According to new research, interest in mindfulness, both among researchers and the general public, has grown exponentially over the last decade. Even though other happiness-boosting strategies (like resilience and positivity) are also growing in popularity, the growth rate pales in comparison to mindfulness (see image below). It seems that mindfulness is the hottest new trend, but should it be?
It turns out that learning mindfulness can be really difficult, especially for people who are new to it. Other research shows that mindfulness can be downright harmful to people with intense negative emotions. Imagine heightening your awareness to your emotions when you have PTSD or poor emotion regulation ability.
It also seems that when compared to other happiness-building strategies, mindfulness often doesn’t work as quickly or as well. In fact, a little study I conducted among regular folks who took a quiz on my website showed that mindfulness was the least likely of nine different happiness-skills to predict happiness (see image below).
Newly published research summarizes these issues and more, showing that even though mindfulness may be the hottest new wellness trend, it is not the panacea that everyone thinks it is.
While mindfulness was originally meant to foster "wise action, social harmony, and compassion,” Western mindfulness, as psychologist Thomas Joiner says, has become “hopelessly loud and self-indulgent.” As a result, mindfulness, as it is currently practiced in the West, is almost completely absent of the original Buddhist intention to cultivate interconnectedness. In fact, perhaps the most common way to practice mindfulness these days is through the use of an app or Internet platform (e.g., Headspace).
The irony is that scientific research suggests that interconnectedness is one of the greatest contributors to personal happiness. Perhaps it is no wonder then that mindfulness isn’t having the positive impacts that we expected it to.
Despite this new research, there is still evidence that mindfulness can lead to improved well-being. Perhaps by incorporating the original Buddhist intentions to cultivate interconnectedness, social harmony, and compassion, you can still achieve personal fulfillment with mindfulness.
Kim, J.-W. (2014). Mindfulness Meditation Training and Stress Reactivity: Behavioral Emotion Regulation Mechanisms. Retrieved from: http://repository.cmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1207&context=hsshonors
Lymeus, F., et al. (2017). "Attentional effort of beginning mindfulness training is offset with practice directed toward images of natural scenery." Environment and Behavior 49(5): 536-559.
Segal, Z. V., et al. (2002). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse. New York, NY US, Guilford Press.
Shallcross, A. J., et al. (2015). "Relapse prevention in major depressive disorder: Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy versus an active control condition." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 83(5): 964.
Yang, Y. C., et al. (2016). "Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(3): 578-583.