How do University Students Comprehend and Practice Compassion?

Compassion is described as the emotion that occurs when you witness another person’s pain and are driven to alleviate that suffering. Compassion stems from empathy—the more broad ability to comprehend and experience the feelings of others—but goes a step further by incorporating a desire to help. We can, of course, experience compassion without acting on it, and not all acts of kindness are motivated by compassion.

According to studies, a modest act of kindness can go a long way toward improving student health and wellness. A recent study looks at how incorporating a kindness assignment into an undergraduate course affected students’ perspectives of themselves, their peers, and their school.

According to UBC Okanagan experts, a modest act of kindness can go a long way toward improving student health and wellness. Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, associate professor in the School of Education, and Dr. Sally Stewart, associate professor of teaching in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, recently published a study that investigated how the inclusion of a kindness assignment in an undergraduate course influenced student perceptions of themselves, their peers, and their campus.

This research can help students understand that there is evidence behind how and why individuals are kind, and that kindness does have an impact on health and wellbeing.

Dr. Stewart.

While various studies have examined the impact of kindness on wellbeing, there has been little research into how university-aged students comprehend and practice kindness, according to Dr. Binfet. Thousands of university students returned to class throughout Canada in September, and Dr. Binfet observes that in the midst of COVID-19, every act of compassion counts.

“We know that being nice has a number of well-being benefits, such as stress reduction, happiness, and peer acceptance, and we also know that mental health has an impact on learning,” Dr. Binfet explains. “Because the postsecondary environment is frequently the final training ground for students to prepare them for life, we want to understand how we might prepare students for optimal mental health as adults.”

Volunteer students supplied self-reports for the study to evaluate how much they saw themselves as kind in online and face-to-face encounters, as well as how connected they felt to their peers and the university. The pupils were then instructed to plan and carry out five acts of kindness over the course of one week.

The participants performed 353 acts of kindness with the key themes of helping others, donating, showing appreciation, and communicating. Students who accomplished at least three of the five planned acts of kindness had significantly greater self-reported levels of in-person kindness and peer connectivity.

How university students understand and demonstrate kindness

“This research can help students understand that there is evidence behind how and why individuals are kind, and that kindness does have an impact on health and wellbeing,” Dr. Stewart adds. “It also has an extraordinary impact on higher education teaching since it provides insight into where students are with their practice and understanding of kindness in order to lay the basis for inclusion of this issue within educational practices and course content areas.”

While most post-secondary schools have on-campus wellbeing resources available to students, this research shows that by including wellbeing efforts within coursework, it is easier for more students to engage in such activities and reap the advantages without extra effort. The study also revealed that a kindness intervention integrated into the curriculum would be favorably welcomed by kids.

“We discovered that the kids enjoyed the assignment,” Dr. Stewart explains. “It helped some people realize that kindness is a skill that they can improve and that there are numerous ways to be kind. Others found it useful in recognizing that they already do kind things. It encouraged their desire and purpose to perform additional acts of kindness.”

Dr. Binfet’s study has focused on elevating the conversation of kindness for many years, and he has previously performed studies on how children and teenagers perceive and act on kindness. “We now see agreement in how university students and school-age participants define kindness in our study; to them, it means activities that can better the lives of others. It’s often as simple as being kind and assisting others” Dr. Binfet explains.

Undergraduate students face a variety of obstacles when attending university, and students’ mental health has become an increasing concern as they struggle to meet the demands of new academic and social expectations. Despite multiple studies examining the impact of kindness on well-being, there is a scarcity of research examining how students comprehend and practice kindness. The goals of this study were to incorporate a kindness assignment into undergraduate courses, to investigate how students define and practice kindness, and to investigate how being kind influenced students’ perceptions of themselves, their classmates, and their campus.

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