Know what being warmhearted feels like and realize that it's natural and normal.
Posted November 16, 2021 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk
- The warmhearted person leans toward others; it is not neutral or indifferent.
- Warmheartedness within and between nations promotes the rule of law, educates children, feeds the hungry, and supports human rights.
- We could extend ourselves with friends or family by doing simple and kind things for them and ourselves every day.
What are your intentions toward others?
Benevolence is a fancy word that means something simple: good intentions toward living beings, including oneself.
This goodwill is present in warmth, friendliness, compassion, ordinary decency, fair play, kindness, altruism, generosity, and love. The benevolent heart leans toward others; it is not neutral or indifferent. Benevolence is the opposite of ill will, coldness, prejudice, cruelty, and aggression. We've all been benevolent; we all know what it's like to wish someone well.
Warmheartedness is widely praised — from parents telling children to share their toys to saints preaching the Golden Rule — because it has so many benefits:
- Warmheartedness toward oneself is needed to fulfill our three fundamental needs: to avoid harm, to approach rewards, and to attach to others. When these needs are met, your brain shifts into its responsive mode, in which the body repairs and refuels itself, and you feel peaceful, happy, and loving.
- Warmheartedness toward others reduces quarrels, builds trust, and is the best-odds strategy to get good treatment in return.
- Warmheartedness within and between nations promotes the rule of law, educates children, feeds the hungry, supports human rights, offers humanitarian aid, and works for peace. Benevolence toward our planet tries to protect endangered species and reduce global warming.
Of course, this is just a partial list of benefits. Bottom-line, benevolence is good for individuals, relationships, nations, and the world as a whole.
The fact that warmheartedness is often enlightened self-interest makes it no less warm-hearted and virtuous. And, at this time in history when individuals feel increasingly stressed and isolated, when relationships often stand on shaky ground, when international conflicts are fueled by dwindling resources and increasingly lethal weapons, and when humanity is dumping more than nine billion tons of carbon each year into the atmosphere (like throwing five billion cars a year up into the sky, most of which stay there), benevolence is not just moral; it's essential.
But this is easier said than done.
How can we sustain warmheartedness in ourselves and in our relationships, nations, and world?
- Know what warmheartedness is in ourselves and in our relationships, nations, and world, and how it feels in our body, heart, and mind. Bring to mind a sense of warmth and good wishes toward someone. How does this feel? Try on other kinds of benevolence, and toward other beings, to sense what these are like as well.
- Realize that warmheartedness in ourselves and in our relationships, nations, and world is natural and normal. In the media, we are so bombarded with words and images of anti-benevolence that we can start to think that ordinary decency and kindness are somehow exotic. But, in fact, as we evolved, our ancestors stayed alive and passed on their genes by caring about themselves and others. And, given the gratitude and reverence for nature commonly found in hunter-gatherer bands today, they likely also cared about the world upon which they depended.
- Take care of yourself. When your core needs are met — when you're not stressed by threat, loss, or rejection — the brain defaults to its resting state, its home base. From this home base, most people are fair-minded, empathic, cooperative, compassionate, and kind — in a word, benevolent. While it's possible to sustain goodwill in a state of fear, frustration, or loneliness, it is sure a lot harder. An undisturbed, healthy brain is a benevolent one.
- Take a stand for warmheartedness in ourselves and in our relationships, nations, and world. Establish your intentions formally — perhaps at the start of the day, or during a contemplative practice, or at a meal — to wish yourself and all other beings well. In challenging situations, take care of your needs while also asking yourself, "How could I be benevolent here? How could I restrain any destructive thoughts, words, or deeds? Can I wish for the welfare of others? Can I express compassion and kindness?"
- Step out of your comfort zone. Not doing anything foolish, consider how you could stretch a bit (or more) in your good intentions toward others. For example, when you see people you don't know, try wishing them well. Or, with someone who's irritating, try looking past the surface to sense this person's own stress and worries; without waiving your rights, can you find more patience? Can you let go of recrimination or payback? Or could you extend yourself with friends or family, maybe doing more dishes or giving someone a ride? In the larger world, consider volunteering some time or giving more to a charity.
- Last, appreciate some of the warmheartedness in ourselves and in our relationships, nations, and world that buoys you along. We've all been nurtured and protected by friends and family, humanity altogether, and the biosphere. In some sense, there's an exuberant benevolence in the physical universe itself; consider that most of the atoms in your body — any that are heavier than helium — were born inside an exploding star. Afloat in these gifts, who could not be benevolent?