Wellness

Women in their 50s are more empathetic, research shows

March 7, 2013 at 1:39 PM ET

By Erin Maher, Prevention

Ladies in your 50s, give yourselves a pat on the back. And maybe pat a few friends while you're at it: After all, new research shows that women in their 50s are more empathetic than individuals in any other age group.

Researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed survey data from more than 75,000 American adults to reach that conclusion. In particular, they found that women aged 50 to 59 were more likely to report reacting emotionally to the experiences of others, as well as making an effort to understand different perspectives.

The findings might be explained by the era during which these women grew up, researchers note: A time that saw the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War protests--events that challenged the status quo and emphasized the wellbeing and opinions of diverse groups.

Of course, regardless of when you grew up, empathy is a skill worth working on. "Empathy is our shield from aloneness," explains Diane Urban, PhD, a psychologist in Valhalla, NY. "It is the glue that binds us to others. It makes us look out for the greater good rather than focusing on self and what is good for only 'me'."

Here, three simple ways to cultivate a little more empathy in your life:

Donate. Whether it's money to your favorite cause, books to a library, or time at a local soup kitchen, don't hesitate to lend a helping hand. Donating and volunteering, Urban says, "add experiences to our lives and cause us to see those we help as real people and not an amorphous 'them'."

Meditate. According to a recent study from Emory University, a meditation program that asks people to reflect on their relationships with others has been shown to improve empathy. (Never meditated? Find out how to get your "om" on.)

Rely on "I." It may seem contradictory, but starting sentences with the word "I" can help you develop empathy. The practice forces people to take responsibility for events and see them from another perspective, Urban says. "For example, try saying 'I didn't tell my boyfriend I wanted to eat out' rather than 'He is so lame; he never wants to do anything'."

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