Kelly McGonigal, PhD

In a cruel world, compassion might seem like a frivolous pursuit. But our guest expert argues convincingly that we need this emotion now more than ever, if only to keep from falling into despair. What is compassion, and what does science have to do with it?

The Science of Compassion:

Compassion is a response to perceiving the suffering of another being with an urge to mitigate that suffering. There are strong biological and physiological underpinnings to this response. Before we can act to relieve suffering, however, we must find the courage to do so. Where does that come from?

Compassion Is Different from Empathic Distress:

Simply feeling another person’s pain is not compassion. Moreover, it will make you miserable without helping the other. But finding some way to alleviate that suffering, even in part, can have genuine benefits for both parties. People who practice compassion are happier and healthier.

Finding the Courage to Act with Compassion:

Learn why compassion is linked to forgiveness and how you can learn to practice it. You’ll also find out why practicing compassion with a focus on making your own life better doesn’t work; the focus must be on the other person’s suffering. How does science explain that phenomenon?

This Week’s Guest:

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University. People’s Pharmacy listeners have previously heard her discuss her books, The Willpower Instinct and The Upside of Stress. Dr. McGonigal offers Compassion Cultivation Training through the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism. The Science of Compassion is her 6-CD audio course.

Her website is

To follow her on Twitter: @kellymcgonigal

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

Buy the CD

Download the mp3

Air Date:November 24, 2018

Get The Graedons' Favorite Home Remedies Health Guide for FREE

Join our daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies AND you'll get a copy of our brand new full-length health guide — for FREE!

  1. David
    Erie PA

    “Just Like Me”, connects me to you if I am willing to humbly accept you as you are. Am finding compassion is in my core and am interested in a follow up with the author.

  2. gail

    I am pleased to announce that the audio is now available and I can listen once again to Sunday’s NPR broadcast. Thank you.

  3. John
    Roanoke, VA

    Compassion is best associated with kindness. Compassion actually means “to suffer together.” It refers to the more feminine aspect of care-giving, the art of establishing genuine rapport and finding identification with the patient. Very difficult skill to develop. Kindness, the more masculine aspect, refers to the the actions to solve problems. As a patient I need you to be with me first before I can really let go and trust you to help me solve my suffering. Both skills are equally necessary if we are to positively impact the runaway train of poor health outcomes. I find the residents I work with poorly trained in compassion.

    • Kristin

      Thank you for your fascinating and insightful comment.

  4. Will
    Creedmoor, NC

    Hands down, this was the best broadcast I have ever heard on The People’s Pharmacy. Incredible! Life changing! As a full time prison chaplain, I felt so inspired by this broadcast, I hope to do a seminar for the inmate population on this very topic. On a day to day basis, I see how much difference this has the potential to make in the lives of those imprisoned by a lack of compassion. Thank you!

  5. Kate

    What are differences among Compassion, Empathy and Sympathy?

  6. David
    South Pasadena,CA

    Excellent thoughts by Dr. McGonigle! In my own work as a mediator and counselor, I have found both compassion and kindness to be extremely valuable in resolving the stress of conflicts.

    There is an extremely interesting recent study at NewCastle University relating to kindness. Dr. Catherine Douglas discovered that when dairy farmers treat their cows with kindness and compassion and give them names, the cows produce 500 more pints of milk a year!

    I recently wrote about this study in my Psychology Today blog (“Can’t We All Just Get Along?”). The title of the blog post is, “What Cows Can Teach Us About Being Human.”

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Your cart

Shipping and discount codes are added at checkout.