Mindfulness

Do You Meditate? Meditators Are Higher in These 5 Strengths

Research offers new findings for the science of mindfulness and strengths.

Posted May 02, 2019

DepositPhotos/VIA Institute
Source: DepositPhotos/VIA Institute

There’s no shortage of benefits when it comes to having a meditation practice. There are hundreds of studies that reveal a variety of positive well-being outcomes. But, there may also be benefits to your strengths.

In a study recently published, researchers Dandan Pang and Willibald Ruch at the University of Zurich in Switzerland carefully examined over 1,300 people for their mindfulness and strengths levels, using the most popular, validated tests on each topic – the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire and the VIA Inventory of Strengths. The results showed each of the 24 character strengths were significantly correlated with mindfulness, with the exceptions of prudence and humility.

The authors went on to explain: “The character strengths of hope, bravery, curiosity, social intelligence, zest, love, perspective, gratitude, self-regulation, and creativity displayed medium effect correlations with at least one facet of mindfulness and the total score of mindfulness.”

They also found a difference in the character strengths of meditators and non-meditators. Here are the five character strengths that showed the biggest difference (largest effect sizes) between meditators and non-meditators. In addition, I offer my rationale attempting to explain this finding of why (many) meditators are higher in each.

  1. Spirituality: This strength involves the pursuit of meaning or something sacred or transcendent. A mindfulness meditation practice helps to cultivate this strength directly, whether the meditator feels they are experiencing self-transcendence, communing with a higher power, or sensing they are part of the larger universe.
  2. Gratitude: Mindfulness helps us to counteract the “taking-life-for-granted” effect. When we feel grateful and when we express gratitude, we are not taking life for granted. Mindfulness practice allows us to naturally elicit this important strength of appreciation.
  3. Appreciation of beauty and excellence: This strength involves, as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt once told me in an interview, not going through life with blinders on. Mindfulness helps us transcend our habits of mind – namely our autopilot nature – to actually “see” the greens of the leaves on the trees, the ripples in the river, and the contours of the landscape. Once that happens, all that’s left is an appreciation for beauty.
  4. Love of learning: In leading character strengths and mindfulness workshops for thousands of people, these two strengths rounding out the top 5 are commonly at the top. It seems these individuals not only have an inclination to be curious but they want to take that curiosity to the next level. That next level is the expression of love of learning. They want to dig deep into the material and expand their knowledge. On their journey of self-discovery, meditators realize “there is much more that I don’t know that what I do know…about myself, others, and the world,” and thereby use this strength to quench that learning.
  5. Curiosity: This strength of exploration and novelty-pursuit is one of two strengths that are literally part of the official definition of mindfulness! (the other being self-regulation). When you are truly practicing mindfulness, you are expressing a curiosity for the present moment, for the tension in your back, the bird chirping outside your window, and for your next inhale of breath. Curiosity can be part of every second of mindfulness.

It’s unclear if the practice of mindfulness will directly elevate these five strengths or if these are common characteristics in meditators and part of what drives them to practice mindfulness. We have much more to learn but what I can say, from a practical perspective, is the following:

  • If you’re a meditator, reflect on these 5 strengths. Do you use these strengths in your meditation practice? Would it be helpful to use one of these strengths more deliberately to help you supercharge your mindfulness – making it more consistent, more authentic, or more enlivening? For example, you might use curious questioning of yourself to gently explore your present moment as you sit in a chair to meditate.
  • If you’re not a meditator and would like to be, consider whether one of the 5 strengths above might support you on your journey. Which of the 5 are you highest in? Might that be part of your path forward in setting up a practice? For example, if your highest is gratitude, you could make a gratitude meditation each morning be part of your routine. If your highest is an appreciation of beauty, you could do walking meditation outside each morning appreciating nature as you walk slowly in the present moment.

Stay tuned to more of the latest research and best practices for mindfulness and character strengths!

References

Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019). The mutual support model of mindfulness and character strengths. Mindfulness. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01103-z