What Is Empathy?

If we listen and try to understand others, it makes us better friends.

During the holidays, many people experience happiness. But if you were sick or your family and friends lived far away, you might find the holidays a depressing time. If you’re happy, it might be difficult to imagine that others are sad. Empathy can help us understand others’ emotions better.

But what exactly is empathy? Suppose that your friend loves soccer—but she didn’t make the team. She is really unhappy about it. You aren’t affected by it, because you didn’t try out and you really don’t like soccer. But you feel sad for your friend because she’s sad. That’s empathy—sharing how people feel, even if you don’t feel the same way. Have you ever heard someone say, “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes”? That’s another way to say, “Have empathy.”

Why does empathy matter, anyway? Listening to other people and understanding their feelings makes you a better friend, a better family member—and someday it could help you be a better coworker at your job. When we develop our empathy, we think before we act. We’re more aware of how our actions could help or hurt other people.

How can you have more empathy? Carefully watch people when you are around them. A frown, for example, could mean sadness; and crossed arms could signal anger. When you can “read’ how others are feeling, you’ll know better how to react.

During the holiday season, we can be empathetic toward others and consider their feelings. Making gifts for people, volunteering in the community, and comforting people who are sick, lonely, or sad are all ways to show empathy.

What Do You Think? Why is empathy important? What can you do show more empathy?

Photo Credit: Eclipse Studios/McGraw Hill