The Big Questions

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5 Reasons Why Meditation is Awesome

The (empirically supported) benefits of meditation

Meditation is often associated with religion and spirituality. But meditation has been receiving some serious scientific attention lately, and it has come out looking quite beneficial. Below are a sampling of these scientific studies.

Meditation and Happiness

A study published recently in Consciousness and Culture  examined the impact of  brief meditation on psychological well-being. Novices to meditation were randomly assigned to either briefly listen a recorded book or to complete a brief meditation exercise every day for four days. Participants who were in the meditation group had less anxiety and fatigue at the end of the study. (they also had improved ability to focus and improved memory performance). 

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Meditation and Physical Pain

A study recently published in the journal Pain exposed people to electrical stimulation on day 1 of the study. This stimulation induced either high levels of pain or low levels of pain according to the amount of stimulation given. After three days of meditation for 20 minutes a day, participants reported that the electrical stimulation was less painful. This was the case whether high amounts of stimulation or low amounts were given. (meditation also lowered anxiety and improved the ability to focus).

Meditation and Work Performance

A series of studies published in the journal Applied Psychology  recently tested the effects of meditation on performance at work (via mental exhaustion) and job satisfaction. In Study 1, workers who meditated normally were happier with their jobs and were less likely to experience mental fatigue. In Study 2, participants were either randomly assigned to meditate or not, and were taught to do so via a brief instructional tape. The meditation participants had more job satisfaction and less exhaustion at work.

Meditation and Self-Knowlegde

A recent review of empirical research published in Perspectives on Psychological Science concluded that mindfulness meditation increases accurate self-knowledge and reduces many cognitive biases. As an example, the sunken cost fallacy occurs when people continue to "chase" after success in an area simply because they have already invested so much in it. An example would be a gambler continuing to bet after losing $1000 simply because he/she wants his/her money back. This bias is eliminated by meditation.

Meditation and Physical Health

A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine tested the effects of mindfulness meditation on the development of antibodies. Remarkably, meditation was associated with increased development of antibodies in response to flu injections. It also was associated with neural activity in the brain associated with heightened positive mood.

Summary

Science supports meditation as a highly useful activity. It has been found to improve happiness and lower stress, aid in the prevention of physical illness, lower feelings of pain, improve memory and heighten performance at work. And, this sampling of studies really is just the tip of the iceberg of this published body of research.

For the record, I am not an ardent user of meditation who simply found studies to match my belief that it is useful. I have never meditated. But I might just start.

Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.

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