Compassion: The Human Superpower

Whether the act of giving selflessly to another can ever be truly altruistic or is instead merely a consequence of the desire for personal reward is a complex and intriguing debate which continues to fascinate me: are we born with the ability to care for others or is it something we are taught as a result of our environment?

Personally, I believe that the ability for humanity to spread kindness and goodwill on both a national and global scale is an ingrained part of our natural design. Through giving to others, we benefit not only them but an entire community – it is a sustainable, nurturing and enriching act which in turn can only generate further joy, emphasising how even the smallest actions can have incredibly powerful consequences. However, while the personal sense of self-fulfilment that comes from participating in a charity event, buying lunch for a homeless person or volunteering for a peaceful organisation is undeniable, I believe that we are motivated to help others by more than our own gain.

Knowing that we have helped others in even some small way is so rewarding, yet I continue to hope that the reason we are so quick to reach out in a time of crisis and negativity is because of our true inner selflessness and urge to ensure the safety and happiness of others due to our natural capacity for care and compassion. The support offered by so many in the wake of recent events such as Hurricane Harvey and the floods in Texas, the way bystanders have put their own lives at risk during terrorist attacks around the world, and the continued brilliance of emergency, health and social services continues to inspire me and emphasise the fact that compassion is not a consequence of social pressure, self preservation or self reward. The danger and strain that so many people willingly put themselves through to help others reflects the global phenomenon of the power of care, love and optimism that radiates through neighbourhoods and continents even in troubled times.

I would argue that the ability to be compassionate is our human superpower, our gift to each other and ourselves. For many of us, though there will always be exceptions, there are almost no barriers to us exercising this ability to be kind and to care and to spread happiness as far and as often as we can, in whatever form that may take. Whether it’s accompanying an elderly neighbour to the shops, working as part of community efforts in deprived areas around the world to provide housing, food or water, or even simply smiling and complimenting someone, we have taken the time to attempt to help others and positively impact them. All it takes to make someone else’s day, even to save their life, is a few moments of consciousness and awareness.

Compassion is our human superpower – one almost all of us are able to exercise on a daily basis. It is incredible what can be achieved when the strength of caring, nurturing and aiding others is demonstrated, and striving to be more mindful of how we can contribute to the happiness of others through our words and actions is one of the easiest ways we can begin this journey towards a more peaceful and harmonious human experience. It is not only in times of distress (though then it is most crucial) that we should aim to explore the depths of kindness. Being compassionate to others and ourselves is one of the most fulfilling ways in which we can achieve inner peace and a more connected, sustainable society.


Summer Reading List

Whether I’m sat beneath the warmth of the sun or curled up in blankets as it pours down with rain outside, there are few things that give me more joy in life than losing myself for hours in a good book. With the glorious expanse of a (mainly) responsibility-free summer stretching out before me, I’ve taken a moment to share with you the novels I’m hoping to work my way through over the next few weeks.

  1. The Trial – Franz Kafka
    This philosophical exploration of a “terror state” is top of my list this year – I’ve had to pack this into my suitcase already so I’m not tempted to read it before I go away!
  2. Room – Emma Donoghue
    I’m definitely very excited to read this: it fits perfectly into my favourite genre as an emotive thriller and stumbling across this in a charity shop felt like a blessing.
  3. The Land Where Lemons Grow – Helena Attlee
    The exotic, summery tone of this book seems perfect for the holidays and encapsulating the vibrancy of Italy, one of my favourite countries. While I don’t usually delve into the non-fiction section, this was a thoughtful gift from a friend and I’m grateful for the opportunity to expand my reading range.
  4. Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence
    Although arguably not my typical choice of reading material, this looks like an interesting divergence from my usual choices.
  5. Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Having already read ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and absolutely loving it, I’m so excited to read it again a few years later and seeing how my perspective on the events in the novel may have changed as I’ve grown older, and to immerse myself in this wonderful but harrowing story for a second time.
  6. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
    I’ve previously struggled with understanding Catch 22 in the past, but I’m hoping this time round I’ll have more time (and patience) to understand such a complex and intellectual novel.
  7. Run For Your Life – James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
    I’m a big fan of James Patterson and adore most things of the crime or thriller genre so I’m readily anticipating the twists and turns that are bound to be uncovered throughout this book!
  8. Dubliners – James Joyce
    Again, another more “classic” read which I’m very intrigued about, especially after studying ‘Mrs Dalloway’ by Virginia Woolf for my English Literature A Level and exploring the influence Joyce had upon her writing.


