The Power of Empathy
There are lots of ways we express gratitude when Thanksgiving rolls around. You share a special meal. You reach out to family and loved ones. You reflect on the blessings you’ve experienced.
Chances are you already know a bit about how good gratitude can be for both your physical and mental health. From articles and blog posts to TED Talks, podcasts, and that super-cheerful Facebook friend who posts her gratitude list daily, the benefits of gratitude pop up everywhere this time of year.
But what do you do when gratitude comes easy for you while life seems to be falling apart for a loved one or friend or colleague? It can feel so awkward and wrong.
That’s where the work of empathy comes into play.
While research suggests that gratitude and empathy are related, empathy can seem a lot more challenging – so much that some people choose to avoid it. “They just don’t want to make the mental effort,” noted the lead author of one recent study on the matter, “even when it involves feeling positive emotions.” They see empathy as being too hard.
But the study authors also found that a simple mindset change made a difference. Participants who were told they were “good” at empathizing were more likely to report that empathy required less mental effort. As lead author C. Daryl Cameron remarked,
If we can shift people’s motivations toward engaging in empathy, then that could be good news for society as a whole. It could encourage people to reach out to groups who need help.
Also just like gratitude, empathy is good for your mental and physical well-being, while also “providing an emotional bridge that promotes prosocial behavior,” according to Helen Riess, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Empathy and Relational Science Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. It’s especially important in the doctor/patient relationship.
Empathic medical care is associated with many benefits including improved patient experiences, adherence to treatment recommendations, better clinical outcomes, fewer medical errors and malpractice claims, and higher physician retention.
And isn’t that true of all relationships? Whether it’s with your partner, your child, your coworker, or your dentist or hygienist, you want to be heard and treated with respect. You don’t want to feel lectured to. You want to feel like you’re on the same team with a provider who truly cares about your wellness, your needs, and your input. This creates a support network that leads to a mindset of healing and health, whether it’s in a dental office, the workplace, or at home.
Gratitude is great, there’s no doubt about it. But when it comes to forming long-lasting and healthy relationships – with family, friends, and holistic healthcare providers – empathy is truly empowering.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at Green City Dental!