• Series

Column: We are next to nothing if we are alone

  • Better
  • Column
  • Helsinki Design Week 2016

Compassion is our greatest super power, says a compassion researcher Miia Paakkanen. She shares five researched tips to increase our own and others’ happines on the final part of “Better” column series.

My brother just gave birth to a healthy girl, his first-born. He sent me a wondering message from the hospital: When one baby starts crying, so do all the other babies in the same room. Is it because of social connectedness or selfish need for attention?

I was eager to answer this question because it is a good example of human beings’ natural desire to feel connection with others. As young as a newborn baby reacts to another baby’s emotion thanks to his or her innate capability to feel empathy.

Our ability to empathize and our need for compassion explain human behavior. When we understand this, we can better understand what motivates and rewards employees, what is good leadership, and what creates happiness. In other words: we understand how to act and do things better.

Helsinki Design Week’s theme for 2016 is ‘Better’, which gets me going. It’s a theme I research for a living. I coach teams and leaders at organisations, and teach a positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship course at the University of Helsinki on what makes people and organisations flourish, that is to both be well and succeed.

It is a wide topic that would require a whole book to explain, but let me emphasize one particular point of view here:

We are next to nothing if we are alone. We would not even exist as a species if we did not cooperate.

Our subjective experience of belonging to a group and being worthy of love is the core of our well-being. We can choose to nourish the need in ourselves and in others, at work and during free time.

If I want to advance my own well-being and performance as well as that of others, I am not to ignore the need.

Here are five science-based tips on how to work together better:

1. Slow down.

Your brain will not thrive in a continuous state of achievement. Take a deep breath or go for a walk. Take a bath or enjoy massage. It is hard to calm the mind down with our thoughts, but the message is more effectively transmitted to the brain through the body. The truth is that calmness releases creativity and efficiency although our culture claims otherwise.

2. Elevate​ others.

The most wonderful and admirable thing is when you introduce an employee or a friend in favourable light. You both experience elevation and those around you follow your example since early ages.

This feeling of elevation or moral uplifting is one of the most valuable experiences that a community may pursue. It makes us do more good to each other, which translates into better customer service, commitment and team work. Speak good of others behind their backs and speak out in a meeting when a colleague has set an example.

3. Trust on trust.

In principle, we want to trust each other because trust is vital for generating cooperation. Are you giving your fellow humans the chance to trust you? A good way to show your vulnerability is to tell something personal or indicate that you are not perfect. You’ll gain trust by sharing information, being present, keeping your promise, and by giving credit where credit is due.

4. Set an example.

This is an indicator for anyone, especially the leaders. Your actions are being constantly followed, whether you want it or not. Your actions define what is allowed and respected. Your expressions and gestures indicate what you are thinking. Your attention and the matters that you comment on and are interested in steer how the people around you behave. Steer others’ actions towards desired values. Each of us can begin by looking in the mirror.

5. Play.

Yep, have fun at work. This is one way to establish trust. Grown-ups want to play just like children. Laughter brings people together, and play boots recovery. Through play, we can learn about each other and experience closeness.


Compassion is our greatest super power. It has been so since early history, it is our power now, and it will be our power in the future.

We should keep this in mind especially now that Finland is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Better together is a mission and reason for us, builders of the 100-year-old Finland, to celebrate.

Various writers focus on their columns on the Helsinki Design Week’s theme 2016, “Better”. The series ends.

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