How I Cut Down On Sugar

I’m addicted to sugar. I definitely have a sweet tooth, and I crave chocolate, biscuits and cake more than I care to admit. One of my biggest challenges so far in all my 18 years of life has probably been giving up chocolate for Lent in order to try and prove to myself I could live without it – I barely survived those 40 days and descended into a chocolate-induced state of bliss for the next few weeks afterwards. However, recently I’ve started to become more aware of the negative ways my love for sugary foods impacts my day-to-day life: it makes me lethargic, unsatisfied and regularly consuming above the recommended amount (which some nutritionists and doctors have argued needs to be cut further) seemed to be taking its toll on not only my body but also my mind.

As a result, a few weeks ago I decided to seriously try and cut down on the amount of added and refined sugar I was eating on a daily basis, and while it’s been a struggle I couldn’t be happier that I decided to take up this challenge. I’d been struggling to tone up for a while without significant results but limiting the unhealthy snacks I was eating has definitely enabled me to see an improvement even when I’m eating larger portion sizes for my main meals. I feel a lot more energised and a lot happier, and even find I’m sleeping better. Reducing my sugar consumption has allowed me to be and feel so much healthier which in turn has had such a positive consequence on my physical and emotional state, with the added bonus that when I do now indulge in sweet desserts or snacks I appreciate and enjoy them so much more!

While I don’t think I could ever cut out sugar completely, I feel like I’ve reached a much more balanced approach in terms of nutritional health and looking after my body. Surprisingly, once I’m summoned up the courage to say goodbye to my routine of snacking on Ben and Jerry’s brownie fudge ice cream every evening, the transition from a sugar-obsessed girl to one slightly less dependent on the sweet stuff wasn’t as hard as I’d feared.

1) Figure out your problem areas
Keeping a food diary, either using an app on your phone or the old fashioned way with pen and paper, is a great starting point for evaluating how much sugar you’re consuming and whether you need to consider cutting down. Try and figure out where and why you’re turning to sugary snacks (other than the fact they taste pretty good): is it out of routine, boredom or comfort? It may also help to track your emotional state as well and see if there’s any correlation between a rubbish day and an extra large bar of chocolate! For example, I found I was more likely to turn to sugary treats as a combination of routine – coming home from school and instantly reaching for food, or while watching a film – and boredom, which led to unnecessary late night snacking.

2) Set yourself an achievable goal
Vowing to never eat another gram of sugar again is going to be pretty much impossible. Make sure your target is practical and will be possible to reach, so you don’t feel disheartened or like you’re missing out. You could limit yourself to only a few days a week where you eat chocolate, cut out certain snacks such as sweets and ice cream, or limit yourself to one small dessert or snack a day. If you’re more serious about reducing your sugar intake, you could cut down on the amount of processed sauces and foods you’re buying and start making your own, and cutting down on items such as cereals, fruit juices and alcohol.

3) Let others know about your plan
It’s easier to stick to something when you have the support (and watchful eye) of those around you. If your family and friends know you’re making a conscious decision to eat more healthily, hopefully they’ll support you – and keep any tempting snacks out of sight!

4) Find your substitutes
It’s important that you don’t feel deprived when you first start cutting down on sugar, so making sure you have healthier quick and easy snacks is a must. One of the biggest attractions of sugary snacks is the fact that they’re so convenient and can be eaten instantly, but food like fruit and vegetables also often need very little preparation. Keep some celery, carrot, cucumber and pepper sticks in the fridge with a pot of hummus or some nuts and you’ve got a quick and easy snack for when hunger strikes. There are loads more ideas for simple alternative treats online and in recipe books and magazines and I’ll probably do a blog post at some point sharing my favourites. Also, ensure your main meals are nutritious and filling so you don’t end up resorting to snacking multiple times a day due to hunger: protein and lots of water is the way forward.

