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http://www.buddhanet.net/compassion.htmWestern psychology has tended to focus almost exclusively on pathology. In over a hundred years of our Western psychological tradition, our greatest thinkers and researchers have focused on understanding hysteria, obsessions, psychoses, compulsions, depression, anxiety, impulsive anger, personality disorders, and the like. On the other hand, very little scientific research or theoretical thought has gone into understanding positive emotions or the psychology of human strengths and well-being. Dr. Martin Seligman, a former president of the American Psychological Association, has written about our neglect of positive psychology, reflecting that "the exclusive focus on pathology that has dominated so much of our discipline results in a model of the human being lacking the positive features that make life worth living..."
...Dr. Richard Davidson has studied the brains of meditators, discovering that meditation seems to strengthen connections and functioning in those parts of the brain that calm such feelings as fear or anger. When Dr. Davidson did a study of the brain waves of an experienced meditator he found the highest level of activity ever seen in brain areas associated with happiness and positive emotions.
In general, research suggests that meditation supports the development of positive emotions. And, preliminary research findings seem to suggest that meditation of loving-kindness and compassion are associated with feelings of happiness...
...In my own clinical work, I find that people are familiar with how negative emotions can appear at different levels of intensity and power. Most of us know the differences between feeling annoyance, anger, rage, and hatred. We know the differences between feeling concerned, worried, afraid, and terrified. We can also recognize that the more powerful our negative emotions become, the more suffering they are likely to cause for ourselves and for others around us.
Yet, we do not generally realize that positive emotions also have such gradations. We do not even have a language to describe such levels of compassion-from mild feelings of concern for others up to overwhelmingly powerful and expansive feelings of connection, warmth and caring energy.
We all recognize how powerful feelings of hatred, terror or greed can be very powerful, leading to terrible results in the external world. However, we rarely seem to recall how positive emotions can be equally powerful. In the West, we often associate feelings of love or compassion with weakness; we too often imagine that one must be angry or arrogant to be strong. Borrowing from Buddhism's tradition of positive psychology can help us to remember that compassion can also be powerful...