20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today

New research shows that meditation boosts your health, happiness, and success.

Posted Sep 11, 2013

Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock
Source: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

I started meditating soon after 9/11. I was living in Manhattan, an already chaotic place, at an extremely chaotic time. I realized I had no control over my external environment. But the one place I did have a say over was my mind, through meditation.

When I started meditating, I did not realize it would also make me healthier, happier, and more successful. Having witnessed the benefits, I devoted my Ph.D. research at Stanford to studying the impact of meditation. I saw people from diverse backgrounds, from college students to combat veterans, benefit. In the last 10 years, hundreds of studies have been released.

Here are 20 scientifically-validated reasons you might want to get on the bandwagon today:

It boosts your health.

1. Increases immune function (see here and here)

2. Decreases pain (see here)

3. Decreases inflammation at the cellular level (see here and here)

It boosts your happiness.

4. Increases positive emotion (see here and here)

5. Decreases depression (see here)

6. Decreases anxiety (see here and here)

7. Decreases stress (see here and here)

It boosts your social life.

Think meditation is a solitary activity? It may be (unless you meditate in a group, which many do!), but it actually increases your sense of connection to others:

8. Increases social connection and emotional intelligence (see here and—by yours truly—here)

9. Makes you more compassionate (see here and here)

10. Makes you feel less lonely

It boosts your self-control.

11. Improves your ability to regulate your emotions (see here). (Ever flown off the handle or not been able to quiet your mind? Here's the key.)

12. Improves your ability to introspect (see here and, for why this is crucial, see this post)

It changes your brain (for the better).

13. Increases grey matter (see here)

14. Increases volume in areas related to emotion regulation, positive emotions, and self-control (see here and here)

15. Increases cortical thickness in areas related to paying attention (see here)

It improves your productivity (yup, by doing nothing).

16. Increases your focus and attention (see here and here and here and here)

17. Improves your ability to multitask (see here)

18. Improves your memory (see here)

19. Improves your ability to be creative and think outside the box (see research by J. Schooler)

It makes you wise(r).

20. It gives you perspective.

By observing your mind, you realize you don't have to be a slave to it. You realize it throws tantrums, gets grumpy, jealous, happy, and sad, but that it doesn't have to run you. Meditation is quite simply mental hygiene: Clear out the junk, tune your talents, and get in touch with yourself. 

Think about it, you shower every day and clean your body, but have you ever showered your mind? As a consequence, you'll feel more clear and see things with greater perspective. "The quality of our life depends on the quality of our mind," writes Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. We can't control what happens on the outside but we do have a say over the quality of our mind. No matter what's going on, if your mind is OK, everything is OK. Right now.

It keeps you real

Once you get to know your mind, you start to own your stuff and become more authentic, maybe even humble. You realize the stories and soap operas your mind puts you through, and you gain some perspective on them. You realize most of us are caught up in a mind-drama and become more compassionate towards others.

And... the more you meditate, the more you seem to benefit, research studies such as this one suggest.

Myths About Meditation

  • Having an empty mind—nope, in fact, when you start meditating, you'll find it's quite the opposite
  • Sitting in lotus position—nope, you can sit on the couch (just don't lie down, you'll fall asleep)
  • Sitting for an hour a day—nope, small doses work just fine, (see here and—by yours truly—here)
  • Chanting in a language I don't understand—nope, not unless that floats your boat
  • Buddhist, Hindu, or religiousnope, not unless you make it so
  • Weird—what's so weird about sitting and breathing? Besides, U.S. congressmen, NFL football leagues, and the U.S. Marine Corps are doing it, so how weird can it be?
  • Wearing robes—what?

"I can't meditate" because...

  • I can't clear my mind—no worries, while you're sitting there, you'll experience the noisy chaos of a wound-up mind that's unwinding: tons of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Don't worry about how you feel during, notice how you feel after and throughout the rest of the day.
  • I can't sit still—that's OK, just sit comfortably; fidget if you need to
  • I get anxiousthat's also normal, all the junk's coming up, learn some breathing practices to calm yourself down, exercise or do yoga before meditating
  • I hate sitting still—that's fine, then go for a walk without your earphones, phone, etc; or start with yoga; or do breathing exercises… give yourself time to just "be" without constantly "doing" something
  • I tried and I hated it—there's not just one kind of meditation, there's a whole menu out there; look for the shoe that fits: mindfulness, Transcendental, compassion, mantra, Vipassana, Art of Living breathing practices, yoga Nidra, yoga, insight, loving-kindness, tai chi, etc...
  • I don't have time—if you have time to read an article about meditation all the way through, you have time to meditate. Think of all those minutes you waste every day on the internet or otherwise, you can definitely fit in 20 minutes here or there to give your life a boost! Gandhi is quoted as saying, "I'm so busy today, that... I'm going to meditate for 2 hours instead of 1."