The ability to relate and empathize with other people is essential to social and emotional wellness. Healthy individuals can build strong social support by connecting deeply with people they care about. In fact, empathy is a critical part of this process.

Empathize with others to understand them better.

Empathy and Why We Need It

Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and experience what they feel. However, it differs from compassion in that instead of feeling sympathy or concern for the other person, we enter into the emotions the other person is experiencing. (1)

Compassion and empathy are necessary skills, but empathy plays a unique role in sharing others’ feelings. Also, empathy is critical in solid relationships. For example, to experience joy when a loved one is happy and to share grief with a friend who is sad are foundational aspects of close connections.

Where Does Empathy Come From?

Our brains have a certain amount of hardwiring that encourages empathy development. For example, in a room full of infants, if one baby cries, often others will as well. This is an early sign of our tendency to reflect others’ feelings. (2) As children get older, their play interactions with peers evolve, and they begin to show concern for the feelings of others, apologize when they hurt someone, and experience the joy of shared fun.

Parenting practices and personality also influence how empathetic a person becomes. (2) However, empathetic ability is not fixed, and with intention, it is possible to increase the ability to enter into the experience of those different from us. Engaging in practices that increase our curiosity and ability to relate to other people can increase empathy levels.

Becoming More Empathetic

1. Listen Closely and Engage with Others

To become more empathetic, we must learn to listen to those around us. Listening well allows us to fully hear and appreciate what the other person is going through and identify their emotions. (3) From there, we can imagine what it must be like for them and how it would feel to be in their position.

At the same time, when we open up to others and share our own feelings, we can experience what it feels like to be on the receiving end of empathy. This opens the door to a more meaningful relationship.

Listen Closely and Engage with Others

2. Meditating as a Way to Build Empathy

Another effective way to build empathy is through a meditation technique known as “loving-kindness meditation.” This type of meditation aims to cultivate feelings of love and care for a series of people you choose to imagine during your meditation time.

When sitting in meditation, you imagine first someone you love and silently experience feelings of friendliness and benevolence towards them. From there, you move on to people you may not be as well acquainted with and perhaps even to someone you don’t like. The final goal is for the feelings of kindness to extend to everyone.

Building these feelings of loving-kindness during meditation allows them to become a natural part of how you relate to the world.

Meditating as a Way to Build Empathy

3. Cultivate a Vivid Imagination

Imagination is required to see things from another person’s point of view. Without imagination, we are aware of only our own experience, which has natural limits. Being more imaginative and curious allows us to place ourselves in someone else’s position.

Reading a variety of books is one way of increasing our exposure to people whose life experiences vary from our own. Stepping outside our comfort zone and limited social circles to interact with more people is another way to challenge our imagination skills. In other words, the key is to broaden our interaction with people who are different from us.

As we become aware of the vast array of life experiences out there, we increase our ability to relate and empathize with people from a variety of backgrounds.

Imagination is required to see things from another person’s point of view

Empathy Makes Us Better, Happier People

To understand the world and those around us, we have to be able to empathize. The more we do this, the stronger our relationships become. Furthermore, it also allows us to connect with the full range of what it means to be human.

Close connection with others is a source of happiness, and an attitude of benevolence and kindness towards the world makes us better people. Thus, empathy allows us to approach life from a place of openness and connectedness to all that makes life meaningful.