5) Be patient
It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight. Successfully giving up sugar is a gradual process of changing your routines and mindset and it’s so important not to be too hard on yourself if you slip up. Remind yourself why you started, and gently persevere.

Wasting Our Own Time

So often we hear the phrases “I’m so busy”, “I don’t have time for that”, “I haven’t had a minute to myself all day”; often we hear these phrases from our own mouths. We seem to live in a society where everybody is getting busier and busier, and free time seems to gradually be turning into a luxury of the past: the average person reports they have just 4 hours and 14 minutes of free time a day due to the constant conflicting pressures of work, education, relationships, domestic chores and staying fit as well as the time needed for eating, showering and sleeping. However, while just over 4 hours doesn’t sound like very long, let’s break this down. In 4 hours and 14 minutes you can go for a run, catch up with a friend over coffee, finish reading a chapter of a novel and even after all that find time to binge-watch a couple of episodes of your current Netflix obsession. In reality, while it’s still not much, we have a lot more time for ourselves in our typical 24 hour day than we may realise, and arguably even more free time during the weekends (on average). So why do we always feel like we never have enough time to relax?

I dislike the obsession with blaming so much of society’s “problems” on the rise of social media, but in this case I can’t help but feel technology is playing an increasing role in the way that we often perceive ourselves as being so busy, and the fact that we feel as though we’re seldom able to completely unwind. Our work lives are no longer so neatly defined: even after we’ve left school or the office (sometimes already late into the evening), we’re being interrupted in our domestic and social space with email alerts, calls from colleagues, and the pressure to “just quickly check these figures” using our laptops or phones at 2am. As a consequence, we are rarely switching off from our work due to the fact that technology enables us to be so interconnected – while this can be positive, there is also the danger of futile attempts at multi-tasking and the feeling of being burnt out and exhausted by the end of the week due to a lack of focus upon our own needs.

Similarly, many of us rarely take the time to focus on one task at a time: we scroll through social media while we’re on the bus or having lunch, we check our messages while walking, we have multiple tabs open at once on our devices keeping our brains distracted and our minds unable to fully interact with the present. It is this lack of silence, of putting away our phones, that arguably contributes to the feeling that we are always involved with something, and thus never relaxing. Many of us turn straight to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat as soon as we get through the front door and joyously reconnect to our wifi, instantly responding to and engaging with a multitude of events and people before we’ve even sat down. Of course, not all of us are like this, but I worry about the rising trend of having a device in one hand at almost all times, rather than allowing ourselves to be fully engaged with the present moment and our current surroundings.

So how can we attempt to combat the emotions of restlessness that so often accompanies the rising domination of technology in our lives? From the personal changes I’ve made in my own life, I’ve found attempting to be as present as possible in everything I do has made the biggest difference. Yes, share those memories and experiences on social media, but take a picture or video or send that message and then put your phone away. Stop scrolling endlessly through apps while you’re walking and instead focus on the nature around you: take the time to appreciate the beauty of the world around you and give your brain a break from the constant absorbing of information. Focus on the sensations around you, the smell of the earth after the rain, the way the evening light turns the summer sky a dusky pink, and allow yourself to fully enjoy it. When you have free time, revert to more gratifying, wholesome ways of relaxing: enjoy a meet up with friends, but properly engage (don’t check your phone every half an hour), read a book, bake a cake, have a long bath, learn an instrument or new sport or simply go for a walk. Invest in yourself during your free time, maybe use it to pursue a hobby or passion, and you will feel far more rewarded than if you spent the hours vicariously living through the experiences of others and refusing your body a chance to focus on a single task, and to switch off.

Some people thrive off being busy, and there is no denying that so many of us struggle to balance all the demanding aspects of our lives on a day to day basis for various reasons other than technology – I don’t wish to condemn this concept at all. However, the next time you hear the words “if only I had the time” form on the tip of your tongue, take a moment to re-evaluate your priorities and the way in which you interact with your surroundings and commitments: you may not have endless hours, but you have enough.