In the most basic sense, mindfulness is being consciously aware of your thoughts and emotions. For one to practice good mindfulness it involves the ‘self-regulation’ of attention so that it is focused on adopting a neutral attitude toward one’s experiences in the present moment. There are many beneficial effects on developing your mindfulness. Below are a few of the benefits of mindfulness.
1. Being mindful of your thoughts and emotions promotes well-being
The concept of self-regulation is somewhat paradoxical in that regulation in the strictest sense of the word such as self-control is not ‘mindful’. Rather, mindfulness is a state that is characterized by introspection, openness, reflection and acceptance of oneself.
Recently in the field of psychology, there has been strong evidence demonstrating that mindfulness is significantly correlated with positive affect, life satisfaction, and overall well-being.
Mindfulness itself, however, is not a new concept; it has existed in Buddhism for over two thousand of years. Modern day research has made several interesting findings suggesting this ‘enhanced self-awareness’ diminishes stress and anxiety and, in turn, reduces the risk of developing cancer, disease, and psychopathology. It is useful to practice mindfulness in positive psychology as a tool for general physical and mental health.
2. Being mindful can improve your working memory
Working memory is the memory system that temporarily stores information in our minds for further recall and future processing. Many studies have been undertaken that suggest a strong interrelationship between attention and working memory.
van Vugt & Jha (2011) undertook research that involved taking a group of participants to an intensive month-long mindfulness retreat. These participants were compared with a control group who received no mindfulness training (MT). All participants from both groups first undertook a memory recognition task before any MT had been providing. The second round of a memory recognition task was then undertaken by all participants after the month’s training.
Results were positive – while accuracy levels were comparable across both groups, reaction times were much faster for the group that had received mindfulness training. These results suggested that MT leads to attentional improvements, particularly in relation to quality of information and decisional processes, which are directly linked to working memory.
3. Mindfulness acts as a buffer against the depressive symptoms associated with discrimination
A self-report study conducted at the University of North Carolina measured the level of discrimination experienced by participants and also the presence and/or severity of their depressive symptoms. Participants also completed a questionnaire that measured their level of mindfulness as a trait, which is characterized by a conscious awareness of the present.
The results showed that the more discrimination participants experienced the more depressive symptoms they had. It was also found that the more mindful people were, the less depressed they were.
Finally, and most importantly, the findings suggested that mindfulness might be a protective factor that mitigates the effects of discrimination on the development of depressive symptoms. That is, although discrimination was associated with depressive symptoms, the association became much weaker as mindfulness increased. So, it appears that practicing mindfulness may be one way of preventing the onset of depression!
4. Mindfulness can help you make better use of your strengths
“Mindfulness can help an individual express their character strengths in a balanced way that is sensitive to the context and circumstance they are in.”(Niemiec, 2012)
A lot of research has shown that mindfulness influences mental health and personality (Baer, Smith & Allen, 2004). Not surprisingly, mindfulness is related to character strengths as well.
Mindfulness and Strengths
Mindfulness and strengths joined forces a long time ago. In Buddhism, mindfulness meditation not only relieves suffering but also cultivates positive characteristics and strengths such as compassion, wisdom, and well-being. Even the meaning of mindfulness, defined by Thich Nhat Hanh (Niemiec, 2014), includes some dimensions of strengths. He saw mindfulness as a means “to keep one’s attention alive in the present reality. And this ‘aliveness’ captures both the self-regulation of attention and the approach of curiosity.”
Relationship of Mindfulness and Strengths
According to research by Bishop and colleagues (2004), experiencing mindfulness begins with making a commitment to maintain curiosity about the mind wandering and looking at differences in other objects.
Other research (Ivtzan, Gardner & Smailova, 2011) found that curiosity is one of the strengths that is correlated to living a satisfied, meaningful, and engaging life.
According to a study by Niemiec, Rashid & Spinella (2012), transcendence strengths can become more meaningful in mindfulness practice as they connect mindfulness with spiritual meaning. In addition, during the practice of mindfulness, people may face both internal and external obstacles including boredom, wandering mind, physical discomfort, and difficulty in commitment, and this requires the strength of courage and perseverance to overcome and keep going.
Mindfulness, strengths, and acknowledgment
“Mindfulness opens a door of awareness to who we are and character strengths are what is behind the door since character strengths are who we are at core” (Niemiec, 2014)
Mindfulness can help you make better use of your strengths. One needs attention to their inner states and behavior to pursue a goal (Brown, Ryan & Creswell, 2007). Therefore, to be able to see your strength, you need to access your inner state of mind. To access your strengths or your true self, mindfulness is the path.
Research by Carlson (20013) showed that we have many blind spots, such as information barrier and motivation barrier, which is modest and meager in self-evaluation. It also decreases the bias we have in ourselves since practicing mindfulness reduces the defensiveness of your ego as you start to have more reality-based thoughts.
Is mindfulness a trait?
The next question is whether mindfulness can also be a strength on its own. Based on the study by Carlson in 2013, we can increase mindfulness trait by training. However, it requires more systematic investigation to confirm. If mindfulness is really a strength, there is no clear virtue it should belong to. In addition, it should be noted that mindfulness and strength do not cause each other, but correlate (Masicampo & Baumeister, 2007).
Some strengths may enhance mindfulness while some are the results of mindfulness practice. Here is what Ryan Niemiec has to say on the relationship between mindfulness and character strengths.
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Brown, K. W., Ryan, R. M., & Creswell, J. D. (2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 211-237.
Brown-Iannuzzi, J. L., Adair, K. C., Payne, B. K., Richman, L. S., & Frederickson, B. L. (2014). Discrimination hurts, but mindfulness may help: Trait mindfulness moderates the relationship between perceived discrimination and depressive symptoms. Personality and Individual Differences, 56, 201-205.
Carlson, E. N. (2013). Overcoming the barriers to self-knowledge: Mindfulness as a path to seeing yourself as you really are. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(2), 173-186.
Ivtzan, Gardner, & Smailova (2011). Mindfulness meditation and curiosity: The contributing factors to wellbeing and the process of closing the self-discrepancy gap. International Journal of Wellbeing, 1(3), 316-326.
Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2007). Relating mindfulness and self-regulatory processes. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 255-258.
Niemiec, R. M. (2012). Mindful living: Character strengths interventions as pathways for the five mindfulness trainings. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2, 22-33.
Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.