over happy empathy and this mini-love-lesson on it with someone you like or love.  Then do it and while you are at it, please mention this site and its hundreds of facts and ideas for improving love relating.  Thanks

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question: How well and how often do you give your loved ones the love gift of your happiness?

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