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Compassion toward others and self-compassion predict mental and physical well-being: a 5-year longitudinal study of 1090 community-dwelling adults across the lifespan.

Abstract

There is growing interest in the role of compassion in promoting health and well-being, with cross-sectional data showing an inverse correlation with loneliness. This is the first longitudinal study examining both compassion toward others (CTO) and compassion toward self (CTS) as predictors of mental and physical health outcomes including loneliness, across adult lifespan. We followed 552 women and 538 men in San Diego County for up to 7.5 (mean 4.8 and SD 2.2) years, using validated rating scales for CTO, CTS, and loneliness. Linear mixed-effects models were employed to examine age- and sex-related trajectories of CTO and CTS over time. Linear regression models were used to evaluate baseline and longitudinal relationships of CTO and CTS with mental well-being, physical well-being, and loneliness. CTS and CTO were weakly intercorrelated. Women had higher baseline CTO than men. While CTO was stable over time and across the lifespan, CTS scores had an inverse U-shaped relationship with age, peaking around age 77. There were significant baseline × slope interactions of both CTO and CTS predicting improvements in physical well-being in adults <60 years old. Increases in CTO and CTS predicted improvements in mental well-being. Higher baseline CTO and CTS as well as increases in CTO and CTS scores predicted lower loneliness scores at follow-up. Thus, CTO and CTS were associated with better mental well-being and loneliness across the adult lifespan, and physical well-being in younger adults, and are promising targets for interventions to improve health outcomes.

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